We didn't want to write about it. Seriously, we didn't. Sure, Michael Phelps has digital technology, the 24-hour news cycle and precision blown glass to blame for his plight but we're better than that.* But when US Swimming went and suspended Phelps for two months for, ultimately, acting his age, we felt compelled to write something. The 'Science' part of Popular Science restricts us from condemning the insanity of the punishment (note, however, they did nothing following his 2003 DUI). So below we offer an introductory, though hardly comprehensive, summary of marijuana and its (non)role as a performance-enhancing drug.
We should start by noting that US Swimming has made it quite clear that the ban of Phelps has nothing do with performance enhancement (not much to enhance) and everything to do with serving as the morality police.
"This is not a situation where any anti-doping rule was violated, but we decided to send a strong message to Michael because he disappointed so many people, particularly the hundreds of thousands of USA Swimming member kids who look up to him as a role model and a hero," the Colorado Springs-based federation said in a statement.
But, that doesn't stop us from asking why the drug is banned in sports in the first place. It's a question English sports minister Richard Caborn , Spanish Athletics Federation President Jose Maria Odriozola and New Zealand Sports Drug Agency executive director Graeme Steel all asked several years ago. Caborn said the World Anti-Doping Agency should not be "in the business of policing society." WADA's science director, Dr. Olivier Rabin, added his thoughts during the discussion, "Our mandate is to fight doping in sport. We don't go beyond that mandate and this has nothing to do with the social aspects of these drugs."
According to WADA, prohibition of a substance is based on three questions: does it enhance performance, is it dangerous for the athlete, and is it against the 'spirit of sport'? If the answer is yes to two of the questions, the substance is banned. Conceding that cannabinoids are dangerous to the athlete (smoke inhalation can never be good), the debate rests on performance enhancement and spirit of sport questions. Given Rabin's comments we figured data must exist showing the power of pot in sports.
An oddity worth noting is that marijuana is only sometimes banned. During competition, athletes testing positive will suffer punishment but testing positive out of competition (during training) is okay. The rationale for this depends on whom you talk to. Some argue the ability of cannabinoids to calm nerves, thus enhancing performance, only works directly before a competition (unless you found some especially sticky stuff). Others argue it's an example of WADA waffling on how marijuana aligns with the 'spirit of sport'.
"In the case of marijuana, it's a call by WADA to balance the strong views by many that it shouldn't be on the list at all and say that their primary concern is limiting it during competition," said Steel. "What athletes do during their own personal time is not WADA's business. That's my own personal opinion and not speaking officially on behalf of WADA."
Cannabinoids are not the only substance on the 'sometimes prohibited' list. Most stimulants with short-term effects, along with narcotics for pain relief, can be used freely outside of competition. These substances clearly can benefit performance; again, suggesting marijuana has similar capability.
So back to the core question. Can marijuana enhance performance? A cursory search of PubMed found a surprising lack of quality research on whether smoking a joint could help athletes win anything other than an eating contest. We doubt scientists would have a hard time recruiting volunteers so logic might suggest that most scientists just don't buy for a second that inhaling Cheetos is a desirable side-effect for elite athletes. WADA provided several references for this piece that focused more generally on the pharmacology of marijuana but offered little data on actual physical performance.
marijuana doesn't have to be inhaled, either; there are other means of using the plant. this means that marijuana would have to fit BOTH of the other requirements
He is America's role model and he had an illegal substance. I personally think he is punished rightfully just for that. (i'm not arguing marijuana is bad for the health or if it's a sports enhancer)
You stated in your article:
"British Journal of Psychiatry by Ashton, does note that colors might seem brighter".
I have to agree with this one……or it could have just been neon lights of Miami Florida in the 1980’s.
Also, it seems you should have coordinated this article with another PopSci article:
While i do not advocate its use, and i do have questions about its legalization (except for medical purposes), I don't see where Phelps' use conformed to the 3 WADA requirement of a banned substance.
this was all about social and moral issues.
The issue isn't pot's effect on competition, or shouldn't be. The higher faster farther goal should be a level field of honest competition with as few chemical imponderable curve balls as possible.
Research on cannabis is well and good, but surely the money could be used to answer some more important question about it.
One might be to determine if indeed it has any effect on athletic training. Could be; it might be studied in a voluntary--and scientifically structured way in sports in which digitally split second times might be scientifically useful.
