The Effects of Caffeine, Nicotine, Ethanol, and Tetrahydrocannabinol on Exercise Performance

Dominik H Pesta; Siddhartha S Angadi; Martin Burtscher; Christian K Roberts

Disclosures

Nutr Metab. 2013;10(71) 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

Abstract

Caffeine, nicotine, ethanol and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are among the most prevalent and culturally accepted drugs in western society. For example, in Europe and North America up to 90% of the adult population drinks coffee daily and, although less prevalent, the other drugs are also used extensively by the population. Smoked tobacco, excessive alcohol consumption and marijuana (cannabis) smoking are addictive and exhibit adverse health effects. These drugs are not only common in the general population, but have also made their way into elite sports because of their purported performance-altering potential. Only one of the drugs (i.e., caffeine) has enough scientific evidence indicating an ergogenic effect. There is some preliminary evidence for nicotine as an ergogenic aid, but further study is required; cannabis and alcohol can exhibit ergogenic potential under specific circumstances but are in general believed to be ergolytic for sports performance. These drugs are currently (THC, ethanol) or have been (caffeine) on the prohibited list of the World Anti-Doping Agency or are being monitored (nicotine) due to their potential ergogenic or ergolytic effects. The aim of this brief review is to evaluate the effects of caffeine, nicotine, ethanol and THC by: 1) examining evidence supporting the ergogenic or ergolytic effects; 2) providing an overview of the mechanism(s) of action and physiological effects; and 3) where appropriate, reviewing their impact as performance-altering aids used in recreational and elite sports.

Introduction

Caffeine, nicotine, ethanol and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are widely consumed substances in today's society.[1,2] Drugs such as smoked tobacco, excessive alcohol or cannabis pose a serious problem for public health and the health care system.[3] Further, these substances are also related as they are or have been on the Prohibited List of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) or are monitored due to their potential performance-altering effect and misuse in sport.[4] It is therefore important to characterize these substances with respect to their physiological mode of action as well as their potential to alter performance, as these substances are not only of significant importance for the general public but also for competitive athletes. The purpose of this brief review is to provide an overview of the evidence supporting the ergogenic or ergolytic effects of the most prevalent drugs in western society.

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