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9 Ways Marijuana Effects Your Athletic Performance

Marijuana has never been more accessible—or popular. But how does it affect hard-training athletes? Here’s what we know right now.

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Now that marijuana is legal in several parts of the U.S., researchers are starting to debunk several myths about marijuana. At the same time, weed’s social stigma is beginning to loosen—so much so, in fact, that athletes and fitness gurus who laud weed’s wellness benefits are starting to challenge the stereotype of lazy, overweight stoners.

But is cannabis truly a miracle drug that enhances athletic performance or do its negative side effects outweigh its benefits?

We spoke to several experts in medicine, fitness, and the cannabis industry about how weed can potentially benefit or hurt your fitness.

How Marijuana Can Affect Your Goals to Build Bigge.

Is marijuana the wonder drug your workouts have been missing?

Benefit 1: Reduce Inflammation

Reducing muscle and joint inflammation is one of the most promising areas of cannabis research. Many studies have found that CBD, the nonpsychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana, helps ease inflammation. Now, researchers are looking into its potential to treat autoimmune conditions like Crohn’s disease, lupus, and psoriasis.

Adam Brous, a certified yoga instructor and founder of Ganja Guru Yoga in Denver, CO, uses marijuana in his practice and recommends it to his clients for this purpose. “I have worked with athletes who have found cannabis to be a helpful aid,” Brous says. “Typically, they’re dealing with pain and inflammation of the muscles and connective tissue or recovering from past injury or surgery.”

For athletes who want to reap the benefits of CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties without smoking it or getting the high, Brous recommends topical products. “Topicals and tinctures are incredible for locally targeted recovery in highly concentrated doses.”

Jamie Feaster, a former Division I college pole vaulter and current vice president of marketing at marijuana delivery startup Eaze, also turned to CBD for its anti-inflammatory properties when he ruptured his Achilles tendon.

“As an active athlete, it was a devastating injury and I was open to exploring alternative medicine solutions to help me heal,” Feaster says. “The CBD lotion really helped me understand the wellness benefits cannabis can provide. CBD is my favorite form, given that it typically delivers the best results when it comes to anti-inflammatory and healing properties.”

Benefit 2: Ease Soreness and Pain

Going hand-in-hand with its anti-inflammatory properties, cannabis has also been found to alleviate pain. This is one area of cannabis research that has shown many positive results. Marijuana can alleviate pain caused by everything from chronic pain to acute pain from muscle spasms, studies have found—and that’s good news for anyone looking for alternatives to dangerous, habit-forming opiates.

San Francisco-based trainer Zach Scioli of DIAKADI Fitness is an advocate for marijuana therapies to help with muscle recovery and alleviate pain from injuries—but he wasn’t always.

“Societal norms shaped my thinking about marijuana, but it doesn’t take much digging into studies to find that cannabis’ compounds are anti-inflammatory, stress reducing, antioxidative, and pain mediating, to name just a few benefits,” Scioli explains. After suffering a slipped disc in his lower back, he was bedridden for weeks and on a cocktail of painkillers. “Being prescribed extremely strong prescription painkillers to treat pain, I realized their high addiction and toxicity potential. I opted to try CBD oil and high-grade THC extracts to manage pain and inflammation. Looking back, it was the best choice I could have made.”

Christopher Louie, founder of Colorado-based cannabis startup Made in Xiaolin, had a similar experience, although his injury was more catastrophic. He credits marijuana with saving his life. “My passion for cannabis began when it replaced the opiates I was being prescribed for a gunshot wound I sustained in 2003,” he says. Specifically, he was prescribed a powerful pill form of morphine known as Kadian, and when the withdrawal between refilling prescriptions became too much, his doctor put him on Neurontin, which made him suicidal. “Since treating with cannabis I’ve learned that not only does it help with the physical pain, it helps me mentally—it has greatly increased my quality of life.”

Benefit 3: Treat Muscle Spasms

Another area of medical application for cannabis is in treating muscle spasms. Cannabis has shown positive results in treating muscle spasms associated with diseases like multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s, and its benefits could extend to athletes suffering from spasms as well. “There have been studies in rodents showing some beneficial effect in muscle recovery and reduction of muscle spasm, presumably due to the anti-inflammatory properties the compound possesses,” explains Erich Anderer, M.D., chief of neurosurgery at NYU Langone Hospital – Brooklyn.