Moral issues are another matter. The one most important to me is to what degree nonusers ethically might be expected to share medical expenses for long term use of recreational drugs--or consequences similar to quadriplegia from personal choices like inadequately insured recreational motorcycle use, extreme sports, or alcohol. Consider also that most today don't want to be in the same room with tobacco smoke, but it wasn't always that way. Ethics there have changed from personal freedom to smoke to an obligation to protect non-smokers, especially children. That returns us to the troubling role model issue and cereal boxes, if not the Olympic pool. Seems to me the endorsements are accepted with an understanding and probably a contract. If they aren't wanted, then the role model issue is or should be moot. If they are, no whining.
if you can do any prolonged physical activity whilst high on the ganja, you deserve another gold medal. Most people can barely convince themselves that the effort of opening a refrigerator is worth it while high.
Cannabis IS a performance enhancer...during training...and with some caveats. The first caveat is that the negative effects of smoking cannabis over long periods of time (reduced lung function, reduced VO2 max, hardening of the arteries, reduced physical energy due to the immune system response to the carcinogens of the smoke) far outweigh the benefits of Cannabis for athletes (which I discuss below) and the active ingredient THC.
However, if the THC within the Cannabis plant is vaporized instead of smoked, the athletic benefits can be tremendous for an athlete in training. Vaporization (Google: Volcano Vaporizor or THC Vaporization if you want to learn more) allows a user or patient to inhale sugar vapors of THC instead of the harmful smoke of a joint or bong hit. Based on my experience there are no negative physical effects. The positive and negative neurological effects of THC are well documented, but inhaling sugar vapors mixed with oxygen is probably not physically harmful. However the positive physical effects and athletic benefits of Cannabus are many. These include:
1. Stretching and Flexibility - Some varieties of Cannabinoids seem to have a muscle relaxant effect. This allows an athlete to do stretching exercises that greatly increase flexibility when done repeatedly over time. In my opinion it is much easier and more enjoyable to stretch after vaporizing THC and I can reach certain stretching goals that would be difficult and maybe impossible to reach without the help of Cannabis. It certainly would take a much longer time period (many more weeks or months) to reach the same goal. Flexibility is important in almost all sports and is critical at the highest levels of certain sports like swimming, tennis, golf, baseball, etc.
2. Recovery - Cannabis can also help an athlete recover faster between competition cycles and after injury. Since Cannabis is one of the most effective natural pain relievers, when combined with the muscle relaxant effect described above it can allow a sore athlete or an athlete with muscle pulls to do the necessary stretching or exercises with reduced pain. The prescribed physical therapy for many sports injuries can be painful, but the recovery depends on the athlete’s ability to do the prescribed stretching or exercises regularly and to push the bounds of physical pain. The combination of the muscle relaxant and pain relief can make recovery easier and sometimes faster.
3. Muscle Memory - Learning certain sports requires strong muscle memory. My experience is that the euphoric high that Cannabis can provide when used in slightly larger doses helps an athlete learn certain motions in sports (jump shots, tennis serves, golf swings, etc.). This is based on personal experience but my best guess is that neurons form strong pathways when a person is "high", so focused practicing under the effects of Cannabis (aided by the muscle relaxant and pain relief effects) may allow a person to reach the zone of peak performance and then form muscle memories that can be repeated during competition. Ask Allen Iverson if he ever practiced his jump shot after smoking a joint.
4. Mind Body connection - This one has limited scientific evidence, but I can tell you that when I vaporize Cannabis it often allows me to have a much greater connection between mind and body. For example, I might "feel" my legs and the individual muscles that contribute towards the thrust of a jump. I also might make a connection between a certain motion during a tennis serve and the resulting speed of the ball. Brain scans show more activity and different pathways of thinking during the "high" produced by THC. THC is also a stimulant so it can produce periods of greater focus and concentration which can be extremely helpful if used during high intensity sports training.
So in summary...WAKE UP AMERICA! Old stereotypes about "Pot" and "Stoners" should be left on That 70's Show. Cannabis has been used as a healing medicine and spiritual awakener by many advanced civilizations since the beginning of recorded time. The new and inexpensive method of Vaporizing THC along with focused scientific research can allow our modern society to take advantage of the God given benefits of the Cannabis herb and eliminate or reduce the harmful effects, most of which are related to smoking and not the herb itself. Research is needed, but the benefits of utilizing this herb are too great to be ignored.
