In Part 1 of this series, the topic of potential performance enhancement gained from the consumption of cannabis by folks indulging in exercise was discussed—specifically endurance athletes.
Can amateur or professional athletes really gain solid, measurable improvements in their performance via cannabis therapy? A lack of research prevents solid data from being presented to skeptics. However, disbelievers and prohibitionists have neglected or dispelled solid data for decades, so the availability of such metrics may not be the solution to convincing the unenlightened.
I’ve been thinking quite a bit—especially when on the bike—about the bronchodilation effects of cannabis. I’ve earlier written about how I perceive cannabis, when used with intent and breathing exercises directly prior to exercise, to purposefully expand airways within the lungs and, thus, aid in respiration.
This, in turn, can result in a significantly better exercise session. For endurance athletes specifically, it allows them to push harder and achieve milestones with greater efficiency and speed. Which is kind of a big deal.
Some people balance their lives by hitting the road
One nice aspect of any form of exercise is that one can indulge at a minimal level, “taking it easy” on a run, ride, or swim. Likewise, one can push extremely hard, testing their limits. For those who like to push themselves, certain physiological results are typically predictable.
While all people are different (something very important to remember when considering the efficacy of any herb or medicine, including cannabis), most runners or cyclists can anticipate a certain set of results from a hard core endurance session.
During a session, these can include fatigue, shortness of breath, a runaway heart rate, and even dizziness, disorientation, or heat stroke—if one pushes things too far. These are symptoms that, especially for older individuals or those who are not in shape, are serious and should not be taken lightly.
When using cannabis to expand passageways in the lungs (via deep breathing exercises while smoking or vaporizing), I have noticed a decrease in the burning in my lungs that typically accompanies a hard ride and the accompanying rapid, intense breathing.
In situations where I want to push harder, like when I’m playing in traffic and racing cars off the line (fun is a serious part of a balanced life, no?), I find that I’m able to push harder and sustain a relatively higher level of effort. I can also sustain this greater level of effort for longer periods, it seems, than in the past.
I can simply exert, or achieve, a higher level of energy than when I wasn’t using cannabis with the intent of improving my performance. At least that is how it feels.
For the first time since I’ve purchased my current road bike, I’ve felt as if I am finally becoming in good enough shape to leverage the performance capabilities of this amazingly light road machine.
Some may label me a zealot, but I attribute much of this benefit—not experienced in years past when I was not using herbs with intent—to be derived from cannabis. The combination of a decrease in anxiety with the improved lung capacity delivered by THC is, to me, a winning combination.
A young toker in Toronto, Canada
Because I don’t feel the burn in my lungs and the overall signs that I’m pushing my system to the limits of its capacities, I’m able to push harder and enjoy the ride considerably more. I understand that skeptics might argue that I’ve simply dulled my senses and am not aware of the damage I’m doing to my various parts of my body.
Resuscitating Ride Recovery
However, if cannabis was simply masking my pain (pain management is one of its most powerful capabilities, after all), I’d pay the price during not only the second half of long rides, but also in recovery for the next day or two.
But I don’t. In fact, my recovery seems to progress faster than ever. Pro athletes who use cannabis are telling me the same thing. In fact, when asked the number one benefit of pot for elite athletes like themselves, they note improved recovery.
In some respects, especially after a long ride, I’m shocked that within just a few hours to think that I covered the distance I did or achieved a particular average speed. I don’t seem to suffer the punishment that I did in the past when riding hard and trying to attain a weekly mileage goal.
I had always considered a certain level of physical suffering to be part and parcel to the endurance exercise experience: We push hard, our bodies hurt, and we recover. Rinse, repeat the next day.
Now, however, I feel as if my cannabis-free riding years were plagued by unnecessary pain, minor injuries, and slow recoveries that could have been not only faster, but also more pleasant. Meaning I could have pushed harder on the following ride, improved my training, and achieved a feeling of success (obtaining goals, in all areas of life, is certainly psychologically healthy).
There are numerous benefits to a faster recovery for any athlete, from the most casual amateur to the best of the pros. It really comes down to a more enjoyable experience and the ability to safely get back on the road or trail or in the swimming pool for the next session.
An important side benefit for the average athlete: A more enjoyable experience is one that a person is more likely in which to again indulge. Nobody, but nobody, will argue with the fact that, within reason, more exercise is better than less exercise.
