Is Cannabis a Performance-Enhancing Drug?

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Controversy surrounding the use of cannabis by athletes leading up to the Olympic Games has reignited debate over whether cannabis is a performance-enhancing drug and what role it should play in the world of sports. In early July during the lead-up to the pandemic-delayed games, American sprinter and Olympic hopeful Sha’Carri Richardson was denied a place on the U.S. Olympic track team after testing positive for marijuana. And only days before the games began, Dominican baseball player Diego Goris was dropped from his country’s Olympic roster after it was revealed he had tested positive for cannabis at a qualifying match in June. But why is marijuana banned for athletes? Is cannabis a performance-enhancing drug? Ban Based on Inconclusive Evidence The notion that cannabis can help an athlete be faster, stronger, or otherwise enhance performance is key to the ban on marijuana for athletes by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the group that sets the standards for the use of substances in sports. But the evidence to support that assertion is thin and inconclusive at best. In fact, some researchers believe that cannabis can hinder, rather than enhance, performance. In a study published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine in 2018, investigators determined that while the use of cannabis in sports was not unusual, the notion that cannabis is a performance-enhancing drug was not supported by research. They also called for further study into the potential therapeutic effects of cannabis for athletes. “Although cannabis use is more prevalent in some athletes engaged in high-risk sports, there is no direct evidence of performance-enhancing effects in athletes,” the authors of the study wrote in their conclusion. “The potential beneficial effects of cannabis as part of a pain management protocol, including reducing concussion-related symptoms, deserve further attention.” In 2020, a systematic review of…

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