Jocks Reveal Why They Smoke Pot

By Jeff Forester 07/22/11

It doesn’t make you run faster or throw farther, but up to a third of college athletes smoke marijuana anyway—for pleasure, rather than for stress relief.

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Athletes are sensation-seekers.
Photo via mtv

College jocks like to giggle, too. Despite the NCAA’s breathless announcement that pot use had tripled in the last year (from 28 college athletes in 2008 to 71 in 2009—yawn), a study published in the July Issue of Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs offers a twist—athletes who do smoke pot seem to smoke it for different reasons than non-athletes. “Athletes were more likely to use marijuana because they thought it was pleasurable,” said researcher Jennifer F. Buckman, Ph.D., of the Center of Alcohol Studies at Rutgers University, whereas non-jocks that smoked pot tended to use the drug as a coping mechanism for stress. This fits with the fact that athletes have higher sensation-seeking scores on standard personality tests. “Athletes appear to be particularly motivated to use marijuana because of its enhancement or pleasurable properties,” rather than for stress relief, the investigators found. College athletes, it seems, use marijuana because it’s fun.

“College student athletes use marijuana at an unexpectedly high rate,” says the report. Depends on your definition of unexpected, but about one third of all male athletes and about one quarter of all female athletes reported using marijuana in the last year. Given pot’s well-known negative impacts on athletic performance, eligibility and scholarships, we admit that the numbers do seem rather high, even compared to the roughly 50% of collegiate non-athletes who reported smoking weed in the last year. What interested us was were the reasons jocks and non-jocks gave for using marijuana. Male athletes who continued to use pot during the season reported more problems with anxiety and negative mood and seemed more likely to smoke to cope with stress as compared with their male counterparts who put down the bong when they took the field. Beckman said: “What are the stressors for these athletes?  Is it academic? Is it the athletic competition?” Women who smoked pot during their season had more body-image stress than those who cleaned up. Researchers suggested that it may be pot-induced munchies, which promote “unhealthy eating, thereby increasing body-image stress,” but note that women in general, even non-athletes, “experience more stress related to their weight, body image and eating behaviors than men.” The goal of the research is to discern the motivations behind drug use in order to develop more effective anti-drug messages, Beckman said.  “This is a very commonly used drug, and we just need to understand more about the factors that influence people to use it.”

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Jeff Forester is a writer in Minnesota. His book, Forest for the Trees: How Humans Shaped the North Woods, an ecological history of his state's famed Boundary Waters, came out in paperback in 2009. Jeff is the Executive Director of MN Lakes and Rivers Advocates MLR and you can follow him on Twitter.