The gears that make it go
When using cannabis as an aid in recovery, many of the typical negative aspects of the beating to which I expose my body seemed to be significantly decreased—such as muscle soreness, injuries, low energy, and overall fatigue.
Also note that all of my observations are occurring at the beginning of this season of riding. I’ve been blessed with a nice climate in Central Texas, which allowed me to begin serious riding in mid-February. This is precisely why this is part of a series.
Take my testimony with a grain of salt now because of the launch of the season. Wait until July or August, however, to really see how things are going (subscribe to my blog and you won’t miss a single installment).
I spoke at length in Part 1 of this series about the way cannabis can reduce anxiety and, thus, improve one’s focus on their exercise. However, I also believe that this reduced anxiety may help aid in preventing injuries.
Stick with me here. When pushing hard on a bicycle or running in a pair of Nikes, our bodies are tense. They’re under load. If we are unnecessarily stiff, tense, or employing the wrong body position or form, the chances of causing or suffering an injury are objectively greater.
In my own riding, I have noticed that I am more easily able to position my body for the optimal riding position. Because my lungs are not burning, I can maintain that position for a longer period of time and exert more effort during the entire session.
A home garden in the American Midwest
Aches and pains that sometimes manifest themselves as minor injuries haven’t plagued me this season. That certainly doesn’t mean they won’t. So far, a minor problem with my ankle and typically recurring pain from a college knee injury have either disappeared or simply aren’t putting a dent in my performance.
That, quite frankly, has shocked me. It’s premature to attribute this preventative advantage to cannabis. It may simply be that I love the Central Texas air. Or maybe it’s lessons learned from past seasons that I’m unconsciously incorporating into my training that are producing a large portion of these positive pot perceptions.
The Psych Game
Most professional athletes will tell you that the main ingredient to success in competitive exercise is the right mental mindset. In other words, most of the secret sauce is in our heads (or not).
One element of the endurance exercise experience that is often neglected is an athlete’s emotions. Did they learn of a pending layoff at their company and are now worried about losing their job? Did they suspect that their spouse is having an affair? Have they encountered financial pressures? Are their children having difficulty in school or being bullied?
All of these factors can easily dull an exercise junkie’s edge during a session. If cannabis did nothing more than ease some of the stress that results in anxiety—which disrupts mental focus—it would be a wonderful supplement to one’s training diet and highly recommended.
Are we listening to our bodies?
Fortunately, cannabis also aids in reducing inflammation and pain, which is why pro athletes who use cannabis are telling me in interviews that they find the most efficacy from this herb in terms of aiding their recovery.
I’m curious to get the opinions of readers about the role of anxiety reduction in exercise. While most will probably focus on how cannabis can kill pain during or after strenuous exercise, I want to learn about how anxiety reduction aids riders or runners both physically and mentally.
Please note that there’s no hard science behind my observations. They are purely anecdotal and very subjective. This isn’t a double-blind placebo-based human trials study being conducted by a reputable academic institution.
Also keep in mind that your proverbial mileage not only may vary from mine, it will. In fact, some folks just aren’t cut out for endurance exercise at all—like I’m not cut out for chess or cooking you dinner. We all have our things, and if exercise isn’t yours, the entire topic of performance enhancement from cannabis may be moot in your world.
However, those who do gain benefits will do so in sometimes markedly different ways.
And, just think: If cannabis can provide these types of fine-tuning results for endurance athletes, what could it do for you? Could it help your mental focus on the job? Could it help you be a better parent? A better student or volunteer?
Which begs the question: Does relieving pain, anxiety, and depression aid in performance? This one seems easy: Undoubtedly. I simply don’t need a research study to embrace this viewpoint. And neither should Congress.
How have you noticed cannabis helping your performance? Let me know in the comments below.
I’m curious to get the opinions of readers about the role of anxiety reduction in exercise. While most will probably focus on how cannabis can kill pain during or after exercise, I want to learn about how anxiety reduction aids riders or runners both psychologically and mentally.
All text and photos Copyright © 2003-2016 Gooey Rabinski. All Rights Reserved.
Gooey Rabinski is a senior technical writer and instructional designer who has contributed feature articles to magazines such as High Times, SKUNK, Heads, Weed World, Cannabis Health Journal, Green Thumb, and Treating Yourself. He is the author of Understanding Medical Marijuana, available on Amazon Kindle.
His cannabis-related freelance photos, spanning back more than a decade, are available on Instagram and Flickr. He tweets from @GooeyRabinski.