By Shane McCormick
It was my good fortune recently to interview Dr. Charles Bush-Joseph.
Dr. Bush-Joseph is the team physician for the Chicago White Sox, Associate Team Physician for the Chicago Bulls and he is currently a Professor at Rush University Medical Center as well as the Associate Director of the Rush Orthopaedic Sports Medicine Fellowship Program. He graduated from University of Michigan Medical School in 1983.
During our conversation, we discussed how athletes can benefit from using cannabis, it’s recovery capabilities and as an alternative treatment option for players. We also touched on how cannabis affects an athlete’s performance as well as some of its negative effects.
I reached out to Dr. Bush-Joseph after reading an article in the Chicago Tribune where he was quoted supporting the health benefits of medical cannabis. The article motivated me to get the Doctor’s opinion on how athletes can benefit from using cannabis so I tracked him down and he was kind enough to share his opinions.
Dr. Bush-Joseph thoughts and opinions are his own, he speaks for himself and not for Rush Medical Center or the Chicago White Sox or Bulls.
Hello everybody. This is Shane from CheapHomeGrow.com interviewing Dr. Charles Bush-Joseph. Today we’re going to be talking about sports and cannabis. Please tell me about yourself.
I’m an orthopedic surgeon practicing in Chicago, and I specialize in sports medicine. I’ve been an orthopedic surgeon for almost 30 years now, and I would say take care of lots of athletes. I come at this from a perspective the value of medical cannabis or medical marijuana and its use in treating pain and symptoms that people have, and sometimes athletes can have after they have severe or significant injuries and sometimes even left with disabling symptoms. It’s not unusual for many of these patients to devolve down into using narcotics and opioids on a regular basis. I’ve always felt that medical cannabis can provide a great deal of pain relief in symptoms for patients who’ve got chronic symptoms and still want to participate in recreational or even sometimes competitive activities. Now apparently you don’t use medical marijuana to perform a sport. But in treating the symptoms or the problems or the sequela of that sport I think that’s where it has value.
What are the benefits of an athlete using cannabis?
If an athlete is trying to treat symptoms and they’ve got pain after a knee injury or difficulty with recovery following a shoulder injury or a spinal injury where they’ve had treatment and have had they have a hard time getting rest and sleep. They’re going to rehabilitation, and they can’t find that relief to get rest or sleep. When they choose other stronger medications like sedatives or muscle relaxants or as I mentioned earlier opioids I think that medical cannabis provides a great alternative. It’s a naturally occurring substance that is very safe. It’s almost very difficult, if not impossible, for a patient to overdose on medical marijuana. With opioids it’s much easier to overdose because too much opioids affect your brainstem function which regulates your breathing and your heart function. By contrast, in medical cannabis there’s no receptor to your brainstem. So that just doesn’t happen.
What are some of the cons of athletes using cannabis?
Well, I think there’s several. Number one is cannabis is not a performance-enhancing drug. And yes, if you’re using marijuana as you know during the performance of your sport or training you’re not going to do well. Cannabis dulls your sensations, and it freezes your reaction time. There are a variety of things that are not beneficial for performance reasons but useful from a recovery perspective. I think that’s intuitive to think about what cannabis does for people. It’s a sedative; it’s relaxing, it has some pain relieving qualities it can help to alleviate or treat symptoms associated with nausea. You know from other medications or other medical problems.
Do you see treatments in the future that will help athletes recover faster from injury?
I honestly can’t say that. I think the great value of cannabis with athletes is that they can recover safer. They’re not using narcotics. They can find rest easier without other stronger medications. It allows them to through the trauma of surgery if necessary or injury if necessary. They can substantially enhance recovery. The other benefits which as an orthopedic surgeon I really can’t speak to say from the psychiatric or psychological perspective that would allow for restfulness and sedatives where decreases anxiety. I’m sure there’s other potential benefit for it. I know many athletes who do use cannabis either for medical or to say it was more recreational use. But that’s not an area of my expertise.
Can or should cannabis be used as a neuroprotectant?
I wish I could say there is evidence that exists. There are certainly anecdotal reports by patients that they feel is a neuroprotective value to it, but that hasn’t been borne out well in science. With the current drug classification by the federal government, it is very hard to study the effect of medical marijuana unless you have a very clear-cut and defined topic. That’s one of the things that we’re hoping that the federal government and the FDA will lower the threshold to declassify medical marijuana allowing us to get better evidence because we do think it has value. But unfortunately, we’re not at the point where we can prove that.
There are many ways to ingest cannabis. From your experience do you recommend any particular method an athlete use cannabis?
