Cannabis has been part of sports for a very long time – although it’s been a clandestine relationship in the past. In recent years, however, more and more professional athletes have publicly touted the benefits of marijuana in improving their focus, performance, and recoveries. In addition, many research studies have proven that cannabis can have positive effects for athletes – including everyone from high-performance professionals to occasional gym visitors.

For example, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are known to relieve pain and nausea symptoms and reduce muscle spasms. Interestingly, THC and CBD have been found to be most effective when they work together.

Research shows that the central nervous system in the body has an endocannabinoid system that produces chemicals called cannabinoids. These naturally occurring cannabinoids are very similar to the active ingredients in cannabis. In fact, THC binds directly to the cannabinoid receptors located throughout the body and brain, so when THC effects receptors, the effects are linked to the location of the affected receptors. What does that mean? As Athletes for Care explains, if the receptors in the hypothalamus are activated, the person might experience increased hunger.

For many athletes, the key to successfully using marijuana for improved performance and recovery is to find the right cannabis strain, products, and consumption methods to get the results they’re looking for. In cannabis-focused gyms, matching the right product to the athlete is an important focus. It’s done in Power Plant Fitness gyms, which were founded by former NFL player Ricky Williams and founder of the 420 Games, Jim Alpine. In addition, it’s an important part of Williams’ and Alpine’s Cannathlete program, which also sells a Cannathlete product line.

Cannathlete products include an Activation Spray with 1mg of THC per spray and a recovery serum with 220 mg of THC in a 2 oz. bottle. While the Activation Spray is intended to help athletes focus in their search for peak performance, the Recovery Serum is marketed as a highly potent post-workout supplement for athletic recovery and sleep enhancement.

Dixie Elixirs offers its own products for athletes, which come in a variety of forms, including balms, bath soaks, lotions, and more. These products are marketed as supportive for muscle soreness and joint pain. They’re also promoted as being more natural and less harmful to the body than over-the-counter products like NSAIDs (e.g., Ibuprofen, Advil, and Aleve) or ointments like Icy Hot and Tiger Balm.

Other athletes getting into the cannabis industry include Seibo Shen, a jiu-jitsu fighter who founded VapeXhale; Cliff Robinson of the NBA with his brand, Uncle Cliffy; the NBA’s Al Harrington with his company, Viola Extracts; and former NFL player Kyle Turley who has a product line called Neuro XPF.

Last year, High Performance Beverage Co. announced that it would enter the cannabis market with a line of high performance sports drinks with THC and CBD. The company partnered with CaliPharms to ensure its sports drinks would be tested properly to keep the products natural and organic.

The Future of Marijuana and Sports

As more professional and non-professional athletes come forward to share their stories of how cannabis helps improve their performance and recovery, the market for marijuana products formulated specifically for the sports industry will continue to grow. Research has already shown how marijuana can benefit athletes, particularly in terms of how it can help reduce the use of opioid pain relieving drugs like codeine and OxyContin among athletes.

It has been said that former NFL players suffer from opioid addiction at a rate four times higher than the general population, and many other elite athletes whose bodies are pushed to the extreme or suffer from repeated head trauma find themselves relying on these dangerous drugs, too. It’s not surprising that athletes are finding alternatives in marijuana products.

Interestingly, this is a part of the market where there is equal interest in both CBD and THC products. That means not only is there a significant opportunity for brands and businesses to establish market share dominance with marijuana products, but there are also big opportunities for hemp products. Athletes who are subjected to drug tests might need hemp products to stay compliant and continue to compete at a certain level.

Looking beyond specific marijuana products, there are also opportunities for more cannabis-related gyms, cannabis consultants to help athletes choose the best products to achieve their goals, and other ancillary products and services. The fitness market is on a steep growth trajectory right now, particularly health-related software and mobile apps, so there are even opportunities to merge marijuana, tech, and sports in innovative ways.

If athletes and cannabis advocates can change the perception of marijuana so more people working and “playing” in the sports industry see its benefits, this is a market that could explode quickly. However, therein lies the problem – perception. It will take some time, money, and effort to change the public’s perception of marijuana as it relates to sports, health, and fitness. It can be done, and it most likely will be done in the near future. The question is: Who will lead the charge? Who will stake a claim in the marijuana sports market and own the leadership position?

Only time will tell, but we do know one thing. The competition will continue to increase, because this is a market that won’t go away. There will always be athletes, and there will always be athletes who want to improve their performance or recover faster. As long as those people are looking for supportive products, there will be a place for marijuana. They just don’t all realize it yet.

Susan Gunelius, Lead Analyst for Cannabiz Media and author of Marijuana Licensing Reference Guide: 2017 Edition, is also President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company offering, copywriting, content marketing, email marketing, social media marketing, and strategic branding services. She spent the first half of her 25-year career directing marketing programs for AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more as well as small businesses around the world. Susan has written 11 marketing-related books, including the highly popular Content Marketing for Dummies, 30-Minute Social Media Marketing, Kick-ass Copywriting in 10 Easy Steps, The Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing, and she is a popular marketing and branding keynote speaker. She is also a Certified Career Coach and Founder and Editor in Chief of Women on Business, an award-winning blog for business women. Susan holds a B.S. in marketing and an M.B.A in management and strategy.