The Complicated Issues Involving Weed and Swimming

weed swimming

I have to admit, my thinking on the subject of legalizing weed has done a complete reversal over the last few years. I was initially and emphatically against the legalization of weed for one very simple reason. I was worried that teenagers would equate legalization with safety.

However, as I learned more about the societal implications of criminalizing weed, I realized that my initial view was far too narrow. Here are just three (of many) reasons I found as to why legalizing weed can be socially beneficial.

  • There are insane social, administrative and jail costs associated with criminalizing weed. Stats show that roughly half of all drug arrests are for weed possession, with marijuana-related charges surpassing 700,000 in the US in 2014. This is a massive cost for something that is similar to alcohol in terms of its effect
  • weed appears to be a very effective substitute for pain-relieving opiods, with drastically better medical implications. However, as a Schedule I substance, it cannot be used for medicinal purposes
  • weed arrest and incarceration rates are much higher for PoC than for whites (almost 4 times higher), while usage numbers are considered to roughly equal

 

The Talk

As a coach, my overwhelming concern is that kids will think that legalization equals safety. And that’s emphatically not the case.

I’m asked surprisingly often by swimmers about the health effects of weed. Let’s face it, it’s hard to ignore the ubiquitous presence of weed in modern society, and especially in schools. Fortunately, there have literally been tens of thousands of studies on the impact of weed on humans, and there are certain things which we know for sure.

The most important and consistent study result to me is that heavy use of weed by those with developing brains (teens and even early 20s) causes permanent changes in the brain, with one major study finding a permanent average drop in IQ of 8 points. Other studies point to permanently underdeveloped pre-frontal cortices in those who started in their teens. Adult users, however, generally experienced no permanent changes in the brain.

I used to respond to these health questions with the results of studies, and mention the IQ drop. Unfortunately, I’ve found from experience that this response is almost completely ineffective when talking to a teen. I once gave the above replay, , and the teen just said, “Nope, that’s wrong.”

So, instead, I try a different approach. I ask them about them about the heavy users in their school (and there are heavy users in EVERY school).  First off, what are they called? It seems that every area has a different name: skids, stoners, potheads, blazers, dopers, etc. Then I ask what those kids do  at school. And usually they just skip classes, do the bare minimum to get by, and go behind the school to light up. Science tells us that’s because their executive function (ability to plan, solve problems, etc) located in the prenatal cortex is being fried by the weed. But instead of using easily ignored science, I just ask if they want to be like those kids behind the school. What kind of future do they have? What kind of jobs will they get? How much respect do you have for them. That sometimes does the trick.

 

Health Effects

To be fair, there are a host of other pros AND cons for weed use. The kids usually aren’t interested in these details, and our knowledge is still evolving on this topic. But here’s an extremely brief summary as culled from various National Institute for Health, Nurses sites, and other medical sources.

Pros

  • can provide pain relief, which can decrease reliance on opioids
  • can be an effective mechanism to help with some medical ailments
  • does not appear to be a gateway drug
  • reduced risk of strokes and blood clots
  • can reduce anxiety in some

Cons

  • more likely to get chronic bronchitis
  • changes and impairs the way the brain processes information (temporarily for adults)
  • may increase risk of depression or schizophrenia in some people
  • can result in lower birth weight if used by pregnant woman
  • has similar dangers as smoking cigarettes
  • users who start before age 18 are 4-7 times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder (basically like an addiction)
  • reduces REM sleep

 

Swimming Performance

Lastly, how specifically does weed impact on swimming performance? Luckily, Swimming Science has already provided some of this information in their article “5 Things Swimmers Need to Know About Weed and Swimming”.

Here’s the incredibly abbreviated summary of that article:

  • Weed is considered a banned substance by WADA
  • Most teams will suspend or expel you if you’re caught
  • Social media can kill your career
  • Weed usage can increase appetite and result in significant weight gain
  • Weed slows response time, and impairs cognitive function

I’ll add one more negative to this based on the medical research from above: weed can reduce a person’s REM sleep. Less REM sleep means impaired encoding of new information, and less cleaning of neurotoxins out of the brain. This is serious stuff.

 

Summary

Every coach will have their own opinion regarding the legalization of weed. It’s my opinion that legalization provides too many social and medical benefits to ignore. However, my job as a coach of young swimmers is to strongly reinforce among my swimmers that weed can permanently affect their brain. And to make sure they know that its use is not tolerated on our team.

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