When you think of someone who smokes a lot of weed, you probably don't think of an athlete. Instead, you might think of a slack jawed, scruffy faced, bloodshot eyed, Fritos munching, pizza-stained shirt wearing, erection challenged, Bob Marley listening, Jeff "the dude" Lebowski emulating slacker, glued to his couch.
It turns out that stereotype might be as antiquated as a "Keep on Truckin'" black-light poster from the 1960s because new research out of the University of Colorado (Boulder) found that 8 out of 10 cannabis users actually combined cannabis with exercise. (1)
And rather than being detrimental to their efforts, the study found that the combination of marijuana and exercise sped recovery after training and made exercise less unpleasant.
A Useful Tool for Exercise?
U of C psychologists interviewed 605 cannabis users to see how they felt about cannabis and exercise. An amazing 81.7 percent of them reported using some form of marijuana one hour before training, during training, or in the 4-hour period after training.
Almost 80% of the weed-using respondents agreed that cannabis helped recovery, while just over 70% said that it enhanced their enjoyment of training. Most reported engaging in more minutes of aerobic or anaerobic exercise per week.
The respondents' responses to cannabis' effects on performance and motivation were less enthusiastic, but interestingly, the percentage of users who felt that it actually hurt performance or motivation were pretty small.
What to Do With This Info
This info might befuddle you and make you feel like you accidentally ate 100 mg. of THC by mistaking a cannabis-infused Kiva Bar for a Twix Bar. After all, you've repeatedly heard/read that weed decreases reaction time, interrupts concentration, disrupts hand-eye coordination, and reduces exercise capacity and time to exhaustion.
But if all of the preceding is entirely true, you wonder why the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has cannabis on its prohibited list. Why penalize athletes stupid enough to take something that hurts their performance?
Clearly there's a lot of confusion about the issue, leading to constant debate and passionate arguments about whether the use of cannabis should be banned from any organized sport.
Case in point, Mike Tyson and Floyd Landis are among the 150 athletes who recently supported a petition to have marijuana removed from WADA's prohibited list, and there are similar murmurings among many of the athletes of the NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB who want to partake of the ganja without fear of being suspended.
But while this study muddled what we know, or think we know, about marijuana and performance, it's almost unequivocally accepted that weed is not the athlete's absolute ally, at least when it comes to competing in sports where great precision and reaction time play a role.
It probably doesn't hurt an athlete's abilities much, though, when used outside the window of competition and in moderation, and it may actually help with other sports intangibles. Ultra-marathon runner Jenn Shelton, quoted in the Wall Street Journal in 2015, said: "The person who is going to win is someone who can manage their pain, not puke, and stay calm. Pot does all three of those things."(2)
As for other athletes like lifters, it may help with recovery and stimulate appetite. It might also, as suggested by the ultra-marathon runner, help moderate pain. I'm not sure, though, how useful it would be in a powerlifting competition or for heavy training sessions. After all, feeling mellow doesn't usually equate to big lifts. Big lifts require a little mad-dog crazy.
Still, anything that makes you want to go to the gym and spend more time in the gym needs to be given some consideration. As with most things, it's probably a case of weighing the possible benefits against the possible disadvantages.
Oops! They Forgot Something. They Were Probably High
One last point regarding the U of C study: Nowhere in their paper did they mention using different strains of cannabis, which makes me assume that it wasn't part of their survey.
It would have been nice to know which respondents used indica strains, which used sativa strains, and which preferred hybrid strains. Sativas are more energizing, while indicas are more likely to glue users to the couch. Hybrids, of course, have middlin' effects, depending on the THC concentration.
Knowing which one had which exercise-related effects would have at least helped confirm or refute some of our standard beliefs about pot and exercise.
- Sophie L. York Williams, Charleen Gust; Raeghan Mueller; et al. "The New Runner's High? Examining Relationships Between Cannabis Use and Exercise Behavior in States With Legalized Cannabis," Front. Public Health, 30 April 2019.
- Frederick Dreier, "The Debate Over Running While High," Wall Street Journal, Feb. 9, 2015.