Cannabis and Climbing: Is It Safe to Rock Climb High?
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Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
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Cannabis use is deeply rooted in the rock-climbing community, and passing a joint around after successfully clearing a pitch is a beloved pastime for many climbers. But is it safe to use cannabis while climbing?
Ultimately, it depends on the type of climbing you’re planning on doing. Bouldering at your local rock gym is far less risky than speed climbing in Yosemite Valley. So, the lower the stakes, the safer it is to consume THC before (or during) a climb.
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Cannabis Use in the Climbing Community
Cannabis use is quite prevalent in climbing sports, according to the 2015 Climbing Magazine anonymous survey. One climber reported smoking marijuana 3-10 times a day throughout their climbing career. They even carried a small honey bear bong on their ascents.
Another climber stated that cannabis had been a positive part of their career for over 20 years, keeping them motivated and in good spirits through climbs. Others credited cannabis as a handy recovery tool that alleviates body aches and muscle soreness. Certain strains also make it easier for some athletes to get into the headspace they need to train and climb.
However, the common consensus is that smoking marijuana while climbing shouldn’t be done when other people’s lives are in your hands. Smokers should also be considerate of other climbers in the community who don’t use cannabis or don’t like how it smells.
While partaking after a climb is fine, these social and safety concerns mean using cannabis might not be recommended before or during climbs, especially if climbing with others. Others may be okay with people smoking around them but uncomfortable with their children being exposed to the smoke. Getting a middle ground where everyone feels heard and respected is crucial.
Is It Safe to Rock Climb High?
The subject of whether it’s safe to use cannabis while rock climbing is a touchy one. While some believe that marijuana may hamper a climber’s coordination and response time (making it unsafe for them and other participants), others suggest it depends on the type of climb.
Let’s look at some popular climbing types and whether cannabis can make or break the experience.
Lead climbing is a climbing style where one person leads a team linked to one safety rope. This climbing style is commonly used in rock climbing, and the lead person is required to drag the rope up with them as they climb. They use bolts, nuts, or cams to clip themselves for protection as they travel upwards.
If you’re leading the climb, you must be mindful of everyone doing it with you. They rely on you to get to the top safely just as much as you rely on them to belay you safely.
Due to the risks, stakes, and responsibility of taking the lead, many professional climbers prefer not to smoke weed when engaging in this particular style of climbing.
While belaying is not a form of rock climbing, it is an important aspect of climbing. This is when another climber uses what’s called a belay device to create tension in the rope and ensure their partner is tightly secured. Once a climb is complete, the belayer is also responsible for safely getting climbers back on the ground.
Even though the belayer may not actually participate in the climb, they need to focus completely on the climbers they support. If you’re tasked with belaying and want to take some cannabis, don’t overdo it. The lead climber expects you to be in the proper frame of mind when supporting them; before you use any marijuana, make sure your partner is okay it.
Speed climbing is a sport in which climbers are challenged to reach a certain height (the walls for international climbing range up to 49 feet high) in the shortest time possible.
This style of climb is done by highly skilled and experienced rock climbers and was even a competition in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Speed climbing is mainly done on a big wall that’s standardized for climbing, but some outdoor variations of the sport exist.
Speed climbers are concerned with maximizing climbing efficiency and speed while minimizing danger. This takes a great deal of focus, attention, and presence.
If you’re going to be speed climbing high, dosing your cannabis properly is important. Microdosing may be best for this particular sport. Speed climbing will also increase your heart rate, so be aware of the risks THC-rich cannabis can pose and its effects on the heart.
This style is touted as a safer type of rock climbing. It generally doesn’t get you too high off the ground (12-15 feet), thus is done without ropes. Bouldering spaces are protected with padded floors that prevent climbers from hurting themselves if they fall.
Bouldering is perfect for beginners looking to learn the basics of rope climbing or for professionals as a fun group activity. It’s possible to start bouldering in a gym near you with trained personnel who can ensure you’re climbing safely to decrease the chances of injury.
In Climbing Magazine’s survey, anonymous pro climbers reported they were happy to smoke before or during bouldering because of the low risks associated with this form of climbing.
As the name suggests, free solo climbing means a climber takes a solo route without using ropes. These athletes only use climbing chalk and shoes. This is one of the most dangerous forms of rock climbing.
Taking a bad fall while soloing can be fatal, so it’s not generally a good idea to smoke or ingest cannabis before embarking on this type of climb. However, some rock climbers suggest that taking CBD may help calm anxiety and help you stay present during a climb. CBD balms and salves also offer relief for hands and joints after a rough climb.
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Safety Tips for Pairing Weed With Climbing
Rock climbing is draining and physically taxing. From muscle spasms and joint aches, certain cannabis products may aid in recovery. If you want to introduce marijuana into your climbing routine, here are some safety tips.
Know Your Limits
Even the most experienced cannabis users can have a bad trip now and again — and the worst place you could experience this is up on a rock wall somewhere. That’s why it’s crucial to know how much cannabis you can tolerate. Go for a strain (cultivar) you already know you love, and make sure to go low and slow with products high in THC.
Be Extra Careful
Although cannabis has many therapeutic benefits, it’s still a drug in the sense that it can alter normal brain function. We all experience this differently; some people become extra focused while high, while others find it hard to squeeze toothpaste onto their toothbrush without making a mess.
If you’ve used marijuana before a climb, be extra careful. Double-check all your clips and equipment to ensure you’ll be safe as you travel along your route.
For some, it’s fun to climb when you’re stoned. Many report feeling in high spirits and focused solely on the route rather than everything going on around them.
That said, it’s generally recommended to stick with safe, low-risk climbing like bouldering if using cannabis. It’s a nice way to spend an afternoon, and the stakes are lower.
So, Should I Rock Climb High?
There are many benefits to using cannabis if you’re a rock climber. It is a remarkable pain killer and provides improved sleep, motivation to exercise and train, and takes the competitive edge away from climbing.
However, you’re the only one who can ultimately decide whether or not you want to use marijuana and rock climb. You should make this judgment based on your tolerance levels and how your body responds to cannabis.
If you do use it and are climbing with people, ensure your climbing partners are aware (and are okay with it). Pay extra attention while you’re up on your climb to reduce the odds of any negative events — like bad falls — from occurring.
A fun practice is carrying a joint with you to smoke with your partner immediately after getting down from your climb.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Is sativa or indica better for exercise?
Many people prefer smoking sativa before exercise because it helps keep them energized and motivated. After a hard workout, a strong indica might just be what you need to relieve your tennis elbow and sore muscles.
However, it’s worth noting that the terms indica and sativa are rough distinctions at best, and it’s entirely possible to get a relaxing sativa or uplifting indica. The cannabinoid and terpene profile of each specific strain can give you a better indication of its effects.
Should I smoke before or after climbing?
Smoking after climbing is ideal because it helps your body and mind recover, especially if you have just completed a challenging climb. Smoking marijuana before may lead to a decreased respiratory rate, increased heart rate, and potentially poor climbing performance.