How cannabis may affect your running performance

For a long time, it’s been a “no-no” to discuss, and for some runners it may have even been a closet recreational activity. But as it gains popularity as legalization continues, more and more athletes are opening the discussion of cannabis use and their training.

So, let's just get right to it: More people are testing the waters with cannabis. There's easier access and more knowledge now than ever before. In fact, ultrarunners Avery Collins and Jenn Shelton aren't shy to admit they use cannabis while training, as well as triathlete Clifford Drusinsky. They say marijuana has helped ease pain and nausea during training.

We spoke with some experts to find out how cannabis affects your stamina, performance and training.

Know how cannabis is going to affect you

It’s important how cannabis will affect you as an individual. Photo: Courtesy of Shane Rounce/Unsplash

While many athletes are turning to cannabis, it's still controversial. “Marijuana is a drug and has addictive effects,” says Dr. Keith Humphreys, Stanford Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. “It might not be as severe as tobacco, but it can cause some addiction, memory loss, etc.”

And each person is affected differently by marijuana.”There are many chemicals and strands in the marijuana plant,” explains Harrison. Since each person is affected differently, it’s important that you speak with an expert or doctor before trying cannabis to learn about the strands and consuming options.

THC vs. CBD

To put it in simple terms, Tetrahydrocannabinoil (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are natural elements found in a cannabis plant. The biggest difference is that THC is psychoactive, while CBD is not. CBD doesn’t have the same degree of cognitive effects as THC.

Cannabis for Performance

It might not be for you, but some ultrarunners swear by it. Photo: Courtesy of Brian Erickson/Unsplash

If you’re looking for a quick performance-booster, cannabis is not your answer. “If the issue is peak performance, which is either speed or strength, then cannabis is not helpful, and we have lab studies on this,” says Dr. Jordan Tishler, Harvard-trained expert in the field of medical cannabis therapeutics. Hard work, practice, recovery and determination are still the foundation to help you improve your performance.

“The flip side is in the time you would want to use cannabis is in the endurance training for those events, so not necessarily while you’re doing your sprints, but while you’re doing your long mileage building up to the marathon,” says Dr. Tishler.

Cannabis for Recovery

Relaxing and recovery is key. Photo: Courtesy of Emma Simpson/Unsplash

From relaxation to inflammation, cannabis can offer benefits to help recover the body after a workout. “A lot of patients will take a pain reliever if they’re not interested in taking anything cannabis-related. But you must remember that those pain relievers have GI upsets, so anything, ibuprofen, those types of thing are not meant for chronic use,” says Dr. Junella Chin of MedLeafRX. “They’re only meant for an occasional use. And that’s when a lot of my patients will get acid reflux from it. They can get ulcers from it. Indigestion. There’s a lot of side effects with that. With CBD, there are no side effects (or very very rare side effects).”

You can use a CBD topical cream which can help minimize soreness and inflammation, helping reduce muscle fatigue.

“I have a lot of my athletes use a topical CBD salve. You can rub it in the joints before, during or after a workout,” shares Dr. Chin. “You know, let’s say I’m on mile three. I’m like, ‘That right knee always just goes at mile three. I just feel it.’ So, I’ll have my patients put the salve on preventatively, and then we keep track of it. And we’ve notice less pain.”

Cannabis for Mindfulness

It’s important to keep your mind at ease. Photo: Jared Rice/Unsplash

“The extent that people who are running or doing yoga or those sorts of things, or even just meditating are looking for some sort of higher order, emotional, mental, spiritual connection, the effects of cannabis can be extraordinarily helpful,” says Dr. Tishler. “Where I see this really being helpful is in that sort of mediation/yoga. The low-impact sporting-type events.”

Cannabis does help you focus more and be more in-tune with your body. Many athletes use cannabis (with THC and CBD) during yoga, mediation or a long-distance run.

“Cannabis can make us very focused, right? When we’re running, for example, being very focused can be a good thing,” shares Dr. Tishler. “Also, cannabis decreases discomfort, and when we’re running, particularly if we’re doing a distance run, being less uncomfortable can actually be very positive.”

Cannabis can help you take your practice to a deeper level and can clear your mind easier. This may allow you to be more present when you’re on a run.

Thinking about Cannabis?

Always consult your doctor before ingesting a new substance. Photo: Courtesy of Esteban Lopez/Unsplash

“My general inclination is number one, we should avoid smoking because even though there’s fairly-convincing evidence that cannabis smoke is not harmful, it’s still smoke and we should avoid it. Two, that taking it by edibles is unpredictable in terms of the affect and the amount of time it will take to work, and has a prolonged duration that probably isn’t entirely helpful in that sort of warm-down period. My general recommendation is the vaporize cannabis because it has relatively-quick onset and a modest duration. More manageable in terms of one’s activities,” explains Dr. Tishler.

Dr. Chin suggests you use cannabis during the season to help you recover, ease pain, and push you to the next level, but then get off it.

“I have my athletes take the CBD throughout the season so that they can push themselves to the next level. So that they don’t get bogged down by that knee pain, that lower back pain, or that inflammation. They can do that longer distance. Be faster. And be more efficient. They can power through it.”

Then during the off season, she has her athletes get off everything. She encourages them to eat a good anti-inflammatory diet, ease up on gluten, sugar and dairy, and increase their turmeric intake. She encourages all natural anti-inflammatories and then when training season comes back, she helps them get back onto cannabis.

As with anything, speak with a professional before you decide to take cannabis. It might not be for you.

More Wellness content from GrindTV

Are extreme athletes the best test case for medical cannabis?

The foods you should be eating post-workout

Tanner Hall sings weed’s praises in The New Yorker