The Effect Of Weed On Exercise: Is Marijuana A Performance-Enhancing Drug?
As marijuana becomes more mainstream, with seven states preparing for legalization (hot on the heels of my home state of Washington, and also Colorado, Oregon, Alaska and Washington D.C.), an increasing number of athletes, including triathlete Clifford Drusinsky (a future podcast guest) and what seems to be nearly the entirety of the UFC, are now turning to a marijuana as a training aid for their running, swimming, cycling, lifting, fighting and more.
Since pot has long been known to alleviate pain, decrease nausea, and improve mood, it’s no surprise to see marijuana legalization seemingly accompanied by a surge of use among both recreational and hardcore athletes who are facing multi-hour, grueling training regimens, and who are turning to versions of weed that don’t harm the lungs, such as vaporizing, edibles and pot-based energy bars (recipe coming later in this article), and even 100% legal and highly absorbable CBD oil extracts.
Some athletes swear by using marijuana or its isolated active ingredients, such as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) as performance-enhancing drugs, saying these substances ease anxiety and increase pain threshold so that they can push themselves during workouts. Others say that smoking pot disintegrates their motivation to work out, and instead they find themselves munching Doritos while watching cartoons (a great way to decrease cortisol, but not an incredibly effective way to make big fitness gains).
Though marijuana (cannabis sativa) is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and the NCAA, its increasing legality has many wondering whether using marijuana will help or hinder our quests for optimum athletic performance and fat loss. Do THC, CBD, or other ingredients in marijuana enhance athletic performance on a molecular level? In this article, Ben Greenfield and GreenfieldFitnessSystems author Alyssa Siefert (a PhD in Biomedical Engineering) attempt to answer this question. A few notes before we dive into the science – because only a few double-blind placebo-controlled human studies exist (the classification of cannabis as a Schedule 1 Drug by the DEA inhibits academic research), many of the purported effects of marijuana are extrapolated from rodent studies.
So because there are significant differences between the endocannabinoid systems of rodents and humans (science geek-speak for “mice are not men”), certain findings from science are tough to extrapolate to actual people; you’ll notice, as you read, that in many cases the science you read about elsewhere simply does not apply to humans. Also, as you read, it is important to remember that cannabis exerts different effects depending on dose, gender, acute versus chronic use, and route of administration (smoking vs edibles vs. ingesting).
What Happens To Your Body When You Consume Marijuana.
Here in the USA, legislation defines marijuana as all parts of the cannabis sativa plant, which contains over 700 chemical compounds. The primary active ingredients are cannabinoids, including THC, which is responsible for psychoactive effects and is the most studied. Peak blood concentrations of cannabinoids occur in 3-8 minutes after you inhale, as opposed to 60-90 minutes after you eat a weed- or oil-containing edible, with neural effects beginning after 20 minutes and maximizing within a range of 2-4 hours.
Cannabinoids bind cannabinoid receptors (easy to remember, eh?) on neurons and peripheral cells, receptors which are normally engaged by natural endogenous substances (called endocannabinoids) that your body already makes, but that also can be bound by substances from exogenous (outside) sources. THC binds cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1), mainly localized in the brain, while cannabinol (CBN) binds CB2, which exists mainly on immune cells. CBD binds neither receptor, but still affects numerous metabolic processes including appetite, pain sensation, immune function, stress reactivity, hormonal secretions, and muscle and fat tissue signaling. The image below does a pretty good job visualizing this for you, and explaining the lock and key mechanism of receptors and substances that bind to those receptors.
For more on this educational article, visit bengreenfieldfitness.com