The Majority of pot smokers are lazy and ...stereotypically idiots , just like alot of people that don't toke. So when one of the few smart people decide there body is curious about marijuana, they get thrown to the door and told " Unacceptable"
He is Smart Enough to maintain physical exertion while Smoking marijuana, because cardio exercise helps "Unclog" pores in the lungs, and takes the watery resins of pot into his bloodstream. IT IS TRULY UNFAIR he should be Terminated from competition for absorbing another Natural chemical compound on the planet.
If Anything to be Banned for , it should be "hard" synthetic drugs, not a damn plant! Cigarettes are more of a hazard then Pot . With all the chemicals Cig Companies throw in them, your better off smoking crack.
It really frustrates myself ; as a frequent user of marijuana ( For Mental enhancement), That government still has not accepted that Cannabis has real value, and potential when Not Abused. All because it was a little to powerful for previous leaders. Well If its Been in the Genetics for a while, Your tolerance Increases, and your body Finds Use for it.
Good article. I can only Imagine Micheal's Anger...
As a human being and as an American I feel it is un-American to ban marijuanas use. Most people have no idea why it bacame illegal in the first place. It had more to do with personal bigotries, than it did with getting stoned. And please save the role model speech. Raise your own kids and quit asking atheltes, celebrities, and political who evers to do it for you. After all Michael Phelps does not owe anyone anything. He worked hard to win his gold medals. His hard workd, his efforts, and through his own desire to be a great athelete. I think Charles Barkley said it best when he said that "PARENTS ARE ROLE MODELS". My mother always told me as a kid that "my sports heroes were just men and not Jesus". "So they will never be perfect, and without sin". "Dont be too involved in trying to be like them, but be myself". "And try my best to do the right thing".
Also lets get real about this!!! Anyone who drinks a beer, a glass of wine, a shot of alcohol, has no right to point their fingers at pot smokers. After all when was the last time you picked up a news paper and read that the pot smoker crashed his car last night. Or the pot smokers was beating his wife. Beside you're too hungry to beat your wife; and if shes a good cook you are not going to screw that up. We need to grow up in this country and stop marijuana prohibition for good.
lastly I dont believe that any sporting organization should be in the business of banning any product that is legal and over the counter. Certain things that can be bought in the health food store; are great for preventative medicine. An athelete has the right to prevent illness just like the rest of us. Its desire that wins a race, and not always the substance.
Thats my story and I'm sticking to it.
Atlantic City, NJ
Rabin had previously disputed that contention noting that a reduction “in the sense of fear or apprehension”
Obviously never smoked, "Can you say, paranoia?"
Personally I don't think what this man(whether or not he's a public figure), does in his free time is anyone's business. Unless he was going around telling the world "Hey watch me hit this" he was keeping it private. Can't people respect that? He may be a role model for kids but he wasn't finishing the race then puffing up in front of them.
Did marijuana enhance his performance? Probably not in this case.
Can marijuana effect his performance? Absolutely. The effect may be negative but it is still an effect.
If I started taking recreational drugs that affected my performance at work (ex. I became an alcoholic), I would fully expect to be fired. Why should it be any different for an athlete? Why should it be any different for marijuana?
For that matter if I did something illegal that reflected badly on my employer, I feel they would be within their rights to fire me. Is this not the same thing?
I've been riding and racing motocross for many years and I can tell you without any doubt that smoking a really good Sativa beforehand can take my riding up to the next level. It has everything to do with concentration and what I believe to be a truly heightened sense of feeling the rhythm and energy of the activity. I have an above-average IQ and was diagnosed ADD at a very young age (my brain tends to never stop running) and smoking pot helps to quiet or completely eliminate all the many thoughts in my head that are peripheral to the activity at hand and allows me to focus completely and be more inside the moment.
I do, however, also believe that every single person is different in their experience of this practice. I know guys who love to smoke and love to ride but will never do the two together because of the way smoking pot effects them personally. To some it becomes a hindrance, and to others like myself it is the most desirable way to engage in the activity.
Canada quietly suspended its pot laws for a year (about 3 or 4 years ago). The Supreme Court said that without a reliable legal means for medicinal users to get the weed, then prohibition violated their rights to get the medicine they needed. So for 1 year no one was arrested for simple possession, because it couldn't stand up in court. Did society spiral in to lawless drug-induced anarchy? Nope. Nothing happened.
