Smoking Weed and Running: Does Marijuana Make You a Better Runner?
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Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
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Many of us love running for the natural high it provides. But can the runner’s high be further enhanced by a weed high? Anecdotal reports suggest that many cannabis users enjoy pre-loading for a run by smoking or vaping flower. According to one recent survey, 20-29% of cannabis users liked to consume cannabis before sprints, mid-distance, or long runs.
Research indicates that smoking cannabis before or after running may offer some unique benefits, although it won’t necessarily make you run faster or longer. It is also important to remember that both running and using THC can increase heart rate, so it is wise to be careful if combining the two, especially if you have a pre-existing heart condition such as atrial flutter or arrhythmia.
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Does Smoking Weed Affect Running Performance?
While there are no studies specifically exploring the effects of smoking cannabis on running, a number of studies investigate the effects of smoking or vaping weed on aerobic exercise in general. Results can be extrapolated from this research to provide some insights into how smoking or vaping weed might affect running performance.
Research exploring the effects of smoked or vaporized cannabis on breath and exercise capacity, for example, has yielded fascinating results. In one study, people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) vaporized whole cannabis flower containing 6.4 mg of THC prior to cardiopulmonary exercise testing. The study showed that cannabis didn’t negatively or positively impact cardiorespiratory responses or exercise time. Most importantly, this group of people had advanced COPD, and their fitness levels were approximately 10% of what would be expected if they were healthy.
However, another review reported that smoking weed decreased time to exhaustion (48%). The authors hypothesized that an increase in myocardial oxygen demand might have caused this effect.
Another study mentioned in the same review among healthy individuals indicated a similar outcome. After smoking a moderate to high dose of THC (18.2 mg), participants’ submaximal work capacity on a cycle ergometer decreased. This decrease was linked to an increase in submaximal heart rate.
Nonetheless, the reviewers also took care to contextualize the results, pointing out that although cannabis can quicken the heart rate, this doesn’t necessarily compromise endurance or impair athletic performance. Other research suggests that as exercise intensity increases toward a maximum workload, the physiological responses from smoking cannabis are no different from placebo.
In general, researchers emphasize that more studies are needed to yield more reliable, valid studies about the effects of smoking weed on exercise, as current results are still somewhat ambiguous.
Cannabis’s Impact on Running
Cannabis consumption can have emotional, mental, and physiological effects on runners.
A number of high-profile runners and triathletes, such as Avery Collins, Jenn Shelton, and Clifford Drusinsky, openly admit to using cannabis to support their training. Movements like Rage and Release celebrate and champion the union of smoking weed, running, and wellness.
Those who endorse smoking cannabis before a run cite benefits such as an enhanced mind-body connection; improved focus; increased motivation; deeper appreciation of and immersion in one’s surroundings; more profound breath awareness; a greater sense of rhythm; improved recovery, and decreased inflammation after the run.
Recent research on cannabis and exercise echoes similar findings, emphasizing that most cannabis users turn to weed for how good it makes them feel when working out.
When it comes to running performance, survey findings suggest that only a minority (37.5%) feel cannabis enhances athletic performance. Almost half of people surveyed (46.0%) were neutral, and 16.5% disagreed or disagreed strongly with the idea that cannabis is a performance enhancer. Emerging scientific evidence generally supports this perception, with studies suggesting that cannabis appears to confer null or detrimental effects on exercise performance, though more studies are needed.
It’s also vital to note that THC and CBD can yield distinctive effects during and after exercise. Again, existing research is largely focused on the effects of these cannabinoids on exercise in general, although the findings still hold relevance for runners.
The Effects of THC on Running
There’s a scarcity of research unpacking the physiological effects of THC on running or exercise as the cannabinoid is illegal at a federal level. However, we can cobble together a rudimentary understanding from the patchwork of data that is available. THC has been shown to help with pain relief and inflammation, which may hold benefits for recovery after a run.
Other observational studies suggest that smoking cannabis containing 1-2% THC (very low levels) renders no difference with respect to workout times, heart rate, or blood pressure. However, a more recent survey that queried participants about the negative effects of THC and exercise found that 25% of respondents reported adverse or unwanted psychoactive effects such as an elevated heart rate, being too high to continue working out, lightheadedness, and anxiety.
It’s also important to note that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has classified THC as a banned substance in competition when urinary concentration of the cannabinoid exceeds a threshold of 150 ng/mL.
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The Effects of CBD on Running
Cannabidiol (CBD) holds anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anxiolytic and neuroprotective effects that may benefit runners. Research indicates that CBD may aid in recovery by relieving pain through a number of potential mechanisms, such as reducing exercise-induced inflammation.
Evidence also indicates that the cannabinoid may also increase feelings of pleasure during exercise and is unlikely to impair exercise performance.
Other research also indicates that CBD has not been linked to any negative effects on athletic performance. Unlike THC, CBD is not prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency for elite athletes in competition.
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The Bottom Line: Should Runners Smoke Weed?
Anecdotal observations and surveys suggest that many cannabis users enjoy the experience of running high, reporting benefits such as improved focus, motivation, and greater bodily awareness. However, at present, there’s no robust evidence to suggest that smoking weed is a performance enhancer.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Is it OK to smoke weed before running?
Cannabis users sometimes smoke weed before running to elevate the experience of the runner’s high and improve focus. However, too much weed may trigger unwanted psychoactive effects such as paranoia, anxiety, or feeling too high to continue exercising. Those with pre-existing heart problems may also want to avoid mixing the use of THC-rich cannabis and exercise due to its ability to increase heart rate and may wish to utilize cannabis after their workout.
Is it OK to smoke weed after running?
Anecdotal reports such that marijuana users turn to weed after running for pain relief and to ease inflammation. Research suggests that CBD specifically may help with post-run recovery.