A group of Colorado researchers recently studied how cannabis use affects athletes and found a possible role between the plant and pain management.
The study, "Cannabis use in active athletes: Behaviors related to subjective effects,” looked at cannabis use patterns and its effects in a community-based sample of adult athletes. According to the study's authors, there had been no previous academic research done on cannabis use's subjective effects for adult athletes.
“There was not a lot of research on how cannabis helps,” explains Dr. Joanna Zeiger, one of the researchers who conducted the study for Canna Research Group. “Athletes typically don’t sleep well and are anxious, so we wanted to see what percentage of them use cannabis, their patterns of use, and what the effects are.”
For Zeiger, part of the motivation for conducting this cannabis study came from her past athletic career. A professional triathlete from 1998 to 2010, she won multiple Ironman events and placed fourth in the 2000 Olympics. In 2009, a bike accident that resulted in a broken collarbone and structural and neuropathic damage to her rib cage eventually led her to use cannabis for help with chronic pain.
“There was a huge stigma against using cannabis at the time,” she remembers. “When it became legal, it removed that barrier of stigma, and my personal reluctance to share my experience changed.”
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Zeiger hoped others might feel the same, so she put the word out. In order to reach as many athletes as possible, a survey was administered online for any English-speaking athletes who were at least 21 years old.
The results showed that out of 1,161 athletes who had completed the survey, 301 reported being current cannabis users, with the majority of this group being males over forty; over half of the cannabis users reported consumption three or fewer times per week.
“We looked to address a certain defined population of healthy, active athletes,” says Dr. William Silvers, a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine who helped conduct the study. “We wanted to see what role cannabis is playing, and what effects cannabis has in this population.”
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The study showed that cannabis had an effect on an athlete’s well-being, with varying calming and adverse side effects such as anxiety or paranoia. A combination of THC and CBD use was the most beneficial in well-being and calming factors, and had low adverse effects, according to the research.
Athletes reported using cannabis primarily for medical conditions such as chronic pain and anxiety; a combination of CBD and THC gave greater relief for pain and anxiety than CBD alone.
The research into cannabis use and certain groups won’t be stopping anytime soon, as Zeiger and Silvers want to study cannabis use in more demographics. “Older adults are the fastest-growing demographic initiating cannabis use,” Zeiger says. “They turn to cannabis to see if it will help with various ailments, and we want to look at benefits and harms for cannabis in older adults.”
As they continue studying cannabis consumers, Silvers is interested in the long-term effects and popularity of pot products. "It’d also be important to see how products people put out affect consumers, and use the outcome to see what people are using now and in the future."