What effect will cannabis have on sports and sports medicine?
I remember growing up as a kid and my father ushering me around hockey rinks through lower New England and talking about his love of the sport.
I remember my family cheering me on during my hockey tournaments and always being by my side, no matter what the outcome of the game was. They were all loving and supporting. As I’ve gotten a little older, I come to appreciate the sacrifices they’ve made when I was younger.
At the height of my hockey career, I played for the Boston Junior Bruins of the EJHL. I got many offers to play in college, but the costs associated with going to school and being a mediocre student, college wasn’t an option. I opted to go into the business world.
But how does this all relate to cannabis you ask?
Remember as a young adult, kids my age and younger were smoking marijuana (before it was called cannabis).
I remember them smoking because they wanted to experience something new and different. What was intriguing about the situation was that a particular subset of athletes I knew at the time was smoking for an entirely different reason, that reason being recovery from injury.
You have to remember this was in the early 2000s when “Referrer madness” was alive and well. This was also at a time when if you got caught with a joint you would probably end up in jail. So my fellow teammates were often clandestine during their smoking sessions.
I remember asking my teammates why they were smoking because they appeared to be smoking it for different reasons. They confirmed this, telling me that it helped them recover more quickly from injury. Personally, I thought they were full of BS. I was taught drugs, and in particular, marijuana was bad for you. I was told it was a gateway drug. I was told it was a drug that caused you severe harm so as a kid I stayed away from marijuana. I remember years ago feeling a tingling sense of curiosity when I witnessed my teammates smoke marijuana so this lead me down a path of doing my investigative research and attempting to figure out the benefit of ingesting cannabis has on the body.
In my short career as a blogger, I’ve been fortunate to interview doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs and scientists that all focus on cannabis.
I was extremely fortunate to interview Dr. Charles Bush-Joseph of Rush University Medical Center, the Associate Director of the Rush Orthopedic Sports Medicine Fellowship Program. Dr. Bush-Joseph worked as the team physician for the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Bulls. He serves on the editorial board of several national orthopedic journals, including the prestigious American Journal of Sports Medicine. When discussing cannabis with Dr. Bush-Joseph, I learned that cannabis has the potential not just to help athletes recover from injury quicker, but to help your average citizen.
The benefits of cannabis are as follows according to Dr. Bush-Joseph.
-An athlete is trying to treat symptoms, and they’ve got pain after a knee injury or difficulty with recovery following a shoulder injury, or a spinal injury where they’ve had treatment and have had a hard time getting rest and sleep.
-They’re going to rehabilitation, and they can’t find that relief to get rest or sleep. When they choose other stronger medications like sedatives or muscle relaxants or, as I mentioned earlier, opioids, I think that medical cannabis provides a great alternative.
-It’s a naturally occurring substance that is very safe. It’s very very difficult, if not impossible, for a patient to overdose on medical marijuana whereas, with opioids, it’s much easier to overdose because too much affects your brainstem function which regulates your breathing and your heart function. There is no receptor in your brainstem effected by cannabis so that just doesn’t happen.
What I found promising about Dr. Bush-Joseph’s approach to cannabis is its future usage.
There are numerous anecdotal reports and testimonials from athletes who talk about they benefit from using Cannabis. Colorado long distance runner Avery Collins says that eating edibles before and during a run enhances the performance rather than slowing him down. Eden Britton, alongside 26 other athletes founded athletes Athletes for Care which advocated on behalf of athletes using cannabis says this is not some back-alley drug; It’s a medicinal herb that provides the only potential solution to both concussions/CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) and the opiate epidemic.
The effects they have on athletes aren’t scientifically proven. They’re testimonials as to how the plant affects their bodies before and after a performance. What surprised me about Dr. Bush-Joseph comments is that he stated it was not a performance-enhancing drug. Given the above testimonials about the positive effects of cannabis, I don’t see how this is possible, but I opted not to push back partly because I’m not a doctor and because I haven’t witnessed first hand what cannabis can do to the body while playing a sport. Dr. Bush-Joseph stated more research on marijuana has to be done before anyone can make definitive claims.
Dr. Bush-Joseph did point out:
-Number one is cannabis is not a performance-enhancing drug. Yes, if you’re using marijuana during the performance of your sport or training, you’re not going to do well. Cannabis dulls your sensations, and it freezes your reaction time.
-There are a variety of things that are not beneficial for performance reasons, but useful from a recovery perspective. That should be intuitive to think about what cannabis does for people. It’s a sedative; it’s relaxing, it has some pain relieving qualities, it can help to alleviate or treat symptoms associated with nausea from other medications or other medical problems.
The main point Dr. Bush-Joseph was trying to get at was the recovery benefits of athletes using cannabis. It allows athletes not to use narcotics; they can find rest easier without other stronger medications, it will enable them to get through the trauma of surgery or injury if necessary, it can substantially enhance recovery and also from a psychiatric or psychological perspective, it allows for restfulness and sedation and decreases anxiety.
