Marijuana use among athletes has been a topic of debate and controversy for years. From professional sports leagues to the Olympics, the question of whether marijuana can actually enhance athletic performance has sparked curiosity and discussion. While some athletes claim that cannabis helps them train better and manage pain, others argue that it can hinder performance.

In this article, we will explore the different perspectives and scientific evidence surrounding the use of marijuana in sports.

The Hidden Culture of Cannabis Use Among Athletes

ANAHEIM, CA – AUGUST 14: Former UFC lightweight title challenger Nate Diaz smokes during an open workout for fans and media at Honda Center on August 14, 2019 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC)

Cannabis Use for Pain Management and Anxiety

In his book “Runner’s High,” journalist Josiah Hesse explores the “hidden culture” of cannabis use among recreational and elite athletes. Through interviews with bodybuilders, endurance athletes, and other sports professionals, Hesse discovered that many athletes rely on cannabis to stimulate their appetites, manage pain, improve sleep, and alleviate anxiety.

Athletes often describe feeling “dialed in” and focused on their tasks when using cannabis, allowing them to overcome performance-related anxieties.

Sha’Carri Richardson and the Debate

The recent case of American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson, who was disqualified from the Tokyo Olympics after testing positive for marijuana, reignited the debate around cannabis use in sports. While Richardson’s use of marijuana was deemed a violation of anti-doping regulations, the incident raised questions about the potential benefits or drawbacks of cannabis for athletes.

The Science Behind Marijuana and Athletic Performance

Marijuana as a Performance Enhancer?

Contrary to popular belief, scientific research suggests that marijuana is not a performance enhancer. Studies examining the effects of cannabis on exercise have shown mixed results. Some early studies found that cannabis use increased heart rate, blood pressure, and impaired exercise performance. However, many of these studies were small, not rigorous, or conducted on animals. Overall, the available evidence does not support the idea that cannabis improves strength or exercise endurance.

Health Risks of Marijuana Use

Experts warn of potential health concerns associated with marijuana use, particularly for athletes who smoke it. Marijuana smoke contains similar toxins and carcinogens as tobacco smoke, and long-term use can lead to chronic bronchitis and lung infections.

Additionally, early exposure to marijuana has been linked to an increased risk of schizophrenia and other psychoses. Cannabis can also impair reaction time and decision-making abilities, posing risks in situations where physical injury is likely.

Athletes’ Perspectives on Marijuana and Exercise

Anecdotal Evidence from Athletes

Despite the lack of scientific consensus, many athletes and exercise enthusiasts claim that cannabis enhances their workouts. Surveys have shown that some athletes use cannabis to alleviate pain, improve sleep, and enhance their enjoyment of exercise. They describe feeling motivated, calmed, and focused during workouts. However, it is important to note that anecdotal evidence does not constitute scientific proof.

The Need for Further Research

Due to the legal status of cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug, research on its effects on exercise has been limited. Federal regulations restrict the ability to conduct controlled experiments and provide objective data.

However, ongoing studies are exploring the relationship between cannabis use and pain perception, pleasure during exercise, and time perception. These studies aim to shed light on the potential benefits and risks of cannabis use in the context of physical activity.


The use of marijuana in sports remains a complex and controversial topic. While some athletes believe that cannabis enhances their performance and helps manage pain and anxiety, scientific evidence does not support these claims. Moreover, potential health risks associated with marijuana use, particularly smoking, highlight the need for caution.

Further research is necessary to fully understand the effects of cannabis on exercise and athletic performance. In the meantime, athletes should carefully consider the legal and health implications before incorporating marijuana into their training routines.