Marijuana and Exercise: The Science of Working Out Stoned
Updated: Nov 12
Decreases anxiety and fear (think snowboarding tricks and rock climbing)
Enhances training enjoyment (think about how boring running 100 miles per week can be)
Increases focus during repetitive tasks
But don’t get high before the big game. The benefits of using cannabis during competition and sports are slim. Currently, it is considered a PED (performance enhancing drug) and banned in many sports and the Olympics. Nevertheless, there seem to be many positive advantages for practice, training and recovery, particularly in certain types of sports like swimming, cycling, mixed martial arts, snowboarding, triathlon training, ultramarathons, trail running, weight lifting and others.
The primary active ingredients in marijuana are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). German scientists discovered that running activates the cannabinoid receptors (endocannabinoids) in our brains. These are not endorphins that produce the runner’s high some people report. Unlike endorphins, the endocannabinoids pass the blood-brain barrier. This built-in reward system is likely there to help us improve health and fitness. These are the same receptors THC binds to when marijuana is ingested. Crazy! CBD is non-psychoactive and seems to offer the majority of benefits for the fitness enthusiast and athlete without motor performance nor cognition degradation. Unfortunately, if you live in an area where marijuana is illegal it is hard to ascertain just how much CBD your local pot actually contains. In legalized states marijuana is heavily controlled and the dosage of CBD is easy to ascertain.
Like many other psychoactive substances, marijuana effects can be quite individualized. Some people become catatonic while others whiz around and get things done. Much of this has to do with the type of pot people are ingesting (usually Sativa or indicia), the potency, tolerance, and the dosage. The other main reason people react differently to cannabis may be due to their genes (specifically COMT val158met and 5-HTTLPR). Cannabis is not for everyone. Many report paranoia, anxiety and/or a catatonic-like state. These individuals should steer clear and stick to their amino acids and protein powders.
CAUTION: Marijuana is mind-altering and still illegal in most of the United States. In some cases, a person may be put in jail for many years for possessing as little as one joint!
FACT: In a few U.S. states and foreign countries marijuana is now classified as medicine. It has been decriminalized or become outright legal. Regardless of its evolution the US federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) recently decided to keep pot categorized as Schedule 1 drug. This inhibits academic research by limiting the number of placebo-controlled human studies on medicine. Despite reams of scientific evidence to the contrary, this classification places marijuana next to heroin and MDMA as a drug that has “no accepted medicinal use…..and a high potential for abuse.” This is just wrong. The data and scientific evidence do not back up the DEA’s position.
OPINION: The scheduling and illegality of marijuana are senseless. Arcane laws send legions of non-violent people (mostly black) to prison every year for victimless crimes for possessing or ingesting a plant. This weed has been used as medicine by most civilizations for thousands of years. The drug laws with regard to marijuana are a perfect example of bureaucracy, political manipulation and fear-mongering at their worst.
It’s clear marijuana decreases hand-eye coordination, produces slower reaction times, dis-enhances short term memory and increases appetite (munchies). These attributes are unhelpful for many sports and their associated training regimens. Hitting a 95 mph curveball is one of the hardest things to do in all of sports. Imagine how much harder it would be if you were high. Or try balancing on a 1/8 inch thick steel blades while trying to avoid four goons and simultaneously attempting to hit a little puck into a small goal….on ice. A nearly impossible task if you are high. Cannabis is probably a bad idea in these and many other scenarios.
There are several ways to ingest marijuana. Perhaps the most deleterious method is smoking a joint or blunt. Burning and smoking anything will introduce carbon monoxide into the lungs. This is toxic. At high doses, it will kill you. It’s akin to running your car in a closed garage (although in the history of medicine there has never been a documented cased of a death by overdosing on marijuana). Not to mention smoke is a lung irritant. There are many other ways to medicate oneself with cannabis that does not harm the lungs. Vaporizing, edibles, oils and pills are alternatives. A non-psychoactive form of CBD is also available.
WARNING: Teens and adults under the age of 25 should abstain from marijuana use. Mixed research seems to indicate that cannabis negatively affects the developing brain. THC has been shown to physically change the density, shape, and volume of the amygdala and nucleus accumbens in the brains of teens. It is best to steer clear (of any psychoactive substances) until your brain is completely developed. Why take the risk?
SUMMARY: Marijuana may be beneficial during training and/or recovery periods. It does not appear to help during competitions, specifically in athletic or fitness programs that require fine motor skills and/or a high level of hand-eye coordination. When possible utilize medicine that has a higher level of CBD. Exercise alone makes you high. The most important type of exercise is the one that works for you, with or without add-ons.