Triathletes. Mountaineers. Bodybuilders. Marathoners. Extreme athletes all. And what else do they have in common? It’s possible that these athletes could benefit from making cannabis a strategic part of their activity regimen.
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It seems counterintuitive, yes. But there is scientific evidence of benefits to moderate, responsible cannabis consumption for athletes. (A number of NFL players recently in the news over their cannabis advocacy would concur.) Multiple studies have been conducted that show definitively how well cannabis provides pain relief. It can even be effective in helping up to 75 percent of those who are dependent on opioid painkillers kick the habit. It’s a proven anti-inflammatory as well. All strenuous action sports can be hard on the body; relief of pain and inflammation can go a long way to assisting in the recovery process.
But what about during training? The 13-mile run associated with triathlons and half-marathons can be grueling and monotonous, as well as painful. Eating a cannabis-infused energy bar can help an athlete “get in the zone” and stay there for the long haul. Here an indica strain wouldn’t be recommended, as it would tend to be too relaxing and cause drowsiness. Sativa strains, in contrast, are known as energy and mood boosters that can help increase focus—especially useful for making monotonous tasks seem calming or interesting. The key is to take in the smallest amount that produces a desirable upbeat effect. Even slightly larger doses beyond that point have been shown to have a reverse, neurodepressant effect, which could worsen sports performance.
If you’ve ever experienced a runner’s high, you may have assumed it was from a surge of endorphins, which were thought for decades to be the sole cause of the phenomenon.
M.N. Hill demonstrated in 2010 that rats given a substance that numbed their endocannabinoid receptors did not show the brain cell growth that running normally causes. This means a balanced endocannabinoid system could necessary for cognitive improvements from exercise.
Scientists at the University of Oxford discovered in 2015, however, that endocannabinoids likely also are involved. They could actually be the primary source of runner’s high. The result can make you feel like you could run forever, at any pace. Runners don’t always get the runner’s high after a workout; but cannabinoids can help replicate that feeling.
The body has endocannabinoid receptors, which regulate cellular processes and hormonal functions: pain, sleep, insulin, mood, appetite, and so much more. The cannabinoids, including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), cannabinol (CBN) and over 100 more target the receptors, dubbed CB1 and CB2. What all the compounds are, what they do, and how they work is still not thoroughly understood; more studies are required to answer those questions. But scientists believe the cannabinoids and terpenoids (chemicals that impart scent and flavor) within the plant work together to create a synergy known as the entourage effect, which is beneficial for numerous certain conditions.
We do know that changing the way you consume cannabis changes the way the body absorbs it and also actually changes the cannabinoids. A developing trend is juicing raw cannabis, adding it to a shake with kale, parsley, banana, or other flavorings to mask the bitter taste. In fresh, raw cannabis, THC itself is not present, but is instead bound up in a form is known as THC acid (THCA). It offers some of the same health benefits as THC—cancer cell suppression, sleep aid, muscle spasm reduction—but none of the psychoactive high for which THC is famous.
When smoked, cannabis undergoes a chemical process called decarboxylation, or decarb. That converts the THCA to delta-9-THC, the full name of the molecule we know as THC. The psychoactive effects are felt, and quickly. But they wear off quickly as well. You can feel the effects in just minutes, but the feeling will wear off within 90 minutes to two hours.
If you decarb the bud with heat in the oven (see it done in this quick decarb video) and then extract the essential nutrients into butter, oils, or tinctures for ingestion, the liver will transform the THC into 11-hydroxy-THC. This multiplies the psychoactive effects and their duration—up to eight hours or even longer, after which you will sleep like a rock. But it takes time for the effects to be felt, up to 90 minutes.
Easy does it
So, if you’re going for a short run and don’t mind a little puff, a quick toke or vape may be the best fit. Same if you’re taking a quick jaunt to the gym. However, if you’re training for a marathon, it might be wise to consider that infused energy bar or gummy you made yourself with a MagicalButter machine.Then gauge your reaction during the workout. If you felt more energized and focused, great! If you felt less energized or less able than usual, you could try reducing the amount by half. Often this is all it takes to reverse the result.
But what about power lifters? Arnold Schwarzenegger was famous for smoking and lifting —and becoming governor of the nation’s most populous state. So, is it a good idea? It’s an individual choice shaped by a number of factors: personal, geographical, physical, psychological, and experience level among them. Start low, and go slow, with both the weed and the weight. Again, assess your reaction. Your timing, focus, and reflexes may be enhanced or diminished. And, if you’re lifting hundreds of pounds of iron over your head, you want to be able to get out of the way if something goes wrong. Take it easy!
After the workout might be a better fit. One of the challenges many heavy lifters face is eating enough calories. They need to consume calories, especially after they lift. A toke or edible can stimulate the appetite and go a long way to helping them reach their caloric intake needs. And as we already covered, rest and recovery can be aided by a little cannabis.
Can cannabis help make you healthier? Maybe, depending on where you live and other things. Consumed sparingly, it actually could be an enhancement to your extreme sport training regimen. Cannabis fuels focus, except in some folks it can do the opposite and make concentration less fun and easy. Trying a different strain or smaller amount might help with that. And remember, many professional sporting organizations will test for THC metabolites, so if you plan on competing professionally, abstention is the only option.