Photo: Inigo Sarralde Fotografia/Shutterstock

New Evidence That Marijuana Can Be Beneficial to Athletic Performance?

by Rory Moulton Jan 22, 2015

I had a college friend who swore by getting stoned before hitting the gym. Without fail, I’d swing by his apartment en route to the campus rec center and he’d answer the door with a shit-eating grin and bloodshot eyes. Stoned as bejeezus. Every. Single. Time.

I never understood it. I can’t think of a worse place to be stoned than a gym. I can’t think of less appealing activities to do while high than lifting weights and running (basketball, skiing, swimming — that’s another story, which we’ll get to shortly). But he swore by it, and it worked for him. He was always stronger than me, could lift more than me, run faster for longer, and did it the whole time with that shit-eating grin. While I counted down the exercises until I could get the hell out of the gym, he’d linger, try new machines and exercises, chat up other lifters, push himself to do more, smiling all the while. I thought it was stupid and decried it as a waste of good weed.

Well, it turns out, I may have been wrong the whole time.

Two recent magazine articles, in the November Men’s Journal and February Outside, looked into the effects of marijuana on athletics. What they found may surprise you.

The Men’s Journal article quoted a Colorado triathlete who swears by getting stoned before working out, saying it “relaxes me and allows me to go into a controlled, meditational place.”

Writing in Outside, correspondent Gordy Megroz consumed a marijuana-laced “edible” and then went skiing. He reported feeling “invincible and proceeded to attack the steepest lines without fear.”

Now, for seasoned skiers and snowboarders where marijuana use is as integral to the sport as wearing gloves and boots, this may not be shocking news. Many skiers, especially in the freeskiing realm (I can’t speak to the Lycra-clad set), approach their sport as more of an art form than a purely athletic pursuit, and so it only makes sense to use a drug that facilitates entering “The Zone” where your body just reacts rather thinks, where your creativity is unleashed onto a canvas of fresh pow, where you look at the mountain and its fall lines with a fresh perspective.

Of course, now that we can honestly and openly study marijuana, there’s a biological explanation for this, courtesy of Stanford professor Keith Humphreys who told Megroz, “We have cannabinoid receptors throughout our brains, and when the THC hits those receptors, it triggers a system that reduces anxiety.”

Anecdotal reports and the tenuous link between anxiety reduction and athletic performance aside, what’s really monumental about this rethink on pot and sports is the mounting scientific evidence that marijuana can help increase athletic output. In addition to decreasing anxiety, pot is also a bronchodilator, which means it increases the lung’s capacity for transferring oxygen from your lungs into your bloodstream. (Incidentally, this is also why smoking a cigarette right after pot or with pot in a spliff results in a heightened high — tobacco is a vasoconstrictor so the two drugs are producing opposite effects that lead to light-headedness, and thus a perceived “higher high.”)

With the help of a physiologist, Megroz set about proving marijuana’s biological influence could translate into athletic achievement. He found pot helped in almost every training exercise: He could sustain a challenging treadmill run 30 seconds longer when high and got less sore after doing squats than when he was sober. Basically, using pot helped his training output and recovery time, both essential training variables for elite athletes.

My hunch is there’s so much more we can learn about pot and, with the tsunami of legalization and decriminalization sweeping the country, the next few years will produce a wealth of evidence both for and against pot’s application for injury recovery, pain management, PTSD treatment, etc.

And somewhere that friend of mine from college is busting out bench-press reps with bloodshot eyes and an ear-to-ear grin, thinking “I told you so.”

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