What I found interesting during my conversation with Dr. Bush-Joseph was my method of usage question. I was under the impression specific ways of ingesting cannabis were better off for you, but this is based purely on individual choice. If you’re inhaling, vaping, or smoking it, you get a much more rapid intake but what I found interesting is if you decide smoking or vaping isn’t for you and opt to ingest cannabis using edibles you would have to be more patient and regulating in your dose. The doctor said in many of his older patients that have never smoked cannabis rely on ingestibles, either candy or cookies because that’s the way they are most comfortable taking in cannabis. Dr. Bush-Joseph inferred many of his patients, especially older ones have no interest in getting “high” but are interested in the benefits of using cannabis.
The perception of marijuana isn’t one that’s positive. The US government has perpetuated a negative image for a long time. Nobody likes to talk about the positive effects, but they have primarily solely focused on the negative aspects.
I recently interviewed Dr. Sunil Aggarwal, whom is an expert in Palliative Care and is a physician-scientist and Medical Geographer and he shared this same sentiment. He stated, “No, that’s all horse BS. There’s no evidence to support that. That’s all based on the politics of reefer madness and the drug war which tried to create an association of criminality and social deviant with cannabis use — marijuana — as it has been called, it’s part of that scare campaign, and there’s no logic to that.”
The notion of “getting high man” and “let’s get stoned dude” for the sake of it, is an image I can’t support. Don’t get me wrong; I encourage people making their own decisions regarding cannabis.
This isn’t so much of a “drug” problem but an image problem associated with the use of cannabis.
This led me to ask Dr. Bush-Joseph about major sporting organizations liberalizing their stance on marijuana? He believes in time they will, but he said the MLB is getting more relaxed but not entirely, in the use of “perceived drugs of abuse,” because they don’t give another player an advantage over another during competition. While Dr. Bush-Joseph was optimistic about the MLB changing its stance on marijuana testing he also stressed a realistic approach. He said these things take time and player union contracts and run on five-year cycles, but in time he feels they’ll eventually go away.
I believe this is partly the reason why the NFL, MLB, NHL and all of the major sporting leagues including USADA, NCAA and also USADA have banned cannabis from their list of substances. I believe solutions from the top management would work best in these types of situations. Instead of these leagues portraying the use of cannabis in such an adverse way, they should start promoting the safe and responsible use and should fund research to help their athletes recover from pain and injury from playing a sport for often decades at a time.
A fun question I always like to ask the people that come on my show is “Do you believe cannabis can lower healthcare costs?” Dr. Bush-Joseph answer was no different. “I think we have an excess of health care costs because patients find themselves in more expensive to manage their managing their symptoms and pain and they often end up with opioids which can lead to opioid addiction the disastrous consequences of overdose and death.” Dr. Bush-Joseph went on to say 66,000 people died of an opiate overdose in 2016. “For every person who dies of an opioid overdose, there are probably 35 who end up in an emergency room. I think the likelihood “of ending up in an emergency room” from cannabis, is dramatically less. I think it allows patients a natural option to treat symptoms of chronic pain or chronic nausea, or other symptoms with associated with some serious medical conditions. I think it’s got excellent treatment value; it’s safer, I think it has significant economic benefit to the public health as a whole.”
The current government has done a fantastic job at fostering an atmosphere for inducing business to grow in the United States vis-à-vis government deregulation of industry across the board, but, where there sorely lacking is the deregulation of cannabis as a schedule 1 substance.
With the governments’ current stance as a schedule 1 substance universities, corporations, individuals and whoever else wants to study the plant has been stymied. America has and attracts some of the brightest and most scientific forward-thinking minds on the planet. Look at Jonas Salk. He invented a vaccine that cured billions of people over its lifetime.
The Israelis have been studying cannabis for forty years. What’s shocking is America exports the scientific study of cannabis research to countries like Canada and Israel. America can’t export the future of cannabis to third-party countries. Just imagine if we unleashed American brainpower on cannabis. We would find many cures for diseases and ailments all from a simple plant.
I believe the real power of cannabis is on the medicinal side of the plant. I believe this because I recently conducted an interview with Professor Jacob Miguel Vigil from the University of New Mexico and he shared this same viewpoint, that viewpoint, of wanting the government to get out of the way of industry and letting the free marketplace take over.
He along with Dr. Bush-Joseph and Dr. Aggarwal shared a frustration with the Federal Government’s’ designation as a schedule 1 substance. They were advocating for a rollback which begs the question, will government deregulation work in the cannabis marketplace? I believe it will. The government should do what it does best and get out of the way of private enterprise and let the free market answer any and all questions relating to cannabis. You don’t want a bureaucratic organization controlling every facet of your existence thus telling you what you can and cannot ingest into your body. The potential power of this plant, alongside a free market and deregulation, is limitless.
Along with Dr. Bush-Joseph, all major sporting organizations in the United States are going to liberalize their stance on marijuana. They will soon wake up to witness the recovery benefits this plant, not just for athletes but ordinary people as well.
Contributed by: Shane McCormick