It might seem counterintuitive to think of cannabis in the context of athletic performance, but one local researcher thinks it has the potential to be the next big ingredient in the health and wellness industry as a way to target inflammation.
Through her research in the realms of experimental medicine and nutrition, Dr. Natasha Ryz’s work studying gut disorders has shown her how cannabis and its various compounds could have applications as an anti-inflammatory—which could be beneficial for patients suffering from far more than gut issues. (If we’re talking about exercise and athletics, think exercise-induced muscle damage, sprained joints, and other chronic or recurring injuries.)
Though preliminary data using human subjects is limited, Ryz tells the Georgia Straightthat studies using mice and rats have shown that the active compounds in cannabis (cannabinoids like tetrahydrocannabinol [THC] and cannabidiol [CBD] ) can prevent damage caused by inflammation.
“These studies looked at inflammatory markers, and what’s interesting is they showed that THC alone had some effects, and CBD alone had some effects, but when you combine them, they work best,” she says.
As scientists have discovered with other conditions and cannabis, its compounds are usually most effective when they’re administered together.
She says a separate human trial showed that long-term users of cannabis had lower levels of an inflammatory marker known as C-reactive protein.
Although this starting point for future research is data from which Ryz might be able to deduce things, she says she can’t seriously consider it until a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial of a similar nature takes place.
She says she is confident that as more and more researchers look to cannabis’s potential, they’ll find that other compounds in the plant have promise in the area of inflammation too.
“Targeting inflammation is going to be really important in the future of what cannabinoids can do, and it’s not just the cannabinoids but terpenes and all these other compounds in cannabis,” she says.
(Terpenes, like limonene or linalool, are compounds that we associate with certain aromas. They’re commonly used in aromatherapy but naturally occur in everything from cannabis to flowers to herbs and more.)
“What’s interesting is when we reduce inflammation, because it plays a role in so many other diseases, we also reduce pain, damage, and other side effects,” Ryz adds.
For athletes and those who follow a strict exercise regimen, reducing inflammation can be key to increasing performance and stamina.
While scientists await more concrete data, athletes of all levels have looked to cannabis, albeit quietly, for relief for years.
Only recently have professional athletes begun to open up about their cannabis use, with some sharing that they’re not using it just as a way to target muscle soreness and chronic pain but also to inspire focus and creativity on the field.
Our earliest public recollection is of Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati, who won Olympic gold in 1998 with 17.8 nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood in his system. (That’s more than eight times the proposed limit for drug-impaired driving under the federal Liberal government’s Bill C-46.)
Rebagliati still refers to cannabis as “a performance-enhancing drug”.
“They’re using cannabis in a way that goes beyond inflammation,” Ryz says of professional athletes like UFC fighter Nick Diaz and former NFL player Ricky Williams.
“I guess you could say it’s an enhancement, because it’s putting you in the moment; it’s helping you stay calm; it’s helping with your anxiety,” she says. “But that being said, these are experienced users who’ve trained their body to respond and found the appropriate cultivars to do that.”
Although athletes might use cannabis to reduce inflammation and perform better on the field, Ryz has seen firsthand how incorporating cannabis into even the most sedentary lifestyle can contribute to making better life choices all around—something that could result in future applications like weight loss and increased metabolism.