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Cannabis and sports might not seem like they mix. But for some athletes, the drug is an integral part of their success.
On a typical Saturday, at 4:30 am, Boulder, Colorado-based competitive ultramarathoner Flavie Dokken takes 5mg of Wana Recreational Tarts, puts on her running shoes, and heads out for a five-hour run. But Dokken is not your typical stoner, she uses cannabis as part of her workout routine and she is sponsored by Wana Brands, a cannabis company that produces cannabis-infused products. Dokken told Vice that the gummies help her tune into her breathing. Although Dokken uses THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive element of cannabis) during training, she stops using it a week before race day because of drug testing.
“Active lifestyle” might not be a set of words commonly associated with cannabis use. But cannabis companies are trying to change that by sponsoring athletes and athletic teams, getting them to post photos of products on their Instagram grids or put brand stickers on their athletic equipment, in order to gain visibility with the athletes’ fans.
Brands like Nike, Saucony, and New Balance, synonymous with the running industry, do not allow their athletes to be associated with cannabis. But that doesn’t mean they never partake. Dokken said she knows of a handful who do. Not only are they secretive about their use, but they also avoid affiliating with her for fear of guilt by association. She said that these athletes, “won’t follow me on Instagram,” but she also states that when she wears her Wana gear on the trails in Colorado, “people give me a high-five, which is awesome.”
Even as big brands don’t want to talk about cannabis use, it is increasingly officially sanctioned for competitive professional and amateur athletes: In 2018, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Code removed CBD from their list of banned substances, and allows an athlete to have THC in their system during a random out-of-competition drug test. But THC is still a prohibited substance for post-race or in-competition drug tests; this all means athletes are fine to use cannabis during the off-season and even during training, but cannot compete with the drug in their system.
In 2018, Canada legalized marijuana with the Cannabis Act, which prohibits athletes from being sponsored by cannabis companies. Canadian MMA fighter Elias Theodorou is trying to change that. He uses cannabis for pain management for bilateral neuropathy in his upper extremities (chronic pain in his wrists, elbows, upper neck, and spine). “Doctor prescribed cannabis is the best medical option to manage my pain,” he told VICE. “Traditional, first-line medications like pain killers, opioids, and NSAIDs have all had detrimental side-effects to my body as both a patient and athlete.”
Theodorou, who has been sponsored by Pert Plus, Mattel, and Coors Light, explained, “This fight is not only about working with cannabis companies, but also the need to knock down the barriers and negative perception other companies may have with cannabis.”
Mendi, a CBD startup company, has “athlete ambassadors” who help promote their products, including soccer player and Women’s World Cup winner Megan Rapinoe, and her girlfriend, WNBA player Sue Bird. The athlete ambassadors receive Mendi products to promote on their social channels and attend Mendi events. The company was founded by Rapinoe’s twin sister, Rachael, who is also a former pro soccer player. Although CBD is banned in the WNBA, Bird uses it in her off-season. She told New York Magazine, “It’s great for recovery and it relaxes me. I usually take it at night so I can sleep, which helps with recovery, and have had amazing results.”
Published: May 26, 2020