This fall, San Francisco’s fitness-inclined cannabis enthusiasts will be able to indulge in herbal supplements to their fitness routine, thanks to the planned opening of weed-friendly gym Power Plant Fitness — provided they have their California medical marijuana card (which we hear is not so hard to get).
Gym co-founder Jim McAlpine told Tech Insider that the gym plans to use cannabis as a tool both for focus and recovery, and that they will be helping gym members figure out how to best incorporate marijuana into their routine.
Mixing marijuana with athletic pursuits might sound unlikely, but a number of athletes have said training while high has helped them unlock new performance gains.
Marijuana might actually help some people perform better at certain sports.
The upcoming Power Plant Fitness has been described as perhaps the first “marijuana gym,” but that doesn’t mean it’s the only place that teaches the gospel of an herbally enhanced workout. In November of 2014, Men’s Journal interviewed elite triathlete Clifford Drusinsky, a Colorado gym owner who also leads training sessions fuelled by marijuana edibles.
“Marijuana relaxes me and allows me to go into a controlled, meditational place,” Drusinsky told Men’s Journal. “When I get high, I train smarter and focus on form.”
Outside Magazine correspondent Gordy Megroz wrote in the February 2015 issue of that magazine that while he has never been much of a pot smoker, he heard enough close friends — especially skiers — say that getting high helped their performance that he decided to give it a shot.
Megroz first tried a cannabis gummy while on a snow-covered mountain and wrote that with a “slight yet very functional high,” he “felt invincible and proceeded to attack the steepest lines without fear” — ski-speak for feeling able to tackle the craziest parts of a mountain. It’s easy to see how this kind of fearlessness could be appealing to an expert skier, but could lead anyone — especially a novice — into making a dangerous decision.
Stanford Medical School professor Keith Humphreys explained to Megroz that there’s a scientific explanation for this. “We have cannabinoid receptors throughout our brains, and when the THC hits those receptors, it triggers a system that reduces anxiety,” Humphreys said. “That you would feel more aggressive is a natural reaction to the drug.”
In the World Anti-Doping Association’s current ban on competing while stoned, the organisation cites studies that show marijuana can decrease anxiety and increase airflow to the lungs by acting as a bronchodilator, something that decreases resistance in the airways.
So Megroz decided to perform further tests, with the help (and under the supervision) of a physiologist.
The basic test was simple. He got on a treadmill, set the pace for five miles per hour, and then increased the ramp angle 2.5% every two minutes.
Sober, he could keep it up for 19 minutes. But stoned, he could last 19:30 — a “substantial performance gain,” according to the physiologist. He repeated the test twice more with similar results.
He also found that he got less sore after a heavy squat session.
In other words, getting stoned helped him perform and recover better.
Of course, this was a small, uncontrolled test, on just one person. And while testing mountain-biking performance, the results weren’t quite as good. Megroz writes that while he started off feeling “flowy and fast, [riding] much better than when” sober, he soon misjudged his speed and rode off the trail.
So what does the science say about marijuana and exercise?
Here, we have a big problem. There isn’t much research available yet on how pot affects performance. As long as marijuana is considered a Schedule 1 drug by the Drug Enforcement Agency, it’s incredibly difficult for researchers to study its effects. It’s becoming easier as states legalise medical and recreational use, but there isn’t a ton of research yet, and it will still be hard to do unless the government changes that policy.
And some research (along with the aforementioned anecdotal “evidence”) would seem to show that pot doesn’t help anyone do anything athletic.
Megroz cites a 1975 paper that found a 25% decrease in power output among study subjects after smoking marijuana — but there were only eight people in that study and they all had asthma, which means this tells almost nothing about the general population, especially since smoking could have triggered already-existing problems in asthma patients. Another 1977 paper he cites found some decreased motor control among a group of six experienced pot smokers when they got high, though they didn’t show significant changes in reaction time.
But the little evidence we have on pot also explains some potential performance gains. Researchers say that marijuana has an anti-inflammatory effect and that the chemical compounds that come from weed might mimic the body’s natural endorphins, which could help increase our pain threshold like a natural runner’s high and make it easier to push through a tough workout.
So there’s evidence that pot can help people deal with pain and inflammation while decreasing anxiety and improving mood, but it also has potentially risky motor-control side effects that could lead to an accident, especially in a sport where a wrong turn (like mountain biking or skiing) could be disastrous.
Anecdotally, both Outside and Men’s Journal found endurance athletes, professional fighters, and mountain athletes like skiers and rock climbers who say that pot can help them train — and there’s a big argument that NFL players might be better off using pot instead of prescription painkillers to deal with their day-to-day injuries.
When we’ve written about this in the past, a number of athletes — especially those focused on endurance — have contacted Tech Insider to say they’re big fans of training with marijuana.
Yet decreased anxiety from marijuana use could lead to dangerous decisions. There is also a temporary elevated heart rate associated with consuming marijuana, which could be a negative side effect for athletes and a risky complication for anyone with a preexisting heart condition.
There just isn’t much research out there yet.
We should clarify that we don’t advocate exercising while high, as that’s illegal in most states and whatever effect it does have on performance, there is certainly the possibility that decreased motor control could lead to a serious accident.
But is this something that should be researched and discussed more as the wave of decriminalization and legalization continues to sweep across the country? Absolutely. We’re curious to hear how things at Power Plant Fitness work out.
This is an updated version of a previously published story.
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