May 11, 2017
“Blasphemy!” I hear you yelling. “Terrible idea,” you say… Or, maybe your thoughts are more along the lines of, “Tell me more….”
While going for a run after smoking weed — or lifting weights or really any exercise — might sound sketchy, there are plenty of folks who’ve already been there, done that. Just do a quick Google search (or check this out), and you’ll find people talking about all kinds of ways in which toking up before a workout is helpful. But is it really true?
To figure it all out, we talked to marijuana experts Jim McAlpine, founder of the 420 Games and Power Plant Gym; Dr. Dustin Sulak, an osteopathic physician and founder of Healer; and integrative cannabis physician Dr. Junella Chin of MedLeafRx, which has three offices serving medical marijuana patients in New York.
Just so you know, there haven’t been any clinical studies testing the effects of marijuana on exercise.
But these experts have gathered their info from years of personal experience, anecdotal evidence, and their own research into the drug.
FYI: It’s also a good idea to consult a doctor before changing or starting a workout routine. Working out requires an ability to be thoughtful and deliberate about the way you’re moving in order to avoid injury or overdoing it, so to be clear, this isn’t about getting stupid high and then working out.
Alright. Let’s go!
1. First and foremost, you should understand your relationship with weed — how it affects your mind and body specifically.
Marijuana isn’t like a pharmaceutical drug, which is tested rigorously for safety and efficacy among a large group of people before being approved by the FDA. You can give anyone a prescription pill and it’ll more or less have the same effect, McAlpine says, but give someone weed and it can affect each person in a different way.
“Cannabis has a bidirectional effect, which means at different dosages or with different individuals, you can see the exact opposite effect,” Sulak says. “So for example if you give it to someone who’s anxious, it might relax them. Give it to someone who’s not anxious and it may make them anxious, especially if they’re in the wrong environment.”
2. The amount you smoke before working out should be much smaller than the amount you’d smoke otherwise.
Again, if you decide to use cannabis before exercise, you’re not using it to get fucked up. So the right amount of weed is actually going to be pretty small. “It’s typically much lower than what people would expect,” Sulak says, “and certainly lower than what people are used to doing for recreation, for lack of a better word.”
Assuming you already know how marijuana affects you, you’ll probably be good with about one to three puffs, if you’re smoking or vaping it, Sulak says. This is called microdosing, and it’s a method of consuming weed that results in a longer lasting, very mild high. It should be just enough to affect you slightly during your workout; having a bit too much could get you really high really fast, making it likely you’ll crash into a mess of fatigue and lethargy if you try to work out, Chin says. So know how much it takes to get to your sweet spot and stick with it.
3. Oh, and if you’re a total noob at marijuana, you might want to think twice before microdosing and exercising.
But Sulak says that if you do decide to try it, a week of cautious use should be enough time to get past the initial sensitivity to THC, the chemical compound (cannabinoid) in marijuana that makes you feel high, and can also cause side effects like anxiety.
However, this only reduces the risk of unwanted side effects; chances are you’ll still need to figure out what the optimal dosage is for you, individually, to get the most of your workout. And of course the best way to do this is to start small and work your way up.
“It’s better to err on the side of caution and not feel anything, than take too much,” McAlpine says.
4. Marijuana can help you tolerate discomfort, so you may be able to bust out more reps or go the extra mile on the treadmill.
Sometimes finishing those last few reps can be brutal, but pushing yourself in a workout is one of the things that leads to the actual gains you want. That applies to anything fitness related, whether it’s building muscle, having more endurance, going deeper into your stretch, etc. And this is where marijuana can help, Sulak says.
Our bodies are littered from head to toe with cannabinoid receptors in what’s called the endocannabinoid system, and marijuana affects how these receptors respond to pain, which then changes how we perceive it — it becomes a lot less intense and less bothersome, says Sulak.
And by the way, when we talk about pushing through the pain in a workout, we’re talking about pushing through the mental and (ultimately tolerable) physical discomfort of a hard workout, not continuing to work out when something is legit painful and your body is begging for rest.
5. It can help you dial in on focus, so you get in the zone faster.
Also known as flow state, ~the zone~ is a state of consciousness in which we’re so immersed in what we’re doing that we feel energized and hyperaware of both our bodies and the environment — normally we’re focused on only one or the other, says Sulak.
You can access this mental state without a substance whenever you’re really, really immersed in an activity. And when it comes to sports, like football or skiing, flow state can give you the ability to just do something without thinking too much about it, McAlpine says, which can mean the difference between owning your shit or freaking TF out when an obstacle pops up.
For a lot of people, microdosing might help with accessing flow state during repetitive tasks at the gym, like weightlifting or running on a treadmill. It might keep you laser focused on your form, or possibly even more in tune with the specific muscles you’re targeting during a lift, says Sulak.
6. It can also make your workout wayyy more fun.
Yeah, obviously, because you just had some weed. But really, if you don’t enjoy working out, then microdosing might make it a bit more enjoyable, McAlpine and Sulak say.