That said, health application of cannabis is a new area of study, and Anderer says scientists need more research on athletes who don’t suffer from any of these disorders. “I don’t know any rats that do CrossFit, so more research needs to be done before we can recommend it for this use with any confidence,” he says. “The problem is that right now there is no scientific evidence it works in humans.”

Benefit 4: Improve Sleep

It’s no secret that THC induces sleep, but studies have also found that it can help people with sleep apnea and even suppress dreams, which is beneficial for those suffering from PTSD. Meanwhile, CBD can ease REM sleep disorder (where people “act out” their dreams) and daytime fatigue. Everyone knows how important sleep is to overall fitness, so this can be extremely beneficial to your athletic performance.

“I recommend CBD to nearly all of my clients for sleep,” Scioli says. “It greatly decreases their stress levels, which in turn improves their sleep quality and duration.”

However, marijuana’s effects on sleep do come with some caveats. One small 2004 study found that young adults who took THC before bed slept normally, but woke up feeling sleepier and with an impaired memory. The same study found that a blend of 5mg CBD and 5mg THC resulted in less stage-3 sleep, but better performance the day after on a number recall task.

Another benefit: Marijuana can be an alternative to traditional sleep medications, which can be habit-forming and come with a litany of side effects. “Eaze recently released our 2017 State of Cannabis data report, which found that 95% of respondents used cannabis to help reduce their sleeping and anxiety medication consumption,” says Feaster.

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Benefit 5: Improve Mental Acuity

Contrary to popular thinking, marijuana may not have detrimental effects on brain function. In fact, it could be the opposite. Regular, low doses of THC actually restored cognitive function in old mice, according to a June 2017 study published in Nature Medicine. Anecdotally, many of the fitness experts who spoke with us said weed helped them get in the “zone” with their workouts.

“Cannabis has helped my mental game and focus incredibly. Early in my practice, cannabis helped to reduce anxiety, and keep me calm and focused on one task,” he says. “Later, I noticed that cannabis acted as a catalyst to achieve a meditative ‘flow state’ that is crucial to success in athletics.”

Risk 1: Damage Lungs

“Marijuana can hurt athletic performance significantly if you smoke it,” says Anderer. “It has been linked to structural damage in the lung—possibly even cancer, although the evidence is not as strong as it is with cigarettes.”

All athletes know that healthy lungs are essential to your overall fitness, so they should be wary of smoking anything.

Scott Chipman, the head of Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana, cites the lack of regulation in marijuana production as one of the key reasons he’s opposed to it. “Marijuana smoke is registered in California as a carcinogen and contains four to five times the toxins, irritants, and carcinogens as tobacco smoke and 20 times more ammonia, a poison,” he says. “And, a recent UC Davis study of marijuana samples from four Southern California dispensaries found 93% of the samples tested positive for contaminants including pesticides.”

Of course, airborne contaminants aren’t necessarily exclusive to marijuana, and not all marijuana products are consumed via smoking, but the hazards are there nevertheless.

Sumetee Theesungnern / EyeEm / Getty

Risk 2: Impair Motor Skills

It’s no secret that, like any intoxicant, marijuana can impair your motor skills.

“Cannabis use can acutely impair decision making and motor coordination that can make certain activities more difficult, such as driving,” says Jeff Chen, M.D., M.B.A., the director of the Cannabis Research Initiative at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.

While Feaster believes in the healing properties of marijuana, he notes that some physical activities shouldn’t be done under the influence. “Marijuana can be a great supplement for recovery after workouts, but I don’t recommend using high levels of THC when pole-vaulting!”

Scioli agrees: “THC should not be used just prior to resistance exercises. It decreases reaction speed and global stability—not what you want when lifting heavy objects.”

In the same vein, research has now found evidence that while marijuana may actually restore cognitive function in older users, it can be harmful to the developing adolescent brain. “Cannabis use during adolescence is correlated with decreased neurocognitive performance, changes in brain structure, and alterations in brain function,” Chen explains. “However, like with other cannabis findings, you can only demonstrate correlation and not causation in observational studies.”

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Risk 3: Increased Likelihood of Chronic Depression

“In medicine, whenever we look at the therapeutic use of a compound, we want to ensure the benefits outweigh the risks—and there are certainly health risks to cannabis use,” Chen says. One of the risks of extended cannabis use is an increased likelihood of depression. “Heavy long-term usage of cannabis is correlated with increased risk of psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia,” he says.