No. How patients ingest or take in cannabis is purely an individual basis. It goes with patient experiences and how they perceive enjoyment. Obviously, if you’re inhaling, vaping, or smoking it you get a much more rapid intake. It comes down to the benefit from it is number one and how much THC you get into your system how quickly and number two for the other benefits like seizures or other neurologic issues how much cannabinoids you get into your system. Now the one problem is that for patients who don’t know how to smoke or this or that, and sometimes they use ingestibles whether it be candy or gumdrops or things like that. The only problem there comes in when patients have to be more disciplined and regulating because they’re not getting that same dose effect that I do when I take it or inhale it via smoking. I will tell you this in my experience many older patients who never smoked or never had that experience before they generally rely on ingestibles either candy or cookies or some other form just because that’s just the way they are most comfortable taking in things.
Do you recommend any specific strain of cannabis for athletes?
No, I would again tell you that that’s a matter of personal preference. The taste, the smell, the feel, the sensation. From a medical perspective, it’s beneficial. It comes down to how much THC is in the cannabis and what percentage is it two or three percent or is up to 7 or 12 or 14 percent. There are different types of cannabinoid compounds within medical marijuana that have those beneficial effects on cerebral function thinking. All the other things that we patients perceive about sensation or taste are added benefit for the personal pleasure. As far as it’s central body effect those things are not necessary. That’s why some patients are just happy taking ingestible cookies or candies or they have no perception of taste. They don’t necessarily want to get ‘high,’ but they want to get the medicinal benefits from the THC. I think that’s true. In the state of Illinois when you purchase a product whether it be a pure ground of weed or if it’s an ingestible every package notifies you exactly what percentage of compounds are present within that product that you’re taking. And that’s obviously what makes medical marijuana different from people just buying it off the street. We say it’s a pharmaceutical grade approach to dosage and ingestion.
Do you see a future where athletes or everyday, self-medicating people using a home grow box?
I see that if individual state regulation allows that. But I think what we’re going to find nowadays is if we do get to that point of legalization, people are going to know what they’re getting. It’s just like growing tomatoes. There are a thousand different tomatoes brands available, and that same thing occurs with cannabis. Knowing the strain, the potency, consumers, are going to know that when they’re asked if they’re after desired effect useful therapeutic benefit like recovery relaxation, diet things like that as opposed to young kids just going out trying to get high.
Do you see major sporting organizations becoming more tolerant in there approach to cannabis?
Yes. I take a look at it from a major league baseball’s perspective. They would term two types; drugs of abuse of which marijuana should be considered one similar to cocaine or other at that time illegals where there was no perceived benefit for the player to take the drugs and performance-enhancing drugs. Nowadays what we’re finding is that Major League Baseball they’re getting much more relaxed although not entirely in the use of quote perceived drugs of abuse because they don’t give a patient or a player an advantage over another player and in competition. There’s no medical perceived medical benefit performance enhancement basis. What we talked about earlier today was just the benefits of quote recovery and allowing players to avoid other more dangerous methods of treatment. In general, I would expect all the professional leagues in time to discontinue marijuana testing and similar types of things. These things are slow, there based on player union contracts which are on a five-year cycle. Nonetheless, I would expect that to go away gradually.
Do you believe cannabis can lower health care costs?
Yeah, I do I think we have an excess of health care cost because patients find themselves into more expensive ways of managing their symptoms and pain and they often end up with opioids which leads to many situations opioid addiction leads to disastrous consequences of overdose and death. 66,000 people in 2016 died of an opiate overdose whether it be intentional and unintentional. For every person who dies of an opioid overdose, there’s probably 35 who end up in an emergency room. I think the likelihood of cannabis, in general, is dramatically less. I think it allows patients a natural option to treat symptoms of chronic pain or chronic nausea or other symptoms with some serious medical condition. I think it’s got excellent treatment value it’s safer. And I think it has significant economic benefit to the public health as a whole.
What do you think is the future for athletes and cannabis?
I would say this as a scientist and a researcher my hope is that with the continued legalization of medical marijuana and marijuana in general. We can perform greater science to find out specifically where there is greater value in the muscle strain recovery or athlete endurance recovery. There’s a variety of areas that we can study where we think that it would have potential benefit. My expectation is that we go through this legalization cycle that we’re in now we’re going to be able to find more specific targeted areas where we think cannabis is going to have great benefit to athletes. I believe it will be in the psychologic aspects of training but more importantly, I think in the medical aspects of recovery from injury or the effects of overtraining.
You can learn more about Dr. Charles Bush-Joseph here.