The government was forced to grow and distribute pot to medicinal users so they could re-introduce possession laws, which is where we are today.
Because if Canada ever did legalize pot, the US would clamp down so hard on our borders that trade would grind to a halt. 80% of our economy is exports to the US, we can't afford to take that risk.
Thanks guys, we really appreciate that. I love feeling like a criminal and dealing with criminals whenever I make a purchase. I love hiding out in my basement to smoke instead of sitting out on my backyard patio set. And I love having the GOVERNMENT INTERFERE IN MY LIFE. And it's not even MY government.
Can it enhance sports? Give me a break. But all that stuff about relieving stress and anxiety... You betcha. Do we have a need for that in today's world. I think so. I smoke a (small) bowl when I come home from work and relax and have dinner, groove out to some music, cuddle with my wife. I wake up in the morning refreshed and ready for another stressful day at the office. Not hung over, not in a pool of vomit. Maybe an empty bag of doritos or popcorn laying by the couch.
It probably doesn't enhance sports, but it definitely enhances the daily lives of normal people, which I think is more important.
Come on you scientist out there. Barely any research has been done on the ganja and the government wont really allow it. Its time to reveal the truth! Legalize the herb
All this discussion about Phelps proves is that we as a society are obsessed with celebrity gossip.
As for the weed: it should be more accepted. If the government legalized and regulated it, the financial surplus would certainly help in these troubled times lol
1) No one who commits a crime ever believes it is wrong. We all follow all of the laws we believe in and justify away any we break. Thus, anyone who smokes pot has no buisness creating or deciding on pot legality or enforcement in the same way merderers should not be creating or deciding on homicide legislation. That people who will break the law to do something want it legalized means nothing. If those who do not and have not ever indulged, however, descided it should be legal, that would ba a valid decision for the good of society.
2) Phelps was on a team that represents the country and was a sponcer that represented a company. As a representative, he must reflect the values of those organizations. They are more than justified in dropping him if he no longer represents the values and abilities he was hired for.
3) Just because an action is private or personal does not make it a "natural right" granted by God/god or the Consitution. Smoking a blunt, eating dinner, cuddling with your wife, having some munchies, then sleeping the night might SEEM harmless enough, but look at the harm he has caused society.
A) In Canada, his healthcare is paid by his neighbors, and we know that smoking ANYTHING is bad for you. His lung cancer is their cost.
B) Sedentary much? He said he already worked in an office. Rather than spend his hours relaxing with exercise (I grow a garden in spring and summer and split firewood all fall and winter), he is not only being less productive in his own life, he is adding heart issues to his health bill. The snacks can't be helping that either.
C) He is medicating himself through a job that is obviously emotionally draining. While that drain and discontent could resolve itself into a little bit of healthy ambition for a better job, he is dulling himself to it and enduring it. This makes him an enduring, rather than an enjoying, worker, which is less productive for the company, and thus for society.
That's a whole lot of suck for a life who only redeeming quality appears to be spending some time with his life (which in no way requires pot, as any woman would rather have a man's actual conscious attention with his full mental faculty engaged).
Pot bad = govt outlaws it
Phelps broke law = punished by national team, fired as sponcer
The world = all seems right
Great article - much more "tongue in cheek" humor than the average PopSci piece. As for Uber Athlete Phelps, give the kid a break - yes pot is illegal (which IMHO is archaic), but he's just a kid, and kids do dumb things. His sponsors have a right to drop him for not being a perfect role model (as if anyone could be perfect), but I agree with the author that US Swimming is out of line by trying to be the "morality police."
What if Michael was coming down off of a high when he showed up for swim meets, would it matter then? What if he showed up with a hangover? My point is when some try to use the rationale about separating private life and public life, eventually the two will come face to face, just like it did here. US Swimming has every right to do what they please. Really, if anyone does not want to follow the rules they are perfectly free to quit the team. It doesn't seem unreasonable that US Swimming wants to maintain a positive image and not have the reputation of illegal doings on their team.
With U.S. expectations that Michael was going to win something in China, how would we feel now if Michael had blown it in China (no pun intended) and failed to medal at all? Would the drug abuse have mattered more to us? It's obvious that he did not let it affect his performance, but it could have been different with someone else who wasn't as gifted or as disciplined.
As an aside, why an athlete would want to inhale smoke, and unfiltered smoke on top of that?
