When U.S. sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson was suspended from the 2021 Tokyo Olympics after testing positive for cannabis, it sparked interest in using weed for sport. Could cannabis really make you a better athlete?
Of course, Ms. Richardson’s suspension shed light on other issues. It turns out the United States was instrumental in getting pot banned in the 1990s, due to outrage over Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati, who won a gold medal while testing positive. As well, white U.S. soccer team star Megan Rapinoe is promoting CBD, while a Black woman is absent from the Games due to testing positive for THC
But does cannabis actually improve your fitness? New studies suggest working out while you're high may help you exercise more effectively, more often, and even more enjoyably.
Cannabis as a Workout Buddy
In a 2019 survey, Angela Bryan, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado Boulder, and her colleagues recruited about 600 regular cannabis users and quizzed them on their use of the drug.
Dr. Bryan thought the stereotype of the lazy stoner would hold true. But to her surprise, roughly half of the people in the study said that cannabis motivated them to exercise.
- 52 percent said cannabis made them more motivated to work out
- 70 percent said it boosted how much they enjoyed the activity
- 78 percent claimed it helped their recovery.
Cannabis may enhance the “runner’s high” that makes exercise enjoyable. A 2003 study found elevated levels of the endocannabinoid molecule anandamide in the blood of volunteers after they ran or cycled in a lab. Because cannabis targets these same endocannabinoid receptors, Dr. Bryan told Nature.com, she thinks the drug might “jumpstart” those pleasurable feelings.
She stresses there is no direct evidence yet connecting cannabis to a runner’s high. But nevertheless, she says, people report enjoying exercise with cannabis, which could create a positive feedback loop that motivates them to go back to the gym. “If something feels good,” she says, “you’re going to want to do it again.”
The study also found 77 percent of people who use cannabis alongside exercise said that it helps with recovery. This makes sense, since science is showing that CBD creams, alone or with THC, may reduce pain and inflammation.
Weed Provides Mind, Body Focus
While those in Dr. Bryan'’s study tended to be younger and male, Nature.com also cited an unpublished survey, conducted on social media by Humboldt State University in Arcata, California, which had roughly an equal number of male and female participants.
Led by Whitney Ogle, a physical therapist and cannabis researcher at Humboldt, the survey of 126 people found cannabis use before all sorts of physical activity: 55 workouts in total, from archery to waterskiing.
Aside from sheer enjoyment, people in the Humboldt survey reported numerous other benefits. They believed cannabis increased their focus, concentration and mind–body awareness. According to Nature, this is something that elite athletes have also reported, although scientists have yet to come up with possible mechanisms for these effects.
Weed & Working Out: Start Slow
The Humboldt study asked if participants had negative experiences after combining cannabis and exercise. About 40 percent reported adverse effects, which included elevated heart rate and being too high to continue with their workout.
This is not terribly unexpected, Dr. Gary Starr, MD, medical director of FOCUS, an international non-profit developing cannabis quality standards, told Bustle. “Marijuana is known to cause tachycardia, or an increased heart rate. In people with underlying heart disease or problems with heart arrythmias, consuming marijuana could potentially put them at risk for heart complications."
If you're interested in adding weed to your workout routine, it's a good idea to start with a small dosage, suited to both your fitness and tolerance levels. And as always when exercising, be sure to listen to your body - it will seldom steer you wrong.
Do you work out with weed? Thinking of joining an elevated yoga class? Let us know in the comments below.