Study claims regular cannabis use impairs performance in female athletes
While cannabis users produced significantly less power, they did not display as much anaerobic fatigue
Young women who are regular cannabis users, even when active and fit, do not produce as much anaerobic power as those who don’t partake, concludes a new U.S. study.
Published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, investigators from the University of Northern Colorado sought to determine if chronic cannabis use in physically active, female athletes alters health performance.
In essence, anaerobic activity is “a higher-intensity, higher-power version of exercise,” according to HealthLine. During these short bursts of intense effort, “the body can’t process oxygen fast enough to use it as fuel,” the study explains.
The small study compared the performance of 12 healthy, regular cannabis users — who had used the plant an average of six years and consumed an average of 15 days monthly — to that of 12 non-users, participants who had not consumed any cannabis products for at least 12 months.
Members of both groups were aged 19 to 34 and regularly engaged in resistance and aerobic training, per a study press release posted on News Wise.
“There were no differences between groups with respect to body size, body composition, pulmonary function, cardiorespiratory function or muscular strength,” authors of the cross-sectional study wrote.
Test involved subjects pedalling as quickly as they could
Anaerobic performance was measured on a stationary bike, whereby the women pedalled as quickly as they could against resistance for 30 seconds.
The findings indicate cannabis users “produced significantly less power” during the first two states of the Wingate assessment, a test to determine peak anaerobic power and anaerobic capacity
Indeed, compared with non-users, cannabis consumers showed 18 per cent less power output during the first five seconds of pedalling and 20 per cent less during the second five-second period.
Noting that differences were statistically significant, study authors further explain it “is important for both coaches and athletes to consider whether the athlete’s performance relies heavily on short-term power production.”
Despite less power, though, regular weed users also “experienced significantly less anaerobic fatigue,” notes the study abstract.
Higher risk of cardiovascular disease among cannabis consumers
More long term, investigators found that female athletes who regularly use cannabis also showed a higher risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD).
Once age was accounted for, cannabis users had significantly higher concentrations of C-reactive protein (CRP), an indicator of inflammation, than non-users. “Controlling inflammation in the body is essential for maintaining optimal health and athletic performance,” the statement points out.
It further notes that the younger the participant began using cannabis, “the higher the CRP concentration.”
Based on those concentrations, researchers found cannabis users were at moderate risk of CVD while non-users were at low risk.
“Athletes and coaches who rely heavily on anaerobic performance should consider these findings because they indicate that regular cannabis use may affect early power production and CVD risk,” the study authors wrote.
An Australian pilot study published earlier in 2022 investigated the effects of acute, oral CBD treatment (which did not include THC) on physiological and psychological responses to aerobic exercise.
Study of male athletes explored CBD effect on performance
Looking at nine endurance-trained males, researchers found that “CBD appears to alter some key physiological and psychological responses to aerobic exercise without impairing performance.”
CBD’s potentially beneficial effects on sleep quality, pain and mild traumatic brain injury “may be of particular interest to certain athletes,” note authors of a Canadian/U.K. study published in 2021.
“Elucidating the effects of whole cannabis, THC and CBD is pertinent for both researchers and practitioners given the widespread use of these products, and their potential to interact with athletes’ performance and recovery,” it suggests.
And yet another Australian study published in 2020 found no evidence of ergogenic (broadly defined as a technique or substance used to enhance performance) or ergolytic (impairs exercise performance) effects from chronic cannabis consumption.
“In some sports, advantages may plausibly be conveyed by psychotropic enhancement or pain reduction,” the study authors concluded.