For some athletes, marijuana is an important element of their workout routine because they believe it helps them perform better. However, for some, smoking weed before going to the gym may not be the greatest option, as cannabis is known to induce temporary impairment of motor abilities.
Several marijuana myths are being debunked by researchers. At the same time, marijuana's societal stigma is beginning to fade—to the point where athletes and fitness experts who tout the drug's health benefits are challenging the caricature of stoners.
According to Stanford Medical School professor Keith Humphreys, who spoke to Outside Magazine last year, a growing body of research suggests that getting high on cannabis reduces anxiety, which could allow certain people to exercise with more natural aggression.
Is cannabis, however, actually a wonder medication that improves athletic performance, or do the risks outweigh the benefits?
Benefits of marijuana in your workout regime
Ease Soreness and Pain
Cannabis has been shown to help in pain relief. This is one area of cannabis research that has yielded numerous beneficial outcomes. According to research, marijuana can help with everything from chronic pain to acute pain from muscle spasms, which is great news for anyone looking for an alternative to hazardous, habit-forming opiates.
Zach Scioli of DIAKADI Fitness in San Francisco is a proponent of marijuana therapies to aid muscle regeneration and relieve pain from injuries—but he wasn't always.
"Societal norms shaped my thinking about marijuana, but it doesn't take much digging into studies to find that cannabis' compounds are anti-inflammatory, stress-reducing, antioxidative, and pain mediating, to name just a few benefits," Scioli explains.
THC is similar to the cannabinoid compounds found in the human body. THC stimulates the cannabinoid receptors in the brain when it is ingested or inhaled. The brain's reward system is activated, and pain levels are reduced. CBD does not get you high, but it does interact with pain receptors in the brain to relieve pain and reduce inflammation.
Cannabis has been discovered to have anti-inflammatory qualities, which go hand in hand with its pain-relieving qualities.
One of the most promising areas of cannabis study is reducing muscle and joint inflammation. CBD, a nonpsychoactive cannabinoid present in marijuana, has been shown in numerous studies to reduce inflammation. Researchers are now investigating its use to treat autoimmune diseases such as Crohn's disease, lupus, and psoriasis.
Adam Brous, a licensed yoga instructor and the creator of Ganja Guru Yoga in Denver, Colorado, utilizes marijuana in his practice and advises his clients to do so as well. Brous says, "I've worked with athletes who have found cannabis to be a helpful aid." “Typically, they’re dealing with pain and inflammation of the muscles and connective tissue or recovering from past injury or surgery.”
Despite the fact that THC is the cannabinoid that causes the “high” that many people associate with cannabis, research indicates that CBD can aid with inflammation and other issues.
According to a 2016 study, The effect of CBD on rats with joint inflammation was studied by Trusted Source. Topical CBD gel reduced joint swelling and discomfort in rats, according to the researchers. There were also no noticeable negative effects.
Weed can make your workouts more enjoyable
According to a survey published in the journal Nature, over 70% of persons living in jurisdictions where recreational cannabis is legal claimed that getting high made working out more fun. The poll discovered that using marijuana didn't just make participants like their exercise. People who used marijuana before or after exercising spent more time working out than those who did not.
Dr. Gary Starr, MD, medical director of FOCUS, an international non-profit working toward developing cannabis quality management standards, says the direct effect of marijuana on exercise is still theoretical in terms of study. Dr. Starr says that marijuana's potential to elevate your mood in the near run may help you begin to love exercise more and hence sweat more frequently. Whether you're a weightlifter or a yogi, the sensation of being present and enjoying yourself can help you enhance your workout.
Treat muscle spasms
Another medical use for cannabis is in the treatment of muscle spasms. Cannabis has shown promise in treating muscle spasms caused by disorders such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease, and its benefits could be extended to athletes suffering from spasms.
"There have been studies in rodents showing some beneficial effect in muscle recovery and reduction of muscle spasm, presumably due to the anti-inflammatory properties the compound possesses," explains Erich Anderer, M.D., chief of neurosurgery at NYU Langone Hospital – Brooklyn.
However, because medical marijuana is a new field of research, Anderer believes that more research on athletes who don't have any of these illnesses is needed.
THC is well known for inducing sleep, but studies have shown that it can also aid patients with sleep apnea and even inhibit dreams, which is good for those with PTSD. Meanwhile, CBD can help with daytime weariness and REM sleep disturbance (where people "play out" their dreams). Because we all know how important sleep is for overall fitness, this can have a big impact on your athletic performance. An added benefit is that marijuana can be a replacement for other sleep medication which can be addictive.
However, there are significant limitations to marijuana's sleep effects. Young adults who took THC before bed slept properly, but awoke sleepier and with poorer memory, according to a small 2004 study.
Improved mental acuity
Marijuana, contrary to popular belief, may not have negative effects on brain function. In reality, it's possible that the opposite is true. According to a study published in Nature Medicine in June 2017, regular, modest dosages of THC improved cognitive function in aged rats. Many of the fitness gurus we spoke with anecdotally indicated that cannabis helped them get into the “zone” during their exercises.
"We have cannabinoid receptors throughout our brains, and when the THC hits those receptors, it triggers a system that reduces anxiety," Keith Humphreys told Outside's Gordy Megroz. "That you would feel more aggressive is a natural reaction to the drug."
Risks of marijuana in your workout regime
"Marijuana can hurt athletic performance significantly if you smoke it," says Enrich Anderer. "It has been linked to structural damage in the lung-possibly even cancer, although the evidence is not as strong as it is with cigarettes."
While marijuana can be consumed in the form of an edible, it is most typically inhaled. Inhaling marijuana smoke, whether from an unfiltered hand-rolled cigarette, pipe, water pipe, or vaporizer, can induce irritation and inflammation of the lungs and bronchial tubes, lowering respiratory efficiency.
Marijuana use over a long period of time Smoke has the potential to induce respiratory difficulties as well as lung cancer. All athletes are aware that having good lungs is critical to overall fitness, thus they should avoid smoking anything.
Marijuana increases appetite, which can lead to excessive calorie consumption and weight gain. A person could burn hundreds of calories and body fat during an extremely difficult high-intensity workout, but then counteract that calorie burn by eating a huge amount of fast food in response to an attack of "the munchies" after cannabis consumption at a social event.
Impaired motor skills
It's no secret that marijuana, like any other drug, can impair your motor skills. Marijuana has a significant negative effect on motor abilities. Changes in visual perception, coordination, and response speed occur while a person is under the influence of marijuana, all of which can greatly impede one's ability to exercise.
“Cannabis use can acutely impair decision making and motor coordination that can make certain activities more difficult, such as driving,” says Jeff Chen, M.D., M.B.A., the director of the Cannabis Research Initiative at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.
Alteration in Heart rate
Symptoms of marijuana, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, could include "an alteration in heart rate. Marijuana use can cause severe anxiety, panic attacks, and paranoia."
Because managing one's heart rate is such an important element of exercise, persons who smoke pot before engaging in physical activity may find that their heart rate is affected. Not to mention, no one wants to be at a gym full of sober people while on a dreadful anxiety-inducing marijuana high.
Marijuana consumption has been linked to an elevated risk of heart attack within one hour. Exercising while under the influence of cannabis can be risky when combined with one of the main causes of heart attacks: abrupt exertion.
Tachycardia, a rapid heartbeat that can be harmful when mixed with an elevated heart rate produced by exertion, is one possible side effect of marijuana use.