Cannabis a.k.a as Marijuana or Weed, among other names, is a psychoactive drug used for both recreational and medicinal purposes. Cannabis both mentally and physically affects your state of being, including giving a “high” or “stoned” feeling of relaxation, euphoria (heightened mood), visual illusions, increased awareness of sensation, distortions in the perception of time & space, and an increase in appetite. The use of Cannabis around the world has only grown over the years, currently making it the most commonly used illegal drug in both the United States and the world.
Now you’re probably wondering, how does this have anything to do with athletes? For one thing, runners are among the many athletes liting up, both pre and post workout. Most runners’ post-run routine consists of a cool down, a stretch, drinking water, and maybe eating a post-workout snack, but now some are smoking pot to recover from runs, and also before runs to relax their bodies.
You may be surprised to find that combining cannabis and sport has become a trend in the long-distance running community. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal, “The Debate Over Running While High”, discusses the enormous benefits marijuana has on runners. This may seem crazy, but consider the common obstacles runners face. Runners endure stomach cramps, intense pain in their muscles & joints, loss of motivation, and the boredom of repetitive running. This is especially true for runners of the recently-popular and grueling endurance sport: Ultramarathon. The sport consists of running in races anywhere from 30 to 200 miles long, both in rocky terrain and through mountainous trails.
In The Wall Street Journal article, veteran runner Jenn Shelton explains, “The person who is going to win an ultra is someone who can  manage their pain,  not puke, and  stay calm. Pot does all three of those things”. Makes sense. But wait, there’s more! Not only does running while high help runners keep their cool, it also help them stay preoccupied. Runners who have experienced running while high claim that if they don’t smoke before a run, they’re more likely to think about the miles and how much further they have to go, rather than just enjoying themselves. It has the power to not only preoccupy them, but is said to make their run more enjoyable by making the sky blues bluer and the grass greens greener.
The Science Behind It
Still don’t believe it? Let’s break it down further. Basically, Cannabis is made up of two chemical compounds, called cannaboids: Cannabidiol (CBD) and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). These compounds combine to regulate pain, emotions, appetite, and memory. CBD is non-psychoactive, bringing out the calm and relaxing feelings Cannabis provides, whereas THC is psychoactive and generates feelings of euphoria and lack of focus.
How does this science lecture relate to athletes turning towards weed? As it turns out, our bodies produce very similar compounds after exercising as that which makes up the chemicals in cannabis. In a study done by Gregory Gerdeman, an assistant professor of biology at Eckerd College, he states that ingesting cannabis mimics the very natural process of increasing exercise-induced cannabinoids. His research has shown high levels of cannabinoids, naturally produced in the body, in the bloodstream of people after exercise. He states, “That runner’s high – whether natural or marijuana induced – can minimize distractions and help exercise to be not just a means to an end, but an enjoyment”
The “non-runners high”
Runners aren’t the only ones experimenting with weed. With science behind the idea that cannabis blocks the physical input of pain, it’s ideal for not only runners, but various other athletes who suffer from pain, post-workout fatigue, and pre-workout inhibition. From Bodybuilders to Crossfitters, athletes may hit the bong to prevent soreness and sleep better, acting as a substitute for ice baths and sleeping pills.
A trend among Bodybuilders is bulking – which marijuana can help them do by heightening their appetite. Additionally, athletes from sports ranging from Snowboarding to Martial Arts to Mountain Biking use marijuana for its relaxing agent, which calms them down and loosens them up pre-performance, allowing them to perform without letting their nerves get in the way. The use of pot in this scenario induces impulsive responses, and thus heightens risk-taking behavior without affecting decision-making, which can be beneficial in competitions.
This isn’t to say you should try this at home, or that the effects of cannabis on the athlete’s body are always positive. What are the cons to all of these pros you may ask? Well first, let’s not forget that we’re talking about an illegal drug, which is only legal for recreational use in 4 out 50 states in the US. In the short-term, cannabis decreases alertness, accelerates muscle fatigue, and increases the heart rate, which could cause athletes to reach their limits more quickly. Additionally, an extremely common side effect of cannabis consumption is experiencing paranoia or extreme anxiety while high. In the long-term, it can impair your memory, cause cardiovascular disease, increase the likelihood of chronic bronchitis, and even lower your IQ. Additionally, the effects of CBD and THC are very different per person, thus creating very different effects on different individuals.
We can only wonder, what will the effects on this cannabis and sports trend have in the world of athletics? Will there come a day when Olympic athletes will be allowed to hold their gold medals upon the podium, while marijuana runs through their system? Will there come a day when marijuana will be considered a performance-enhancing drug? Is using marijuana even ethical? We can only wonder if athletes will continue turning towards weed in the future, and unfortunately only time can tell.