By: Victoria Ann

Athletics and cannabis use can easily be perceived - and often are - as incompatible.  Nowadays however, smoking cannabis or eating cannabis-infused edibles pre-workout is becoming more normalised with a variety of athletes claiming the combination makes them better at their sport.

“Marijuana relaxes me and allows me to go into a controlled, meditational place," elite triathlete Clifford Drusinsky told Men's Journal. "When I get high, I train smarter and focus on form."

Since cannabis is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug by the Drug Enforcement Agency, there hasn’t been much much scope for research of this nature. Yet, the growing evidence that exists today offers some insight into the vast world of cannabis-enhanced activities.


Combining Exercise and Cannabis Can Increase Your High


The effects of physical activity and cannabis can be quite similar. Our body naturally creates a molecule almost identical to THC - Anandamide - that is also fat-soluble. When we exercise, our fat is metabolized and Anandamide is released, activating feelings of euphoria and pleasure. Similarly, if we ingest cannabis, fat-soluble THC is  released into the bloodstream and creates many of the same feelings. The two molecules combined produce an elevated experience of the exercise for many, as THC is slower to breakdown than Anandamide.   

To test this, the University of Sydney administered cannabis to regular users and asked them to complete 35 minutes of exercise on a stationary bike. When observing the test subjects' blood levels, researchers found that the levels of THC in their system increased by up to 15%, extending and potentiating the high for the users.  


Cannabis and Exercise Combined Can Result in a Slimmer Body


Research published in 2013 by the American Journal of Medicine states that cannabis users, when compared to their non-using counterparts, had - on average - a Body Mass Index (BMI) that was  7% lower and a 4% smaller waist circumference; in addition to 16% lower insulin levels and 17% increase in insulin resistance. Researchers speculate that marijuana improves insulin control and therefore helps to regulate body weight.  


 “Ganja Yoga” and “Marijuana-Friendly Gyms” Are Making Their Way Into the Exercise World


As attitudes on marijuana and wellbeing have shifted, athletes and yogis have decided to create spaces for people to fully embrace the two together.

Twisted Sister Yoga, a yoga studio that hosts Ganja Yoga Retreats in Denver, Colorado, believes that “through a dedicated practice, you will cultivate clarity and courage to manifest your highest intentions.” The Times of India also says that “cannabis floods the brain with dopamine, lowers inhibitions, and increases one’s sense of spiritual connection.” Historians date the use of cannabis for inducing meditation back centuries ago. It now reappears in a new form with “Ganja Yoga” – Hatha Yoga classes enhanced by the smoking or vaping of cannabis before and/or during the practice.

Another cannabis-enhanced exercise experiences include Power Plant Gym, the first gym of its kind. Former NFL Player Ricky Williams and 420 games founder Jim McAlpine plan on opening it this year. McAlpine told SFGate, “I think sports will become one of the bigger pieces of the marijuana industry. Marijuana, if you use it in a responsible way, accentuates the parts of sports that you love and helps you to do them better.”


     Cannabis Distracts You From Short-Term Pain


A study done by the University of Oxford showed that participants under the influence of cannabis had a higher pain threshold than those who were not. However, it was their mental response to the pain that changed, rather than the physical pain itself.

“'The brain imaging shows little reduction in the brain regions that code for the sensation of pain, which is what we tend to see with drugs like opiates,” says lead researcher Dr. Michael Lee, “instead cannabis appears to mainly affect the emotional reaction to pain in a highly variable way.”

The prime explanation for this is the endocannabinoid system: the series of neurotransmitters and receptors in our bodies that regulate functions like pain, sleep, appetite, stress, and memory. The phytocannabinoids - cannabinoids from cannabis - combined with those (endocannabinoids) released through exercise provide extra defenses against pain.