Athletes and marijuana may seem like an odd combination at first glance, but the truth is that weed and athletes have been getting along forever. Anyone who’s watched Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Pumping Iron knows that some of the world’s strongest and most dedicated athletes are no stranger to cannabis.
Is marijuana a performance-enhancing drug, then? No – at least not as far as we can tell given current research. If there are performance-based benefits, they are either subtle or completely related to the athlete’s mental state.
But just because cannabis doesn’t make you run faster or jump higher, objectively, does not mean it doesn’t have benefits to endurance sports. Many athletes say that they enjoy toking up before light training or after their workout as a form of recovery. Others rely heavily on CBD to reduce pain and deal with the inflammation that naturally comes with training.
So while pot won’t make you into a superhero Olympian, it can make endurance sports more enjoyable. Learn more about why athletes and marijuana are becoming fast friends by considering the information below.
Athletes and Marijuana Prove That the “Runner’s High” and a Regular Weed High Aren’t So Different
Most people who love exercising wax poetic about how good their workout makes them feel. A combination of feeling relaxed from the exertion and satisfied with their progress doesn’t quite explain this powerfully enjoyable sensation, either – the proverbial “runner’s high.”
Scientists theorized that the feelings come from our body’s own chemical signals. Endorphins, which kick in during exertion to dull pain, were always the primary suspect. But more recently, researchers learned that a molecule called anandamide was the most likely cause, not endorphins.
Most interestingly, anandamide is a natural endocannabinoid molecule. That means it is like the cannabinoids found in marijuana, such as THC and CBD. Realizing this, suddenly the mixture of weed and athletes doesn’t seem so surprising!
Long distance runner Avery Collins says that the combination “helps me live right in the moment.” He hails from the U.S. state of Colorado, where recreational cannabis use is legal. His specialty is running ultra-long distances, sometimes as many as 200 miles. While he rarely imbibes THC in the weeks leading up to a race, edibles or his vaporizer are a regular part of his training regimen.
“It makes things very spiritual,” he explains. “You don’t think about anything except the run itself. I use it as a way to intensify and enhance the run. It makes the longevity of the runner’s high last longer because technically you’re already high.”
Weed and Athletes Mix Well by Helping Improve Mindfulness While Reducing Pain and Inflammation
Aside from the enjoyability of the runner’s high, there are several other reasons why weed and athletes work so well together. Firstly, cannabis and especially THC help dull pain and mitigate the effects of injury.
“It’s really across the board in all different types of pain, whether it’s musculoskeletal, inflammatory, neuropathic and so forth,” explains Dustin Sulak, a physician and integrative medicine specialist.
These properties make weed an excellent recovery aid, and it can also enhance regular workouts by keeping the athlete from feeling tired or sore too early.
As the body gets distracted from its annoyances, the athlete can focus more on their performance as well as the simple experience of being active. “Nowadays, I rarely leave on a run without smoking a bit,” writes New York Times commenter Selena Goodwin from Seattle. “It distracts me from the actual running and allows me to have an introspective experience which can often result in amazing self-discovery.”
Others cite that the sensation of being high helps them focus on their form as well as their overarching goals. “It just helps you really be present and get more into a focused mindstate,” explains pro climber Courtney Sanders. “Otherwise, you’re just scatterbrained. That’s like the purest meditative point.”
Athletes tend to turn to marijuana especially once the workout is over. While some athletes prefer rarely – if ever – to train while high, consuming cannabis after an intense session becomes part of their recovery ritual.
This ritual can include edibles, vaping, or smoking weed that has THC, but others may prefer topicals or CBD-only products. UFC fighter Nate Diaz famously toked a CBD-oil vape pen during a 2016 post-fight press conference. “It helps with the healing process and inflammation,” Diaz explained to a journalist that asked what he was smoking on. “So you want to get these before and after the fights, training. It’ll make your life a better place.”
Is Marijuana a Performance-Enhancing Drug? Probably Not
While marijuana can help the way you feel before and after a workout, it’s likely not going to boost your performance from a purely physical standpoint. In fact, the few studies measuring the effects of marijuana on performance show that it can actually suffer slightly after you smoke.
“Cannabis has been shown to be a performance-degrading drug, so for peak performance you should not use cannabis,” explains Dr. Jordan Tishler, a cannabis therapeutics specialist. Possible consequences include decreased stamina, lower oxygen uptake, and distracted focus, including decreased hand-eye coordination.
Perhaps those effects are why the World Anti-Doping Agency, which handles drug testing for the Olympics, lowered the acceptable THC threshold to a limit of 150 ng/ml of blood. At that level, athletes can enjoy marijuana during their routine but have to sober up by the time trials come around.
Of course, the negative effects of marijuana depend completely on the amount you consume and the type of marijuana strain you use. Indica marijuana strains, known for their relaxation effects, just might leave you sleepy and unfocused rather than energized, for instance. Instead, you can seek out uplifting sativa strains, like Super Silver Haze or Durban Poison.
To find out more about different cannabis strains, click here.
Also, don’t overdo it! A few puffs can be enough to make you enjoy your workout more or feel more in-tune with your body. But consuming too much THC could leave you spending an hour trying to find the running shoes you already have laced to your feet. Or, worse, you could end up on the couch rather than at the gym or on the trail.
“Each individual varies on how their liver breaks down cannabis and how rapidly it is absorbed into the blood and distributed to the rest of the body, including the brain,” reveals integrative cannabis specialist Dr. June Chin. “I suggest starting with small doses and not trying a strenuous exercise routine.”