There's no question that many of us have done foolish things in our youth, but it did not mean that we escaped the consequences. Out of those mistakes we (hopefully) learn to become better citizens. The team may have done Michael a favor in the long run.
As far a performance enhancer (huh?) Mary Jane probably belongs in the category with alcohol. No great debate there.
Oakspar77777 that is your choice. You are free to make this decision. We should be able to make our own decisions about marijuana use. The only victim in the crime of smoking marijuana is the person that gets caught. You can get less time for murdering your spouse than for being in possesion of a small amount of marijuana. This just does not make since to me. It is my body and should be my choice what I put in it. Free The Weed!
"what message does this send out to our kids?!?"
THAT YOU CAN USE CANNABIS, AND STILL BE SUCESSFUL IN LIFE!
sorry old people, the truth hurts.
i think that pot isnt a big deal i bet that at least over have 50% of americans have smoked pot its not that bad you cant directly die from it but if you take 13 asprin i bet that it will be your last headache im only 15 and to know that an us swimming champ smokes pot, that just says hes just like the rest of us. he hit a bong big deal i do it everyday just to get out of bed. i have MD, scoliosis, dislocated knees. dont tell me anything about weed the WADA can kiss my stoned butt
The real crime in this situation is the fact that the government makes drugs illegal without doing proper testing for negative effects. I'm currently taking a class on drugs and culture with a professor, Dr. Page, who ran many of the government field experiments on cannabis, and he himself has said that the politics and "war on drugs" started around the same time as our field experiments, and the illegality of the substance is based on bullshit politics, and not on the studies that the country spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on in the 70's and concluded that there are no significant negative effects. The fact that we make things illegal in this country just because of unwarranted fear is the real crime.
It is banned for a reason. The majority of WORLD people vote against it. For some PROVEN, SCIENTIFIC, actual facts about any drug even the NATURAL weed, side effects(Brain Cell killing) that well way over the satisfaction of what YOU get out of it, remember now, everyone's body is different and can take any drug, for whatever reason to the wrong direction and the more people take the same effect on a drug especially when the effects either beats another person in a competitive sport or sends them to their GRAVE or close. Athletes, military, officers of the LAW, don"t matter who or what. Anything ILLEGAL is or should be BANNED!!! Be thankful on the City laws on the repeat drug offenders for using an Illegal drug, hehe. With the Government your discharged unless your a BMFer. The Athletic Association or what not,fines, suspentions and depending on the drug, ban you. Swimmers are not more special than the football player shooting roids or a Synthetic drug, that you would never know what is truly in it, ect. NOTHING in your body that you have to smoke or breath or inhale or WHATEVER can benifit you. You may think they do but it is all the game of drugs. The Law might not be right but IT has to be followed. What it comes down to is if MAJORITY rules against something, 9 out of 10 times its the right decision or decisions.
The Vapor Weed guy, truly a remarkable find, however document it, prove without a shadow of a doubt that your method can indeed do what you say it can and then prove there are NO side effects of any kind then it won"t make you a sound like a liar and good luck trying to get your effects of vaporizing THC to stick with what someone else gets. Most of the attributes can"t be technically proven but if It can then its on but that would go back to still being Illegal in more ways than you want to know which means Forget it! You get what happens when you break a rule or law in anything. Swimmer Micheal knew that!!! Cheating gets you know where. DRUGS are being abused in a way where people are trying to get away with it.
Drugs are tested in all aspects, yes even side effects. You just don"t want to see or hear them, might be because you use them or even abuse them. What comes in must come out in someway or another and you hope it is the good way. Google research in all aspect of that drug and if your still not convinced most of the street ones are going to be harmful and illegal for good enough of a reason that the MAJORITY of people in the WORLD ban it, then the drug has now controlled you. For those that agree with this approach don"t mean you have to give up what you probably enjoy, it"s your body, mind and spirit.
This is hilarious. I love how many people are against pot because of cultural taboo. Do some actual legitimate research from unbiased sources and then make your opinion. It's funny how half of America pops prescription and over-the-counter pills like they're nothing, and then when a swimmer smokes a little weed everyone gets on their soap boxes.
How many people have died from smoking weed?
How many husbands smoke weed and then go home and abuse their wives?
How many people get in car accidents because they're stoned?
I'm not saying weed is necessarily a good drug or that it has absolutely no repercussions. I think that there's a time and a place for it, that certain people can benefit from it, and that it's a far more mild drug than other socially acceptable and prescribed medications.