Science Doesn’t Support Idea That Marijuana Aids Athletes’ Performance

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One study concluded that the drug “does not act as a sport performance enhancing agent as raised by popular beliefs.”

It added, “Thus, cannabis consumption prior to exercise should be avoided in order to maximize performance in sports.”

A spokesman for WADA, Jon Fitzgerald, said that WADA “consults with all stakeholders in relation to substances or methods that perhaps should be added or removed,” and he added that “throughout this time, the U.S. has been consistent in its strongly held position that WADA should keep cannabis on the List.”

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Mr. Fitzgerald said that the WADA authors “stand by” the 2011 scientific analysis, published in the journal Sports Medicine, that looks expansively at the effects of marijuana use on athletes. One section is devoted to the drug’s potential to enhance performance and draws on a handful of previous scientific studies to support that possibility.

Experts say the WADA analysis goes beyond what the earlier papers actually stated.

In one example, the 2011 analysis misstates the position expressed by a scientist named Jon Wagner in his 1989 paper titled “Abuse of Drugs Used to Enhance Athletic Performance.” The WADA paper asserts that Dr. Wagner “described cannabis as ergogenic,” meaning performance-enhancing. Dr. Wagner, a former assistant professor at the University of Nebraska who now works in the biotech industry, disagreed.

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“I didn’t write that,” Dr. Wagner said in an interview. In the paper, he wrote that marijuana doesn’t improve “vital capacity” or grip strength and that if marijuana helped at all, it would be by helping an athlete relax. In an interview, he said he had taken that last idea from anecdotal conversations with tennis players.

“That’s just it,” Dr. Wagner said. “People just talking.”

“That was like a throwaway line,” he added. “I didn’t imagine it would have an impact in the world of Olympics.”

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