March 26, 2019

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Weeding out the truth

Marijuana could be helpful to athletes or just as a workout aid for regular folks, but the answers are shrouded in smoke

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 8/2/2016 (1141 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Marijuana and fitness — common sense suggests one doesn’t go well with the other.

The stereotype of the lazy stoner who makes late-night pilgrimages for junk food doesn’t mesh with someone who spends spare time lifting weights or goes on early morning jogs.

But some users who have taken a hit before lifting weights say there are benefits.

“Weed was a great help for me when I was just starting off weight training, running and cycling. For one, it really takes the edge of the soreness,’ says Martin, who doesn’t want his last name published.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 8/2/2016 (1141 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Marijuana and fitness — common sense suggests one doesn’t go well with the other.

The stereotype of the lazy stoner who makes late-night pilgrimages for junk food doesn’t mesh with someone who spends spare time lifting weights or goes on early morning jogs.

But some users who have taken a hit before lifting weights say there are benefits.

"Weed was a great help for me when I was just starting off weight training, running and cycling. For one, it really takes the edge of the soreness,’ says Martin, who doesn’t want his last name published.

"It’s such a distinct feeling,’ he says. "It’s a mix of sheer panic and dopamine and mental clarity. When you get really high and go cycling you don’t really think about what you’re doing, you just let your body do it.’

Martin says he felt more in tune with his body, allowing him to focus more on muscle groups and getting the results he desired.

"I really fine-tuned my squatting and dead-lifting this way,’ he says.

Sarah Teetzel, a kinesiology professor at the University of Manitoba, says it’s possible that people such as Martin can find greater focus when using marijuana.

The problem, says Teetzel, is that research just isn’t available to answer the many questions about marijuana’s pros and cons.

"It’s hard to do research on any performance-enhancing drug because of the difficulty in obtaining research ethical approval to conduct studies of this nature,’ she says. "A university’s research ethics board is unlikely to permit researchers to give athletes illegal drugs in order to study their physiological reactions.

"If we try to get this information from athletes using qualitative methods, such as interviews and surveys, we face additional problems. There’s no benefit for athletes taking banned or illegal substances to tell researchers anything that could incriminate them or lead to a doping ban.’

And just because Martin found benefits from using marijuana before workouts doesn’t mean anyone else will get that benefit, Teetzel says.

"There are over 100 scientific articles that have attempted to determine if cannabis is performance enhancing or limiting, and there aren’t any consistencies in the findings from these studies,’ Teetzel said. "It could be performance-enhancing for certain populations, it could help with recovery or mental preparation — there are a lot of what-ifs. But there is no clear consensus.

"Researchers are studying the effects of medicinal marijuana, and some of those findings could, theoretically, be applied to athletes as well... The research literature currently raises more questions than it answers.

"When you’re thinking about using marijuana for focusing or for courage, especially in the so-called ‘dangerous’ sports, held at the Winter Olympics and X Games, an athlete could make a case that it helps them push their abilities,’ Teetzel says. "But it would also be very dependent on the person’s preferences. Do they want to do it? How does their body react? There are so many ways that people react to marijuana, it makes it hard to draw conclusions.’

And with marijuana’s legalization — a promise made on the campaign trail last fall by by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — Canadians will increasingly want more information.

A 2015 University of Colorado study (Colorado voters decided to legalize and regulate the sale of cannabis in a 2012 state-wide ballot initiative) concluded that a "specific relationship — positive or negative — between cannabis use and physical activity/sport, and the mechanisms that might mediate this relationship, is unclear.’

The study pointed out the potential effects of cannabis use on exercise performance, motivation and recovery and said "future research exploring the effects of cannabis use on sports and exercise behaviour has the potential to make valuable contributions that will inform public policy, consumer decisions and, ultimately, public health.’

The is a huge potential for positive and negative percussions from mixing weed and workouts, says Mark Ware, a McGill University professor in Montreal and executive director of the Canadian Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids.

"Having worked in that field, it’s clear that cannabinoids have a very wide-ranging effect on the human brain,’ Ware says.

"The receptors for the major cannabinoids molecules — THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) — is found in many, many of our brains regions which control not only pain, but movement, concentration, appetite, mood and so on.

"So whenever I hear stories of athletes or people using cannabis as a way to improve their function or ability to perform a certain task, there’s plenty of neurological rationale as to why that might work.’

Ware, whose research focuses on evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medicines derived from cannabis, says there are also potential warnings to consider.

"To demonstrably say that the effect is beneficial, and override the possible risks ­— we know about risk of memory impairment and cognitive changes — really requires study,’ he says.

Martin, the weightlifter, eventually quit using marijuana over the risk of dependency, despite noticing the benefits he received.

"Weed let me get in my own head and self-motivate myself, really focus on what was wrong with my life,’ he says. "It turned me into someone who can’t sit still and always has to be doing something. Plus, even on bad days or low-energy days, the feeling of exercising while stoned was great so it really kept me coming back to the gym.’

Perhaps more important, he says, is that his performance hasn’t dropped off since giving up pot.

"In fact, I’m working out more than I have ever before,’ he says. "I’m doing body-weight training four days out of five weekdays and running 21/2 kilometres every single day.’

scott.billeck@freepress.mb.ca

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