Bodybuilding – casual, not competitive – has been part of my life since I started lifting weights with my dad and siblings as an adolescent. So, I’ve always been fascinated by ways to get more out of strength training and cardio regimens. But here’s a tip I never would have imagined: boosting your workouts with weed! Apparently, this is gaining traction within the fitness community. But is it a trendy fad whose days are limited like vibrating belts, or is it something that actually works? And is it something that does more harm than good like Fen-Phen pills, or is it something you could consume responsibly to achieve results?
Although you’d be ill-advised to max out on bench presses after smoking a blunt, there’s a lot to be gained from incorporating cannabis into your workout routine. Even the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) lends credibility to the idea of infusing exercise with weed for optimal results – granted, not enthusiastically. WADA bans cannabinoids other than cannabidiol (CBD) in competitive sports because:
“Cannabis induces euphoria, improves self-confidence, induces relaxation and steadiness and relieves the stress of competition. Cannabis improves sleep and recovery after an event, reduces anxiety and fear and aids the forgetting of negative events such as bad falls and so forth. Cannabis increases risk taking and this perhaps improves training and performance, yielding a competitive edge. Cannabis increases appetite, yielding increased caloric intake and body mass. Cannabis enhances sensory perception, decreases respiratory rate and increases heart rate; increased bronchodilation may improve oxygenation of the tissues. Finally, cannabis is an analgesic that could permit athletes to work through injuries and pain induced by training fatigue.”
To me, WADA’s approach to anti-doping seems to be a glorified means of enforcing organized envy. WADA doesn’t want anyone competing unless they, like everyone else, are on the preferred verge of the industry-standard breakdown. Unless you’re half-starved, exhausted and fueled by anxiety, pain and self-doubt, you need not apply, cheater!
But let’s say you’re not trying to compete in any tournament though. You’re just someone with a home gym or a fitness club membership, and you’d like to get more mileage out of a workout. Could cannabis really help you with that like WADA and others think it can? And, perhaps more importantly, could it do that without causing new health problems in your life in the process? Ultimately, do the advantages of combining weed and workouts outweigh the disadvantages? Well, here’s what the experts have concluded after extensive research. (Oh, and here’s the part where I remind you to get your doctor to sign off on incorporating cannabis into your routine before doing so.)
Advantage: Enhanced muscle recovery and reduced post-workout soreness.
As MD Monthly reports: “Inflammation increases the blood flow to the muscles and joints to help in muscle recovery. This blood flow delivers oxygen and essential nutrients to the affected area. In turn, it clears up the damaged proteins, lactic acid, and cellular debris. You can treat this inflammation with ice or just pop an NSAID such as ibuprofen. Or you can opt for natural CBD products from a reputed weed shop. The anti-inflammatory property of CBD speeds up muscle recovery without any side effects.” CBD has also been proven to alleviate the soreness you experience after an intense workout. So, you’ll be able to make it up the stairs to your room after leg day after all!
Advantage: Safe relief from chronic pain (no pun intended).
Opiates are often prescribed for managing extreme pain, but these introduce their own kind of pain: a high risk of becoming addicted. By contrast, CBD oil and high-THC extracts can achieve pain management without inflicting symptoms of withdrawal in between doses and positioning the patient to develop a dependency. Analyses performed by the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded that CBD is not associated with abuse potential; nor is it prone to tolerance, so you don’t need to keep upping the dose to maintain the effectiveness.
Advantage: Improved sleep and reduced daytime fatigue.
Getting a good night’s sleep enhances your fitness in numerous ways, from preparing you to be more physically active to stimulating weight loss. And although there are plenty of drugs out there to combat sleep problems, those invariably are accompanied by gruesome side effects and quickly advance from helping you sleep to controlling whether you sleep. By contrast, cannabis can be used casually as a sleep aid.
Advantage: Monotonous activities are more enjoyable.
As one cannabis consumer reported while describing an entire workout he did while high, he was able to stay on the treadmill longer, while pushing himself to run faster. The normally boring action of running in place was enlivened by his being able to hear, smell, see and even taste things in ways that entertained him. (Note: He made it a point to advise that you not lift weights high without supervision.) And if the idea of jogging while tripping out sounds less than fun to you, remember that different kinds of THC have different potencies. Some kinds, such as delta-8 THC, are less potent in their psychoactive effects.
Disadvantage: Lung damage from smoking.
Although smoking isn’t the only means of consuming cannabis, if this is the route you choose, your body will respond in the same way as it does for any other kind of smoking: badly. As Healthline points out: “Cannabis smoke … can irritate your bronchial passages and lungs [and] may aggravate existing respiratory illnesses, such as asthma and cystic fibrosis.” So, if you’re going to give cannabis a try as a fitness supplement, you might consider edibles instead of joints. And if not those, then some other way of consuming cannabis without smoking, such as tablets or patches.
Disadvantage: Impaired motor skills.
It should be obvious, but let’s be clear about one thing: Do not lift heavy objects over your head or undertake other physically complex activities while under the influence of THC. A study by ScienceDirect explains that because cannabis use affects cortico-striatal networks that are essential for producing movement, cannabis consumption is associated with motor performance impairments.
Disadvantage: Increased probability of becoming lightheaded while exercising.
Cannabis can elevate your heart rate and drop your blood pressure, so if you’re far enough into your workout to have higher adrenaline coursing through your body, that can lead to becoming dizzy. The National Institute on Drug Abuse found that: “Within a few minutes after inhaling marijuana smoke, a person’s heart rate speeds up, the breathing passages relax and become enlarged, and blood vessels in the eyes expand, making the eyes look bloodshot. The heart rate—normally 70 to 80 beats per minute—may increase by 20 to 50 beats per minute or may even double in some cases.” And according to Healthline, that increased heart rate can last for several hours.
Disadvantage: Overexertion during high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
If you’re high while doing HIIT, the THC will alter your perception of “short” when performing short intervals of exercises like sped-up mountain climbers. This could cause you to persist in the activity far longer than intended. (The horror!!) Also, you’ll be less attentive to maintaining your form, such as a flat back, and that will both compromise the effectiveness of the move and potentially cause an injury.
So, is it a net positive or a net negative to mix weed with working out?
Really, you need to decide which risks are acceptable to you based on your age, health (especially if you’re at risk for heart disease), medications and so forth. Again, ask your doctor. Also, bear in mind that scientific evidence is limited because of the difficulties inherent in performing a clinical study with what’s still classified as a Schedule I controlled substance by the federal government. But as cannabis becomes more acceptable both socially and legally, you’re fortunate not to be as limited in exploring your options as you once were. And if cannabis is a viable, net-positive option for you, it might be worth considering replacing your synthetic workout supplements with something all natural. Just an idea – you decide.
Kathleen Hearons is an editor, writer, voice over actor and avid cinephile. She lives and works in the greater Los Angeles area.
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