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Marijuana and Sports

Marijuana is increasingly prevalent in everything from medical treatments to gourmet cooking. It may surprise you to know that many athletes are using marijuana as part of their overall approach to training and recovery. This seems counter-intuitive to everything I’ve ever heard. So, I dug a little deeper.

The World Anti-Doping Agency lists marijuana as a “performance enhancing” drug. In 2011, the American Journal of Sports Medicine reported that cannabis delivers the following mental benefits to athletes:

  • induces euphoria
  • improves self-confidence
  • reduces anxiety
  • relieves the stress of competition
  • plays a major role in the extinction of fear memories

Marijuana also acts much like aspirin. It relieves pain and reduces inflammation while providing relief to athletes suffering from injury.

So, you’ve had a rough game and you are hurting all over. Smoke a little Mary Jane and you’ll feel better physically and mentally. You’ll sleep better, forget the huge hit you took last time you were on the field, and you might even play with more confidence and creativity the next time you lace up.

Former NFL lineman Lomas Brown said that at least 50 percent of the league’s players smoke weed. Former NBA guard Robert Pack once put the association’s usage rate at 70 percent. Okay, I guess. But, runners?

Runner’s High

The human body stores tetrahydrocannabidiol (THC), the main psychoactive in cannabis, in fat. As the body begins to burn off fat during a run, small amounts of THC are released back into the bloodstream, producing an effect similar to consuming a small amount of cannabis. In other words, for tokers, exercise can offer an enjoyable second high. A recent study covered in the August 2013 Drug and Alcohol Dependence Journal reported that THC blood levels increased by about 15% immediately after moderate exercise, yet this increase was no longer present two hours after the workout.

Elite triathlete, Clifford Drusinsky says “Marijuana relaxes me and allows me to go into a controlled, meditational place. When I get high, I train smarter and focus on form.” Researchers suggest that endocannabinoids, much like endorphins, could increase your pain threshold and allow you to push through intense workouts. And, perhaps it contributes to greater focus on the repetitive task of endurance running.

It’s not all good news. Let’s first consider that marijuana is illegal in almost every state. There are also some serious health risks to consider. Marijuana is known to increase heart rate while decreasing cardiac stroke volume, resulting in diminished peak performance. And, smoking it leads to impaired breathing and increased risk of respiratory tract infection, bronchitis and lung cancer. Even the seemingly positive effect of pain relief can be problematic by masking potentially serious injuries.

I won’t be adding marijuana to my training program. For me, the risks far outweigh the benefits, and I enjoy running for what it is. If I want to experience a high, I’ll head out for a long run. It’s safe, it’s legal, and it’s absolutely free.

What are your thoughts?

2 thoughts on “Dude, Where Are My Running Shoes? Marijuana and Running

  1. Very interrsting article. I agree with you 100% that the risks far outweigh the benefits. It seems to me that relying on any substance to cope with fear memories or stress only acts as a crutch and does not provide a solution to the issues one may be dealing with. Just my thoughts.

  2. You and your dog are already making your own cannabinoids, after 30 minutes of running. While you could argue that the endogenous cannabinoids you make from a run are sufficient (and personally it is for me), its not clear where the risk lies. You’re already doing cannabis.

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22442371

Thoughts?