Depression can be detrimental to fitness, both by decreasing motivation and causing numerous physical side effects. Depression and stress increase the body’s cortisol levels, which can lead to weight gain, a weakened immune system, blood sugar fluctuations, and gastrointestinal problems.

Marijuana has never been more accessible—or popular. But how does it affect hard-training athletes? Here’s what we know right now.

Does Marijuana Help Muscle Growth and Recovery?

The debate on whether or not cannabis and working out go hand in hand has been raging on for years. You can always find active folks who wholeheartedly support it and those who would never dream of toking while lifting. While it is easy to find anecdotal evidence to support either side, what does the science say?

Research surrounding cannabis is still in its infancy, considering most experiments have not yet been replicated and many of the studies contradict each other. There are studies out there that have focused on cannabis and muscle growth.

MuscleProdigy.com explored a few of these studies in an article titled “Does Marijuana Affect Muscle Growth” . One study focused on rats and three focused on Humans. The studies were performed between 1949 and 2002. These studies concentrated on Testosterone and Human Growth Hormone levels. Although minute changes in hormone levels were found in the experiments, none of them were deemed statistically significant and none of the changes were lasting. So, it doesn’t seem as though cannabis has any direct effect on muscle growth, at least not one that we have discovered yet. But can marijuana indirectly affect other parts of your work out?

Cannabis and the Munchies

One well-known effect of cannabis is the munchies, although how hard the munchies hit can depend on what strain you are currently enjoying. For those who are trying to get into shape and build muscles, the munchies can mean strong cravings for things that don’t necessarily constitute a healthy diet, like sugar and carbs. But many folks have harnessed the power of the munchies for good and use the cravings to help them eat more and eat healthily. According to InsideFitnessMag.com , many body-builders consume up to 5,000 or more calories per day and a well-timed blunt can really help to increase one’s appetite.

If you choose to go this route, it is important to make sure that you do not have a pantry full of junk food, so that when the cravings do hit, you are not tempted to reach for sweets. Many fit folks choose to use cannabis after they work out so that they can eat more, but smoking after you work out can have other advantages.

THC, CBD, and Anti-inflammation

It is well known that cannabis relaxes the mind and muscles. Between the anti-inflammatory effects of THC and CBD and psychoactive effects of THC, cannabis can be a great tool for winding down after an intense workout. Cannabis’ ability to relax muscles can be helpful after a workout because relaxation aids in increasing blood flow and in turn, muscle recovery.

Many of those who partake in cannabis find that it helps them get a better nights sleep. According to sportslabnyc.com , non-REM sleep is when most muscle recovery and growth occurs. Taking that into consideration, it would make sense that cannabis can indirectly aid in muscle recovery by enhancing relaxation and helping you get a better nights sleep. Now we know a few reasons why people might want to use cannabis after they work out, but what about before?

Smoking before or after a workout

Some people like to smoke cannabis before their workout. This tends to come down to personal preference. For some folks, smoking before they work out allows them to get into the zone and enjoy their workout more. For others, it can take away motivation and make the workout feel more difficult. The strain that you smoke before your workout can also change how you feel during the workout.

A sativa leaning strain, like Pepe Le Fuel or Platinum Valley , can give you more energy for your workout and help with motivation. Keep in mind that everybody is different, so your optimum workout strain may not be the best choice for someone else. The way you go about consuming your cannabis can also affect your workout.

Smoking any substance is not necessarily good for you because all smoke contains toxins and chemicals. Cannabis smoke is no different. That is why many active people who use cannabis chose to eat or vape their weed instead of smoking it. Using a vaporizer is considered to be better than smoking, but you are still inhaling foreign substances into your lungs.

Are Edibles Better for Working out?

Many chose to go with edibles because it eliminates the dangers of smoking or inhaling cannabis. The variety of edibles available in today’s market is incredible. From chocolate bars to dissolvable powders, the options are endless. If you choose to use your cannabis while working out, know that you are not the only person out there who chooses to do so.

It cannot be denied that cannabis and sports have been associated for quite some time. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Phelps, and LeBron James are just a few famous names in sports who have admitted to using cannabis at some point during their careers. Over the years and across all types of sports, cannabis has been used in a variety of ways. Although many choose to do it, that does not mean that using cannabis and working out is for everyone. As we like to say around here, to each their own.

You can always find active supporters and those who wouldn’t dream of toking while lifting and evidence may support either side, what does the science say?