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As cannabis use continues to enter the mainstream, the public image of the substance is undergoing something of a makeover. Gone are the days in which cannabis users are typecast as lazy, couch-parked stoners who subsist on Doritos and continued reruns of “Robot Chicken”; these days, an increasingly diverse array of professionals are coming forward to sing the praises of cannabis and its effects on their work.
Among the most visible of these cannabis advocates are professional athletes. While data and studies on the medical benefits of cannabis remain scant, dozens of athletes are coming forward to express their affection for the cannabis plant -- shedding light on the business of cannabis use, but also enlightening observers to the use of cannabis vaporizers in particular.
Medical Benefits of Cannabis Use
The Drug Enforcement Agency currently classifies cannabis as a Schedule 1 Federally-Controlled Substance. This means that the federal government continues to believe that cannabis -- alongside other substances such as cocaine, peyote, and heroin -- has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” As such, the federal government imposes severe limits on the research and studying that may be conducted into the medical efficacy of cannabis.
Yet while the amount of research into cannabis’ medical efficacy is limited, multiple studies have nonetheless been conducted that point to promising signs in regards to its medical potential. Studies have found, for example, that cannabis shows great promise in treating the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), cerebral palsy, epilepsy, depression, opioid addiction, cancer, HIV/AIDS, and a long list of other debilitating illnesses.
The substance has also been shown to treat medical conditions that frequently plague athletes. Studies have shown that cannabis is effective in treating the aches and pains associated with grueling physical activity, as well as the traumatic brain injuries associated with some high-contact sports, such as American football. Additionally, cannabis has also been found to be helpful in increasing endurance and speed.
With so many medical benefits associated with cannabis use, it should come as no surprise that dozens of athletes have stepped forward to proclaim their continued use of cannabis.
Sports Figures Who Use Cannabis
The past several years has seen a number of prominent athletes -- both those who are currently active and those who are retired -- make known their use of cannabis.
With cannabis’ use found to be effective in treating traumatic brain injuries, aches and pains, and addiction to prescription painkillers, it should come as no surprise that multiple American football players use the substance. Star NFL wide receiver Randy Moss, for example, has been outspoken about his cannabis use for over a decade. The same goes for former NFL running back Ricky Williams, who was known throughout his NFL career for smoking cannabis and has recently spoken of his plans to enter the cannabis industry.
Perhaps the most high-profile example of outspokenness by former NFL players on the cannabis issue occurred over the summer. Multiple former NFL stars -- including Jim McMahon, a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback -- appeared at a cannabis summit in New York City in June to promote the use of medical cannabis in sports, particularly in the NFL. The former players detailed the substance is safer and more effective than commonly-prescribed opioid painkillers in treating the traumatic brain injuries associated with gameplay. They also discussed how cannabis was effective in weaning players off of those same painkillers, and the ways in which cannabis treatment was being ignored by the league.
“There’s so many uses to this plant,” McMahon stated at the time. “Hundreds of thousands of people are dying from [painkillers] and there’s not one case of people dying from the hemp plant.”
Professional football is by no means the only sport in which cannabis is being regularly used: Professional athletes in basketball, baseball, running, and snowboarding, among many other sports, also testify to cannabis’ efficacy in treating their various medical conditions and enhancing their performances.
“It’s pretty great to run through a field, across a bridge, in a forest, or up a mountain while being hyperaware of your environment,” says Tyler Hurst, a writer and runner in Portland, Oregon, who attributes his increased running performance to his newfound cannabis use. “I’ve recovered faster in the past year tan I ever have before, all while running longer and eating the same.”
Why Many Athletes Prefer Vaping
With so many athletes consuming cannabis as both a performance enhancer and a treatment for their various medical considerations, the question obviously arises as to how they could and should choose to consume the substance. Obvious factors include both the convenience aspect as well as the effect that delivery methods have on the user’s health.
One of the most common cannabis delivery methods is the rolling of joints, either with or without tobacco. However, the smoking of cannabis has often been found to expose users to the toxic substances inherent in smoke, which is not ideal for those looking to remain healthy while competing in sports.
Another option is cannabis-infused edibles. The edibles industry has ballooned over the past several years -- as cannabis use has become more common, particularly in the states in which recreational use is legal -- with such products as cookies, brownies, and beverages found to be commonplace. However, because edibles usually take anywhere from 45-90 minutes to kick in, they are inexact in terms of how they are likely to affect the user. Consumers of edibles are also often times not able to determine the precise amount of cannabis contained within the products, which may lead to lower or higher levels of psychoactivity than the users would prefer.
In terms of impact on health and the ability to measure the amount of cannabis being consumed, vaporizers have been touted as the healthiest cannabis delivery method. The use of vape pens, because of the lack of toxins inherent in more common methods of smoking, have been found by both users and academics to be the preferred way in which to use cannabis.
“We showed in a recent paper in the journal ‘Neurology’ that smoked cannabis can alleviate the chronic pain caused by HIV-related neuropathy, but a concern was expressed that smoking cannabis was not safe,” said Donald Abrams, MD, a professor of clinical medicine at UCSF and the author of a study on cannabis vaporizers. “This study demonstrates an alternative method that gives patients the same effects and allows controlled dosing but without inhalation of the toxic products in smoke.”
There is also the issue of convenience. Because vapes are small and are easily transportable, athletes and other users typically find that the use of vaporizers is the most convenient form of cannabis delivery.