Medical and recreational marijuana use has surged across the United States as more states legalize the drug, but young female athletes may want to think twice before taking a toke.
A new study from the University of Northern Colorado connects regular cannabis use in fit young women to decreased anaerobic power, a component of physical activity involving short, intense bursts of exercise.
The study also found that people who consumed cannabis products containing THC - the chemical behind pot's psychological effects - had a moderate increased risk of heart disease compared to nonusers. The consumption method didn't matter, the researchers said.
The study included 24 women - 12 active cannabis users and 12 nonusers (who had not consumed any cannabis products over the last year). All were between 19 and 34 years old and regularly engaged in resistance and aerobic training.
The level of use for the active cannabis users varied. At the first visit, all 12 said they had smoked or eaten an edible THC-infused product in the previous two weeks. Average duration of use was six years, 15 days a month. None of the cannabis users also smoked tobacco.
The researchers found two significant differences between the groups. Compared to nonusers, marijuana users showed 18% less power output during the first 5 seconds of pedaling a stationary bike, and 20% less during the next 5-second period.
The study authors noted that the difference "is important for both coaches and athletes to consider whether the athlete's performance relies heavily on short-term power production."
But participants were similar in most other metrics, including aerobic performance, lung function and muscle strength. "This may be related to the overall good health and regular physical activity status of many of the study subjects," according to Laura Stewart, a professor in the university's School of Sport and Exercise Science, and colleagues.
"It is possible that it may take longer for the effects of regularly using cannabis to appear," Stewart and her team noted.
The study was published July 13 in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
The second study finding carries potential health risks. Even after age was accounted for, the researchers noticed that cannabis users showed higher concentrations of a protein that indicates inflammation. Additionally, the earlier the women began smoking, the higher the protein concentration.
Based on the protein count, marijuana users were at a moderate risk of heart disease compared to nonusers, who were at low risk, the researchers concluded.
The study team emphasized in a journal news release that athletes' use of products containing THC is prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency. Pure cannabidiol (CBD), the other component of marijuana, is permitted, however.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on marijuana's potential side effects.
SOURCE: Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, news release, July 13, 2022