While there have been talks of legalising marijuana from time immemorial, we may have got the most key finding over the need for legalising cannabis in combat and physical sports. Athletes from the National Football League (NFL) to the UFC or even tri-athletes and bodybuilders are giving the pain-killers a miss now, as medical marijuana is steadily turning out to be the next big thing helping in an athlete's physical and mental recovery.

Key findings

According to a Yahoo News/Marist Poll, 67-69% of Americans — over 1100 adults — have preferred using marijuana for pain relief, rather than the opoid pain-killers. 

Opoids, the particular class of drugs containing heroin and pain relievers like oxycodone, morphine and fentanyl, could turn out fatal to the immune system if there is an overdose. Also, according to the CNN, opoid-related deaths accounted to approx 33,000 in 2015.

Marijuana in sports: Has the time finally come?

The cannabis, a Schedule I drug, remains a key ingredient for sportsmen, especially in combat sports, if certain athletes are to be believed.

In the NFL: According to the Chicago Tribune, some NFL stars, which include former Super Bowl Champion Jim McMahon, have approached the Cannabis in Professional Sports forum in Houston, to state that the general prescription painkillers have done nothing for them when it comes to managing chronic pain. With this on the agenda, McMahon and others called for the legalisation of marijuana in the sport.

A players' union has also been formed to bring to light the medical benefits of marijuana for the athletes.

Connor Cook, Oakland Raiders, Houston Texans, NFL, Playoffs

"Now I'm openly fighting for it [the legalisation of marijuana in physical sports]. When cannabis is illegal and opioids are the No. 1 choice for managing pain, that's a problem," said Eugene Monroe, who used to play as an offensive tackle for the Baltimore Ravens.

Monroe, in 2016, went public with his plea of removing marijuana from the NFL's banned substances list. He has mentioned the use of cannabinoids for the successful treatment of chronic pain and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

Marijuana use in more sports

Concussions are the part and parcel of combat sports, especially in pro wrestling, where the athletes have to go through several chair and ladder shots to the head. We all know what happened to the likes of Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero: the deaths that brought forward the PG Era in the WWE, with chair shots to the head no more a sight.

vince mcmahon
Chris BenoitReuters

Having said that, the long-term effects of injuries in boxing to UFC and the NBA to MLB, turn out to be deadly and vicious. We aren't advocating the the use of marijuana here, but as per experts, it does the trick!

"I think all athletes—whether they're NFL or NBA pros or just serious athletes wanting to better their fitness—are learning about the therapeutic potential of this plant," says Suzanne Sisley, an Arizona-based physician and psychiatrist affiliated with the advocacy group Doctors for Cannabis Regulation.

"Athletes are teaching each other how to do this. It's like a peer-mentoring process."

In the UFC: One of the most well-known figures in the Mixed Martial Arts circuit, Nate Diaz was once seen smoking a Cannabidol (CBD) vape pen during the UFC 202 press conference, where he fought his second battle inside the octagon against Conor McGregor.

"It helps with the healing process and inflammation," Diaz mentioned. "So you want to get these before and after the fights, training. It'll make your life a better place."

nate diaz, ufc, boxing
Nate DiazReuters

Interestingly, UFC President Dana White didn't have a problem with that.

"Getting high and working out is one of the least talked about and least appreciated pleasures of fitness," says UFC commentator Joe Rogan.

In Bodybuilding: Jim McAlpine, a veteran weightlifter, explains how smoking weed is associated with the sport of bodybuilding.

"It's always been a huge part of bodybuilding culture to smoke," says McAlpine, the founder of the 420 Games in San Francisco, told Men's Fitness. "We all hid it. But the collective consciousness has changed to take that stigma away.

"It's like coming out of the closet for a gay person. I've had to hide this my whole life as an athlete. But now I can stand up and feel proud about it! Cannabis helps your mind get into a flow state as an athlete.


"Whether you're skiing or running or in the gym lifting weights, cannabis can unlock your mind's potential to focus on the sport you're participating in."

McAlpine is now opening a gym and wellness centre in San Francisco, named Power Plant Fitness, which would allow members to consume marijuana products on site, under the supervision of canna-knowledgable fitness professionals.

In long-distance running: Avery Collins, a pro ultra-marathoner, is pretty much vocal about the benefits of weed workouts – from pot-extract CBD to Ben Gay-like gels, which helps during the niggling injuries and wear and tear to the body during excessive activities.

"After a 30- to 40-mile run, I'll sit down, and my legs will keep throbbing and pounding; it's like they think they're still supposed to be going," said the Steamboat Springs, CO–based runner. "That's when the CBD compounds help tremendously. They calm down your legs and, because they're anti-inflammatory, let them recover faster."

He adds that marijuana builds more mental stamina, increased focus, and pain relief.

The debate yet again: Legalisation - yes or no?


Experts, including researchers at the University of Michigan and Oregon Health and Science University, mentioned that medical marijuana could be prescribed in place of opioids for the treatment of chronic pain, arthritis pain, or pain associated with Crohn's disease.

Research also shows that consuming cannabis in heavy doses (above 100mg) can result in short-term memory loss, decrease alertness, limit lung capacity and pose increased heart-attack incidents; heart patients remaining the most vulnerable.

It is also mentioned that in motorsport or tennis or even golf, the intake of marijuana can have a detrimental effect on the health, as per Ben Green eld, an Ironman triathlete and a holistic nutritionist.

"There are some suggestions that it could cause damage to the heart. One study published in the American Heart Association's journal found that pot use can cause what's called transient ventricular regional ballooning: TVRB of the heart, a form of cardio myopathy that can weaken the heart muscle and mimic symptoms of a heart attack," said the author of Beyond Training.