7. It might even speed up your recovery, which could help with performance and results.
This is thanks to the other major cannabinoid in marijuana: CBD. You’ve probably heard of CBD if you’ve been paying attention to medical marijuana and legalization; it’s the non-psychoactive chemical in the plant — so it won’t get you high — that’s well-known for its therapeutic effects.
According to Chin and Sulak, it’s been shown to enhance immune system function, stop muscle spasms and seizures (in people with epilepsy or multiple sclerosis, for example), decrease inflammation and pain, and speed up healing and recovery. These last two are kind of crucial to gains because they allow your muscles to repair and grow; and the better your recovery, the more consistently you’ll be able to work out.
“If your body is always inflamed, your joints ache, and your muscles feel like they’re on fire from lactic acid buildup, and you can’t recover, you’re not gonna gain that edge,” says Chin. “But if you have a decrease of inflammation and your muscles can recover, you’re going to be able to build more muscle, you’re going to get stronger. And that’s what CBD does — it takes away inflammation naturally.”
8. Btw, you can probably just use CBD extract to get all this done, but, if possible (and legal!), using the whole plant is preferred.
Maybe you don’t want to get high or maybe you’re an athlete who’s required to take drug tests, which usually test for the chemical breakdowns of THC. If so, you can probably find just the CBD extract (whether through oils, tinctures, etc.), which can provide not just the healing and recovery benefits post-workout, but also a little boost of energy if you use it before a workout, Chin says.
However, all three experts agree that you should use the whole plant if possible. Both THC and CBD have overlapping properties that regulate and enhance each other, Sulak says. For example, CBD counteracts the effect of THC, reducing the risk of unwanted side effects, like anxiety. Through different routes, both cannabinoids can also relax you, reduce anxiety (when you don’t go overboard), and relieve pain. “You’ll get a certain type of anti-inflammatory effect from CBD and you’ll get another one from THC,” says Sulak, adding that there are 100+ other cannabinoids in marijuana that also contribute to these effects.
It’s the difference between eating a whole carrot and just a carotenoid tablet, Chin says. “It’s not going to work the same as the whole carrot, which has other nutrients. So in a perfect world, we want to make use of the total plant.”
9. While smoking weed might make the most sense for getting it in your body, it’s not really ~healthy~.
OK, so obviously the jury’s still out on whether weed is actually healthy in the first place, but the least we could do is tell you the healthiest way to use it – and smoking is not it. Burning weed (plus whatever paper it’s rolled in) creates carcinogens that invade the lungs, and ups the risk of pulmonary issues like bronchitis, Sulak says.
None of that is good for athletes who need to get as much oxygen as possible to their blood and into their muscles. “I don’t want to put smoke in my lungs if I don’t have to,” says McAlpine, who uses microdose edible products.
10. Herbal vaporizers and sublingual tinctures might be best if you’re looking for non-smoking options.
While edibles may sound like the obvious alternative, they can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours to kick in, depending on a range of factors, from when you last ate to how fast you digest food, and this can change from day to day even if you take the same dose, Sulak says. Not to mention it’ll be harder to zero in on the optimal dose for microdosing. For this reason, both Sulak and Chin say herbal vaporizers and sublingual tinctures might work better. Here’s why:
Herbal vaporizers won’t burn weed; they’ll only heat it up enough to evaporate the cannabinoids on its surface. This greatly reduces the amount of carcinogens that you inhale. Plus, unlike weed oil or wax vapes, they don’t have the added chemicals that are used to extract the cannabinoids from the plant, Chin and Sulak say. So you’ll be able to take those 1-3 puffs and feel the effects fast.
Sublingual tinctures, meanwhile, are alcohol-based cannabis extracts. You put a few drops under the tongue where they’re quickly absorbed into the bloodstream — they also don’t have any carcinogenic effects, Chin says. However, they do take a little more time to work; something closer to 10-15 minutes if you hold it in your mouth, says Sulak. “It’s a little bit more challenging to get the right dosage but people are clearly able to. I think if one’s using liquid medicine, it becomes very easy,” he says, suggesting that if you took five drops last time and it wasn’t enough, maybe take seven next time.
11. And just a warning: You probably shouldn’t try any of this if you’re under 18, have heart issues, or you’re participating in fast-paced sports.
“When you are under 18 or a teenager, your brain is still growing, so you should not be smoking weed or using it at all,” says Chin, noting that this could lead to developmental delays “because what you’re doing is giving yourself an outside source of cannabinoids. So your brain, which needs endocannabinoids to develop is saying, ‘Hey, I have all these cannabinoids coming in, I don’t really need to make my own.’”
Likewise, Sulak says that since marijuana is a muscle relaxant, it also relaxes the smooth muscle of the blood vessels, which can lower blood pressure. To compensate, he says the heart typically pumps a little faster and harder, and that can spell trouble for people who have heart issues, especially if you’re working out — so it’s best not to risk it.
Finally, take care of yourself! You’ll be better off doing this only during low-risk workouts and sports, McAlpine says. “I would never advocate for people who are skydiving or racing motorcycles to do this. I think when you’re in a place where there’s a life or death situation, I don’t think there’s a place for it in that realm…it’s better for any sport where your life is not on the line.”
OK, now get out there and work on those gains!
Picture credit- Openrangestock / Via gettyimages.com