The general public has long associated consuming pot with Cheetos and SpongeBob Squarepants marathons, but a growing number of athletes attest that smoking weed before working out can help you win actual marathons.
Whether marijuana is a performance enhancing drug isn’t fully established by the science yet, but the existing evidence is convincing enough that the World Anti-Doping Agency has banned it for athletes competing in the Olympics and in professional venues:
A common perception of marijuana is that its use impairs physical activity, including exercise performance. While the effects of marijuana can decrease hand-eye coordination and distort spatial perception, there are other effects that can be performance enhancing for some athletes and sport disciplines. Cannabis can cause muscle relaxation and reduce pain during post-workout recovery. It can also decrease anxiety and tension, resulting in better sport performance under pressure. In addition, cannabis can increase focus and risk-taking behaviors, allowing athletes to forget bad falls or previous trauma in sport, and push themselves past those fears in competition.
In the general population, tobacco is the second most used drug after alcohol, but among athletes, marijuana takes the silver medal for prevalence. The demographics within the sports community who use marijuana are most likely to be white males involved in ice hockey, skeleton, and bobsledding, according to a 2016 meta analysis in the American Journal of Addiction.
That same study found many athletes who use marijuana say they use it as a performance-enhancing drug.
Weed Before Working Out: Is marijuana really a performance-enhancing drug?
The answer seems to be yes, but only for endurance sports, as its use can compromise hand-eye coordination. But for people like marathon runners, triathletes and cyclists, pot may help them perform better as it distracts from pain, reduces anxiety and allows for more focus on repetitive tasks.
A writer for Outside magazine investigated this potential for cannabis to improve sports performance and found it did, in his case. He set up an experiment under the supervision of an exercise physiologist to determine his athletic performance without marijuana and under the influence.
The writer, Gordy Megroz, set a treadmill to increase speed and incline 2.5 percent every 2 minutes. He did it sober as a control, making it 19 minutes before he was exhausted. After eating a cannabis gummy, he increased his endurance in the test by 30 seconds — a huge gain in the world of competitive running and other endurance sports. Megroz reported he repeated the experiment several times with similar results.
See related article: Can you lose weight with cannabis?
That’s just one case study, however. In addition to the pain relieving and anti-anxiety effects of marijuana, other scientific literature points to marijuana as a bronchodilator, causing the airways to open and increasing oxygen to the lungs.
Because whole marijuana is banned, many athletes won’t cop to using it to train or recover after workouts. Triathlete Clifford Drusinsky is the exception. The elite endurance sportsman munches a weed-infused energy bar before training.
“Marijuana relaxes me and allows me to go into a controlled, meditational place,” Drusinsky told Men’s Journal in 2014. “When I get high, I train smarter and focus on form.”
Drusinky’s and Megroz’s individual choices to use weed before working out had one thing in common. They both chose cannabis edibles to increase their performance– most likely based on the assumption that plant material could induce shallower breathing, counteracting the intended benefits.
Does CBD help prevent brain injury?
Interestingly, though whole marijuana and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana — are still banned, the World Anti Doping Agency lifted a ban on the cannabis component cannabidiol (CBD) effective Jan. 1, 2018. As such, it’s technically correct to say you use weed before working out if you use a legal CBD pre-workout.
Though the agency lifted the ban without issuing a specific public statement, the action was likely in recognition of the massive therapeutic potential for this non-psychoactive cannabinoid.
CBD is an anti-inflammatory, as evidenced by its growing popularity among NFL football players to help recover after games and workouts.
More promising, however, is CBDs neuroprotective properties. Animal studies have shown CBD to reverse the effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), that is, the brain damage caused by repeated blows to the head.
See related article: Can CBD protect against CTE?
Weed Before Working Out REFERENCES:
“Can Pot Make You a Better Athlete?”
“Get High, Train Harder”
“Prevalence and correlates of cannabis use among athletes: A systematic review”
Brisola-Santos, et al
“2018 List of Prohibited Substances”
World Anti-Doping Agency
U.S. Anti-Doping Agency
“How cannabis is helping one company research treatment of CTE”