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Is Marijuana a Performance Enhancing Drug?

Some athletes laugh at the idea that cannabis could improve athletic performance, but some support it.

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Photo: Third Monk

Most people that have smoked or vaped or ingested marijuana through edibles laugh at the notion that marijuana would help athletic performance and get angry at the idea that it should be punished the same way as athletes who test positive for performance enhancing drugs. But could marijuana actually enhance athletic performance the way that steroids and other PEDs do?

Joe Rogan seems to think so, and he is one of the more openly pro-marijuana figures involved in mixed martial arts.

After Nick Diaz's second suspension in Nevada for marijuana, Rogan expressed his belief that marijuana is a PED. His rationale mainly came from its use by jiu-jitsu practitioners before they train because, in Rogan's words, “they don’t do it because it hurts them; they do it because it helps them.”

Rogan also added that he likes to “smoke pot and work out,” noting that “Getting high and working out is one of the least talked about and least appreciated pleasures of fitness. Lifting weights is fun when you're under the spell, cardio is cool too, but for me, nothing compares to getting really high and hitting the heavy bag.”

In fairness to Rogan, he did seem to change his stance slightly after Diaz's most recent suspension with a tweet expressing his opinion that there is no scientific proof that marijuana is a PED.

Another reason why cannabis is considered a PED? The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and its criteria places marijuana on the list of performance enhancing drugs.

According to WADA, marijuana violates all three disqualifying criteria. Rob Trump wrote the following on how cannabis specifically violates this criteria: “Cannabis is considered to be in violation of all three main disqualifying criteria. It violates the first (performance enhancement) because of its ability to decrease anxiety and fear, and potentially to improve some types of oxygenation and concentration. It violates the second (health risk) because it can result in, among other things, “decreased cognitive performance” and “pulmonary toxicity.” It violates the third (spirit of sport) because of the drug's widespread illegality and conflicts with the “role model of athletes in modern society,” along with “negative reactions by the public, sponsors, and the media.”

From a medical perspective, preventing pain during physical activity is a big reason that the notion of marijuana as a PED has grown. Part of this can be traced to ultramarathoners using marijuana before and during events. An ultramarathon can range from 30 to 200 miles in length and can present numerous challenges to participants with “joint and muscle pain, general body strain, potential dehydration and even boredom” listed.

A runner interviewed by The Wall Street Journal summed up marijuana's apparent use to these extreme runners by saying, “The person who is going to win an ultra is someone who can manage their pain, not puke and stay calm. Pot does all three of those things.”

At the end of the day, more funding is needed to research and study marijuana. Whether or not cannabis is a PED, the answer to that question holds major significance when it comes to the plant's use in sports and everyday life as well as how some people can be punished for its use.