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Why Athletes Prefer Marijuana

Many world-class athletes have been penalized for smoking marijuana, but science suggests it could be the smarter choice.

In January 2014 US NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced that he might be open to allowing players to use medical marijuana in states where it is legal. While the commissioner didn’t provide further details, many responded by saying the move was long overdue.

Indeed, a number of top athletes in the NFL, along with various other sports leagues, have been known to enjoy marijuana. And there are many good reasons why athletes should be allowed to use the substance without fear of consequences.

01. It’s a safer way of managing pain.

Marijuana’s potential to relieve pain has been noted by many in the NFL, and was also acknowledged by Goodell last week. As former Denver Broncos player Nate Jackson explained, NFL players “live in a great deal of pain on a daily basis, and marijuana helps with that.”

“Teams pass out opioid painkillers, which are highly addictive,” Jackson adds. “And that can affect a player long after he is done playing. Marijuana doesn’t have those types of effects.”

02. It doesn’t harm lung function.

One might wonder why athletes would be okay with smoking marijuana, considering the importance of lung health in professional sports. But the largest study ever to investigate this effect, published in 2012, helps to explain why. The 20-year-long study, which involved over 5,000 adults, concluded that regular marijuana smoking (a joint a day for 7 years or a joint a week for 20 years) had no negative impact on lung function.

03. And may even improve it.

On the contrary, the study found evidence of slight improvements in lung capacity for those who smoked marijuana. The researchers suggest that the traditional method of smoking cannabis, which involves deep inhales, could actually contribute to better lung function over time.

04. Unlike alcohol, it doesn’t cause hangovers or bodily harm.

Banning athletes from using marijuana forces many to turn to alcohol instead, which poses a number of disadvantages. As former Seattle Seahawks player John Moffitt recently explained: “If you’re an athlete and you’re drinking (alcohol), you’re deteriorating your body far more than if you’re an athlete and you’re using marijuana.”

05. It aids recovery and performance.

There are many other reasons why cannabis is so popular among athletes. In fact, some researchers argue that it should remain banned as a performance enhancing drug, due to its long list of benefits. Writing in Frontiers in Psychiatry, a pair of neuroscientists from Brazil’s University of Sao Paulo provided this summary: “Cannabis smoking can be helpful for some activities such as extreme sports, as it improves muscle relaxation, reduces anxiety, and erases fear memories (e.g., negative experiences) leading to enhanced performance. It is also worthwhile to note that cannabis smoking improves sleep time and recovery, which may favor performance when an athlete is facing multiple competitions in a short period of time.”

February 2014

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