For recent generations, cannabis has been viewed through the lens of the “lazy stoner” stereotype. But as cannabis has continued to move into the mainstream, more people are speaking out about how cannabis supports their lifestyle — and that includes athletes.
In recent years, a host of professional athletes have come out in their support of cannabis use as part of an active lifestyle. Celebrated National Football League (NFL) running back Ricky Williams, who was suspended from the NFL multiple times for failing league-ordered drug tests, has been outspoken about using marijuana as a pain reliever during his career. Professional ultramarathoner Avery Collins told the Wall Street Journal in 2015 that cannabis “takes the stress out of running.” And former National Basketball Association (NBA) player Jay Williams has spoken out about the need for a more progressive stance towards cannabis in professional sports, telling Fox Business in 2016 he believes that between 75 to 80 percent of athletes in the NBA use weed in one form or another.
But it's not just pro athletes who are benefitting from working cannabis into their workouts. Recreational athletes across the country — yogis, runners, skiers, you name it — are using cannabis as a way to complement their active lifestyles.
“Within this period of immense change in the cannabis space, it's invigorating to see previously hidden parts of the population — like active people — finally comfortable coming out of the shadows to advocate for cannabis use,” said Eric Layland, founder of Canna Ventures, a cannabis branding and marketing firm.
But how, exactly, are active people using cannabis — and what kind of impact is it having on their workouts and recovery?
Cannabis Pumps Up Workouts
One of the main reasons people use cannabis before undertaking exercise is the perception that it helps them work out longer and more efficiently. Kait Heacock, a publicist for women's health network Ellementa, started using cannabis to fuel her workouts while training for a half-marathon. She quickly found that hitting a vape pen before hitting the pavement helped her increase the length and intensity of her runs.
“I can run longer after smoking. I don't use cannabis every day, which means that I run days without it. I don't have the same energy and ability to push through the pain as I do on days when I utilize cannabis,” Heacock said. “Overall, it feels like I work harder and push myself more when I use cannabis.”Overall, it feels like I work harder and push myself more when I use cannabis. Click To Tweet
While research on how cannabis impacts athletic performance is scarce, and the research that does exist is inconclusive, many physically active people claim that cannabis is the key for getting in “the zone” and maximizing the effectiveness of their workouts.
National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) Personal Trainer Antonio DeRose, who regularly incorporates strength training, trail running, and hiking into his fitness routine, has a similar experience when consuming cannabis before workouts.
“Consuming cannabis before I train gives me a stronger sense of focus, allowing me to maximize the efforts of my training,” DeRose said. “Cannabis has helped motivate me to work out more, and it keeps me focused during training.”
Reducing Pain and Inflammation
Cannabis has been shown to have both anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving qualities, making it an ideal choice for post-workout recovery. In fact, cannabis can be so effective at treating pain, it's currently being explored as a more viable and safer alternative to prescription opioids, which have a high risk of addiction.
“As for recovery, it's a game-changer. The natural anti-inflammatory effects of cannabis reduce my pain and inflammation...From a recovery standpoint, reducing inflammation is critical,” DeRose said.
“I use a few different THC and CBD [cannabidiol] topical products to address any isolated areas of pain or inflammation, which for me tends to be my hips, knees, and ankles. I can rub the topical directly on any of these areas to reduce my pain, and lower inflammation,” he continues.
Yoga instructor Morgan Balavage has also found success using cannabis topicals and has found them to be especially helpful in healing from an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury.
“I use CBD lotion on the parts of my body that are healing or swollen, like my knee after ACL reconstruction surgery,” says Balavage.
Cannabis for Sleep
Part of living a healthy, active lifestyle is giving your body the sleep it needs to function at its highest level — and for many people, weed can help with that. Research on cannabis and sleep is still a widely unexplored frontier, but some studies showed that THC and CBD may help people fall asleep faster and improve overall sleep quality. This is particularly true for people with chronic pain, which is a condition that both professional and amateur athletes commonly experience.
“Cannabis also helps calm my nervous system, and encourages restful and restorative sleep cycles,” DeRose said. “Sleep is vital for recovery as an athlete.”
There's still more studies to be done before researchers can fully understand exactly how cannabis fuels workouts and recovery. But in the meantime, it seems as though a substantial portion of the athletic community is happy with the anecdotal results.
“Cannabis not only has an overall positive effect on my active lifestyle, it fuels my active lifestyle,” DeRose said. “I wouldn't be able to do everything I do without cannabis giving me the extra motivation to get going, the intense focus to not get distracted and never give up, and being able to take advantage of its several benefits for recovery as a natural plant-based medicine.”
As the industry continues to evolve and science learns more about how cannabis can boost athletic performance, more active people are likely to start incorporating weed into their lifestyle. So settle in — cannabis as part of a healthful, active lifestyle is here to stay.