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As of today, cannabis is now legal in Canada. While you are allowed to consume the substance recreationally from Oct. 17 onward, athletes subject to the Canadian Anti-Doping Program (CADP) will not be able to partake, as it will remain a prohibited substance in competition, and a positive test would result in a sanction. But for runners who do not compete, there could be some benefits, and though the medicinal properties of cannabis are not yet fully understood, there is growing research showing the possible performance-enhancing properties of cannabis.

RELATED: Cannabis will be legal in Canada, but not for athletes

Pain relief

Cannabis may help athletes train a bit harder, since its pain-relieving properties can ease the strain on the body, while its mind-altering effects may help some athletes push a little harder when the workout gets really tough.

“Cannabis has been shown to be good for pain control and can be useful while training at non-peak levels,” explained Harvard-trained physician and cannabis therapeutics specialist Jordan Tishler to Men’s Health

Paul Landini, a personal trainer and health educator in Toronto wrote in The Globe and Mail last year, “Marijuana can have a focusing effect, too, making it easier to get through workouts without distractions. Those are the big benefits in terms of performance.”

Recovery

Cannabidiol, known commonly as CBD, has therapeutic qualities that may potentially help athletes recover from their workouts. For athletes, this could mean managing inflammation post-workout, reducing muscle strain and managing dehydration from strenuous training. Perhaps even some injuries can be dealt with by using CBD oil rather than over-the-counter drugs.

RELATED: How using a cannabis-related product can aid in recovery

Mental clarity and focus

While the effects of cannabis can vary widely depending on the individual and the strain of marijuana, there is some anecdotal evidence that it can help certain athletes increase their sensory awareness. Landini also wrote in The Globe and Mail that, “Marijuana can have a focusing effect, too, making it easier to get through workouts without distractions.”

The downsides of cannabis use for athletes

Smoking marijuana has negative health impacts on the lungs, so endurance athletes, should consider consuming cannabis through another means. And though some people use cannabis to induce sleep, it has also been shown to disrupt the REM sleep cycles during which the body releases hormones that are vital for muscle growth and recovery. A study in Current Psychiatry Report suggests, “THC may decrease sleep latency but could impair sleep quality long-term.” But researchers also remind readers that research on cannabis and sleep is in its infancy. 

Finally, using cannabis close to target events or when you are trying to reach your best performance isn’t advisable. “Cannabis has been shown to be a performance-degrading drug, so for peak performance you should not use cannabis,” cannabis therapeutics specialist Tishler said.

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