Talk about bad timing. Just hours before Game 3 of the Dallas Mavericks first-round series with New Orleans, Dallas forward Josh Howard openly discussed his marijuana use on Dallas’ ESPN Radio affiliate. Howard told host Michael Irvin “that it’s nothing hidden that NBA players smoke marijuana and I have, and do partake in smoking weed in the offseason sometimes. You know, that's my personal choice, that's my personal opinion.”
The underlying questions Irvin had for Howard was about marijuana use in season and how it affects his performance. Howard said he probably wouldn’t use the drug if players were not tested in-season. “To be honest, with marijuana, you never know what it's going to do. Some people handle it different,” Howard said.
In the sports world for some time now, performance enhancing drugs has been a hot topic for discussion and controversy.
The NBA, MLB and NFL have all had their steroid controversies, but what about marijuana? Should marijuana be considered a performance enhancing drug instead of just a narcotic used for recreation?
According to a 2006 national survey on drug use and health, an estimated 97.8 million Americans aged 12 or older have tried marijuana at least once in their lifetime. The illegal drug that sparks much controversy in the United States affects the body in several ways.
The chemical tetra-hydro-cannabinol or THC is the main active ingredient in marijuana. According to Dr. Gary Wadler, a New York University School of Medicine Professor, the drug impairs hand to eye coordination and reaction time. He said it also reduces motor coordination, tracking ability and perceptual accuracy, and even more so it impairs concentration and reduces maximal exercise capacity resulting in increased fatigability.
Wadler does not believe that marijuana has any performance-enhancing potential. “It has been shown that performance skills can be impaired for as long as up to 24 hours after marijuana usage,” Wadler said. “Which casts doubt on the commonly held belief that the social use of marijuana the evening prior to an athletic event will not affect performance.”
If marijuana is said to not be performance enhancing then why has there been so much scrutiny on athletes using it.
Joshua Pittman plays in Argentina’s professional league of basketball and was suspended for three years after testing positive for marijuana abuse. According to FIBA.com, the punishment is the worst-ever in the domestic basketball league.
Dr. Diego Grippo, who is in charge of the drug test for the league, told Ole newspaper and Matias Greco of FIBA.com, “the drug does not make you jump higher or score more three-pointers, but among the effects of the drug is sedation.”
“Players can step onto the court feeling fearful or nervous, but if you take the drug you can be more relaxed,” Grippo said. “That’s an advantage.”
Former UW-Whitewater basketball player Joe Dundon has a different take on the drug when it comes to basketball. “I don’t think there’s any way possible smoking marijuana could help a basketball player. Sure, it calms you down, but it also takes away several things a player needs,” Dundon said.
Basketball players also need good endurance to run for long stretches of time, something Dundon believes is very important. “Your ability to run a long time is basically taken away from you, you become winded very fast,” Dundon said.
Joshua Resnick, a fourth-degree judo black belt, Olympic alternate and resident of Milwaukee does think marijuana is performance enhancing in his sport.
“Yes, pot is a performance enhancing drug,” Resnick said. “Don’t argue with it, it’s been proven again and again by the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency). Having it in your bloodstream has been shown repeatedly to calm your nervous system with incredible speed, lower your heart rate, allow your mind to relax thus letting you think without the same adrenaline rush that you'd normally have, even help people experience a duller sensation of pain.”
Eric ‘Ravishing Red’ Schafer, a UFC fighter and Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, said he was aware that marijuana was considered a performance enhancer.
“Something about it can be used to dull the pain in a match,” Schafer said. “I don't agree, but that is what I heard.”
Last year sport and government officials from Great Britain and the Netherlands fought to have marijuana removed from the list of banned drugs in sports. However, agency officials with WADA said marijuana will remain banned.
The WADA officials argument was that marijuana can be performance enhancing to calm nerves before a competition.
Scott Burns, who represents the U.S. government at WADA, said in the 2007 CBC News interview that there is a debate over whether marijuana can be a performance enhancing drug, but athletes have to set an example.
A current UW-Whitewater basketball player, who wished to remain anonymous, said there is no way marijuana can be a help on the court. “I do smoke, but not in the season. I don’t see how drugs like that can be performance enhancing at all. There are already health risks involving just playing the game so why would somebody smoke weed and then try to play,” he said.
The Warhawk also said marijuana use was prevalent on the team, but it’s understood that drugs will not interfere with the team. “It’s just basically known amongst us guys that it (marijuana) is not involved with what we are trying to accomplish as a team. Guys are free to go out and do whatever they want on their free time, but when we are playing, we don’t want distractions,” he said.
In the ideal sports world, performance enhancing drugs would be non-existent, but for good or bad, marijuana is now being linked to the likes of steroids, amphetamines and human growth hormones. The fact is that professional athletes are constantly in the public eye, and nothing goes unnoticed, especially when the topic is drugs. Marijuana is a narcotic drug used for recreation, but do the likes of Josh Howard and other professional athletes resort to the drug as a way of enhancing their performance? Athletes have many ways of doing whatever it takes to gain an edge in competition. Marijuana is another drug added to the list of many other performance enhancers to which can possibly give an athlete the upper hand.