What Should We Tell Youth About How Marijuana Use Affects Physical Activity?

One would think this is an easy question to answer for prevention, health, and youth sports professionals and parents. 

However, it’s become increasingly more complicated since some marijuana companies, professional athletes, and marijuana enthusiasts have been promoting cannabis use as beneficial when taken before and after exercise and sports activities (e.g.: https://www.insider.com/cannabis-could-make-exercise-enjoyable-help-weight-loss-fans-say-2021-4).  

It’s therefore critically important for teachers, coaches, and parents to tell, and regularly remind, youth that marijuana use can harm their ability to engage in physical activity and perform well in sports as well as in school. 

For example, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry has stated that marijuana use can lead to the same breathing problems as smoking cigarettes, including coughing, wheezing, trouble with physical activity, and lung cancer: https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Marijuana-and-Teens-106.aspx.

An article on the Emerging Science on Cannabis/Marijuana: Implications for Student Athletes by the NCAA (2019) highlights research showing marijuana use decreases physiological work capacity and reduces maximal exercise duration, as well as leading to poorer academic outcomes: https://www.ncaa.org/news/2019/10/10/emerging-science-on-cannabis-marijuana-implications-for-student-athletes.aspx#:~:text=Marijuana%20use%20impairs%20athletic%20performance.&text=Since%20that%20time%2C%20articles%20have,and%20reduced%20maximal%20exercise%20duration.

Not only is it important for youth to understand the risks of marijuana use harming physical activity and sports, but recent research published in Preventive Medicine Reports (2021) showed that adolescents who perceived current marijuana use as harmful had low perception of peer use, high perception of peers’ disapproval of cannabis use, high perception of school importance, and participated more in extracurricular activities: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211335521001261

It’s equally important for teachers, coaches, and parents to remind youth that participating in physical activity and sports is associated with short-term, salient benefits that resonate with and motivate youth, such as increasing their energy, strength, stamina, self-confidence, and self-image while decreasing their stress, anxiety, excess weight, and fatigue.

In addition, youth need to know that a physically active lifestyle has the added benefit of being associated with less likelihood of engaging in harmful substance misuse.

A review of research in Substance Use & Misuse (2018) evaluating school-based physical activity interventions showed they are effective in preventing youth alcohol, marijuana and tobacco use: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10826084.2018.1452338

In conclusion, it is more important than ever for prevention, health, and youth sports specialists and parents to provide youth with regular communication and evidence-based programs like SPORT Prevention Plus Wellness that promote physical activity and sports while also highlighting how current marijuana use is harmful and interferes with achieving and maintaining a physically active lifestyle and its many benefits.

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