Can weed improve a workout?

The first time Samantha OBrien took a boxing class at her building’s gym, she was overwhelmed with anxiety. The instructor was loud and intimidating and ran the class like a boot camp. If someone fell behind, everyone had to work harder.

Ms OBrien, 36, left the class thinking she would never return. A few days later, his partner came home with some cannabis gummies, which he said could give him a burst of energy. He thought about the boxing class and how he wanted to show the instructor that he hadn’t scared him. So he ate half a gum, put on his training clothes and went to class.

The screams no longer bothered her. I was brighter, lighter, said Ms. OBrien, adding that the small dose sustained her through the session. Now he often mixes cannabis and exercise, regularly attending boxing class along with Pilates and boot camp workouts after taking weed products.

Scientists have disproved the idea that marijuana improves the performance of competitive athletes. But some fans turn to it before exercise because it relieves their chronic pain and anxiety or simply because it makes training more fun.

Alex Friedrichs, 30, a chiropractic clinic manager in Vancouver, Canada, said cannabis puts her in the moment during exercise. I appreciate what my body is capable of, what it does and the things I see around me, she explained, like running through a beautiful area or a beautiful day.

In a small 2019 study, the main reasons people used cannabis before exercise were to increase enjoyment and focus. But nearby was pain relief. Research has shown that marijuana can help some patients relieve chronic pain, which affects one in five people worldwide. When pain is treated, people become more functional, said Dr. Alan Bell, a physician and assistant professor at the University of Toronto who was the lead author of a set of clinical practice guidelines for using cannabis to treat chronic pain.

Cannabis can provide muscle relaxation, or a sense of ease, and thus allow people to increase and maintain their physical function, said Dr. Deondra Asike, an anesthesiologist and pain medicine specialist at Johns Hopkins University. He added that once people’s fear of movement disappeared, some would find they could do things like yoga or hike.

That said, Dr. Bell doesn’t recommend cannabis as a first-line treatment for pain, and only considers it when milder medications, such as NSAIDs, aren’t effective.

Joanna Zeiger, an epidemiologist and former Olympic triathlete, was reluctant to use cannabis even after spinning her handlebars at the 2009 Ironman World Championships, breaking her collarbone and seriously injuring her rib cage.

But after years of chronic pain as a result of her accident, she tried. Initially it made her numb and dazed. But she eventually found a dose that eased her pain and allowed her to exercise, an experience that led her to create the Canna Research Foundation. Dr. Zeiger, who authored the 2019 study, said cannabis was not a panacea — it’s a tool in my toolkit.

For Morgan English, it wasn’t the pain that kept her from exercising, but the anxiety. She said a history of eating disorders and mental health struggles led her to dislike moving her body and view exercise as punishment. Ms English, 31, said cannabis helped her overcome some of her fears.

I had no anxiety about what other people at the gym thought of me, she said of working out with cannabis. He was very much in the zone and focused on how good it felt to move his legs.

In 2019, Ms. English started a company called Stoned and Toned, which offers online workouts that combine cardio and cannabis.

That’s not to say that weed can relieve anxiety for everyone. While some people find it helps, it can also exacerbate those feelings, said Jill Stoddard, a clinical psychologist who specializes in stress and anxiety management. And there is a risk that when someone uses cannabis to manage anxiety in one area of ​​their life, said Dr. Stoddard, can cause drug dependence in all situations that cause anxiety.

He recommended consulting a mental health practitioner to find tools to address the underlying anxiety before turning to cannabis as a solution.

Although the recreational use of marijuana is now legal in 24 US states, it is still prohibited in many places. The drug has a powerful effect on the brain and should not be combined with potentially dangerous sports or any activity in which you lead.

Dr. Zeiger said people should only use cannabis before a workout if they’ve used it before and know how they respond. She recommends talking to a doctor first, to make sure the drug won’t have an adverse reaction with other medications, and choosing a low-risk activity like yoga or bodyweight training. In addition, it is important to remember that cannabis can be abused and that around a fifth of people who use it develop a cannabis use disorder.

People who combine movement and marijuana repeated a well-known advice when it comes to cannabis: Start low, go slow. This is especially true when using edibles, which can take 45 minutes or more to take effect.

Some said they kept a journal or used an app like Tetragram, a medical cannabis log, to record how much they consumed before exercise and how it made them feel.

Otha Smith, the founder of Tetragram, runs approximately 30 miles per week. He uses cannabis to manage his joint pain, but said his first experiment was a failure: He tried a 10-milligram edible and never got out the door. Ultimately, he settled on a 2.5-milligram gummy with a one-to-one ratio of CBD to THC, which he consumes about an hour before going for a run.

It’s there to improve your mind-body connection, said Ms. English about the role of weed in a workout, not to take you out of reality.

Hilary Achauer is a freelance writer covering health and fitness.

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