Athletes have always been ahead of the curve on weed’s potency as a wellness product.
From Ricky Williams to Chris Ball to Calvin Johnson, former football players and cannabis entrepreneurs are proof that cannabis can aid in athletic training and recovery — even when it comes at a high price.
Williams has said that pot cost him at least $10 million in fines and suspensions over the years, but claims that number is “pennies” compared to what it brought into his life. The former NFL rushing champion can’t imagine his playing days without cannabis.
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Euphoria → Endurance
According to Dr. Benjamin Caplan, a physician and founder of the Massachusetts-based CED Clinic, some athletes have reported that cannabis reduces their pain, inflammation and anxiety, all of which would understandably improve a person’s workouts by making it possible to train harder. Cannabis can increase blood flow and oxygenation, Caplan explained, which is thought to improve endurance.
At the same time, “the euphoric effect of cannabis is likely to improve self-confidence, support mechanical relaxation and steadiness of the body, and relieve the stress of competition,” Caplan added. This is partially why the World Anti-Doping Agency lists cannabis products as a banned substance, with the exception of CBD. But experts contend that it’s not a performance-enhancing drug. This debate aside, there is reason to believe that a little weed can make physical activity a lot more enjoyable.
In one survey of 101 adults aged 18 to 55 years who use cannabis during exercise, a majority of people said they combined it with more relaxing endeavors (hiking, yoga, aerobic machines), but 44% said they paired weed with weightlifting. The respondents cited its assistance in focus and concentration, its capacity to make exercise more enjoyable, and a certain intangible — working out on weed enhanced their “mind-body-spirit connection.”
This mystical combination isn’t just reserved for athletes. “Anyone can take advantage of these potential benefits,” Caplan said.
Stoned and Toned
For instance, take Morgan English, the founder of the cannabis and fitness platform Stoned + Toned. She hated working out for most of her life. After being told she was conventionally overweight growing up, the pressure to exercise filled her with anxiety. It wasn’t until college, when she started smoking weed recreationally, that she discovered her love for spin class.
“I had the ability to be present and finish a workout and not worry about what other people are thinking, or if I’m doing enough,” English told me. After spinning, she started getting stoned before barre and pilates. They’re now her favorite types of workouts to do high; the weed helps her feel her muscles working and building.
“I’m feeling my muscles, and I’m aware of where there’s pain and where there’s muscle building,” English said. Now a fitness instructor herself, she’s aware that there’s a crucial difference between building muscle and straining it — it’s the same distinction between feeling the burn and feeling pain. (The only strain English wants to be talking about is whatever she’s smoking.)
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How to Work Out on Weed
While studies show cannabis can reduce inflammation and pain for some people, it’s typically not in a way where you’re going to overextend and further injure yourself, English says. That’s because cannabis is not compatible with the “no pain, no gain” mentality that usually gets people hurt. As much as it can curb pain, weed workouts are more about being mindful of your body.
According to English, using cannabis as a workout enhancer involves shifting your perspective on exercise in a similar way that she has — by crafting an experience that’s pleasant enough to repeat several times a week.
How do you do that? For some experienced cannabis consumers, it can be as simple as finding the right gym or fitness studio (within walking or ride-share distance) to try working out high. English, though, experienced a lot of judgment about showing up to the gym smelling like weed — even years after weed was legalized in California. That’s partly why she started Stoned + Toned, to create a more inclusive community, where being high is an implicit part of showing up.
The studio’s online platform shows just how many forms of exercise can be performed after a toke. The library ranges from pilates to barre, and yoga to spinning, and pairs a different strain with each exercise (though other strains are welcome, it’s just a suggestion). And if you’re less experienced with weed and accidentally get too high to finish the workout, there’s no judgment. To prevent that from happening, Stoned + Toned offers online educational resources about how cannabis can enhance your workouts and support your recovery.
“We’re here to change the narrative around fitness and we’re here to bring joy to it,” English said. “And if it’s movement that isn’t bringing you joy, stop doing it.”
Tokes, Tinctures and Topicals
In terms of strains that spark joy, Blue Dream, Super Lemon Haze and Headband have been endorsed by the Stoned + Toned team. Although any type of smoking can damage your lungs and make exercise more difficult, English considers the method of consumption highly personal. She prefers to take a few puffs off of a joint, or a vape that uses cannabis flower rather than liquid or concentrates.
On the flip side, most of the serious athletes Caplan treats do not prefer to smoke weed. They’ll stick to tinctures and topicals. Edibles, for their part, are less predictable because the high largely depends on a person’s metabolism. As the effects take longer to kick in, the risk of growing impatient and overindulging is generally higher. Ultimately, “there is no one-size-fits-all approach to using cannabis,” Caplan said, and he recommends consulting with a doctor for optimal results.
Unlike edibles, tinctures are cannabis-infused liquids that can be dropped on the tongue and only take about 10 to 15 minutes to kick in, which is a comparable onset to smoking. Whether you’re going the edible or tincture route, experts like Caplan stress the importance of starting low — at around 2.5 milligrams and slowly working up from there. For smokers and vapers, this is about the equivalent of two to three puffs.
If you don’t want to be high during your actual workouts, cannabis can benefit your recovery in the form of topicals. “For some, a topical lotion is all that they need to feel more comfortable after the soreness of a workout,” Caplan noted.
What About CBD?
Likewise, if the natural high of a workout is more than enough and you don’t want to feel the effects of cannabis at all, CBD can be another option, one that won’t intoxicate you. “CBD is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent,” cannabis researcher Dr. Evangelos Litinas said. “When used in an intelligent and methodical way, it can be a very powerful tool for reducing the stress in the body after intense exercise. It’ll improve the time and quality of recovery, too.”
A growing body of animal studies indicate that CBD alone can reduce inflammation, and human trials to confirm are in progress. The key is that you have to ingest CBD a few hours before exercising. “Basically, once you eat it, you have two hours to finish your workout routine,” Litinas explained.
Whether you’re puffing on a joint before spin class, sucking on a vape before pilates or innocently drinking a little CBD before strenuous strength training, cannabis could be the little green light you need to take your workout up a notch, or maintain a healthy exercise routine overall. It won’t get you into the NFL, but it might get you into better shape. You couldn’t afford those fines anyway.