We’re always looking for something to make our workouts just a wee bit better — but is that really a little weed? From Chelsea Handler working out while high on her show (to not-so-great results) to a gym opening in San Francisco that allows members to smoke in its facilities, pot has found a new unlikely pairing: exercise.
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A 2015 study in the journal Sports Medicine pointed to an odd dichotomy here: the idea that pot drives down motivation, so you’re more likely to want to lay on the couch rather than go to the gym anyway. At the same time, though, some athletes use it to boost performance.
There’s a good reason for it — marijuana is on the US Anti-Doping Agency’s list of prohibited substances because it can actually be used to boost performance. How? Pot helps muscles relax, dial down your perception of pain, make you more likely to take risk, and relieve pre-performance jitters.
Great, right? The downsides are pretty serious, including risks to both your heart and lungs. “ … Inhaling marijuana smoke can cause irritation and inflammation of the lungs and bronchial tubes, which can reduce respiratory efficiency,” certified personal trainer Pete McCall, CSCS, wrote on the American Council on Exercise blog.
(The American Council on Exercise declined to comment further for this article.)
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Not only is this implicated in long-term respiratory problems, but the smoke exposure is certainly not going to do you any favors as you huff and puff on the treadmill for your five-miler. And, because marijuana can increase your heart rate, it does raise heart attack risk.
What’s more, your “visual perception, coordination, and reaction time,” will be skewed, McCall continued. This can be so dangerous — you are hoisting heavy weights, after all — that he tells trainers who suspect a client is high to stop the session immediately or risk a potentially serious injury.
Even if you don’t smoke up or down an edible right before slipping on your running shoes, you may still feel the effects.
One 2013 study in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that a bout of moderate-intensity exercise can increase the amount of THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) in the bloodstream of regular marijuana users. THC is stored in fat, and as fat is burned during exercise, it releases THC back into your system. The effect is small, and researchers still aren’t sure of the implications, but it’s something to keep in mind.
Last, you’re probably putting in the time and effort to work out and reach a goal you’ve set for yourself, be it signing up for your first 5K race, getting stronger, improving your body composition or trying to lose weight. While some research shows that users are less likely to be obese, other research indicates that pot affects neurons in your brain that govern satiety (hence: a case of the munchies). And, unless those munchies involve protein shakes or crudités (probably not), overeating will lead to weight gain, putting you further from those goals.