As athletic organizations such as the NFL, MLB, and NHL have begun allowing competitors to use cannabis and/or CBD, you might be thinking of taking a hit before hitting the gym. And hey, it’s 2021 – you probably wouldn’t be the only one there who’s taking their workout to a “higher” level.
Like pre-workout supplements, cannabis improves energy during exercise for some users, and it’s also reported to aid with the recovery after. A 2019 survey by CU Boulder showed eight out of ten participating cannabis users consumed cannabis shortly before or after physical activity, and that those users exercised more often and for longer periods of time than those who did not use cannabis for exercise.
But the research on cannabis use in athletics is purely anecdotal. So, while you can use cannabis before working out, the question of whether you should gets a little hazy. To clear the air, we asked health experts to tell us what they see as the benefits and risks of using cannabis as pre-workout.
When it comes to using cannabis as pre-workout, some potential benefits are:
1. It can help you focus and be more aware of your body
There’s a reason cannabis-infused yoga is taking the country by storm. According to Dr. Kenneth Weinberg, Chief Medical Officer at Cannabis Doctors of New York, consuming CBD or cannabis before working out enhances focus for many users – both on the task at hand and on the body itself.
“It makes my patients much more aware of their muscles and what they are doing,” Weinberg told GreenState. “You’re really concentrating on your body after you use cannabis, in a way that you don’t otherwise.”
This acute awareness is ideal for exercises for which mindfulness is key, but can be beneficial for any kind of workout. It can also benefit those with attention disorders, such as ADHD.
2. It can decrease pain
While there aren’t many studies related to how cannabis directly affects workouts, there is research strongly indicating that THC and CBD can decrease inflammation in the body, which would explain why many users say it eases pain. Weinberg says cannabis enables many of his patients suffering from chronic pain to exercise when they otherwise could not.
RELATED: CBD: An Alternative to Opioids?
“I can’t tell you how many patients I’ve seen with chronic pain who are overweight,” Weinberg said. “They tell me not only has cannabis reduced their pain, it’s reducing it enough that they can work out again, and that’s making them feel better both emotionally and physically. They are able to get around more, and they’re losing weight, and they feel better.”
Weinberg added that the anti-inflammatory affects of cannabis and CBD can also aid in post-workout recovery in the same way pre-workout supplements might. This past year, Olympic athletes were allowed to use CBD in training for the first time, and some opted to use it as a supplement or alternative to potentially harmful painkillers.
3. It can help you overcome the mental blocks preventing you from working out
As we all know too well, working your body starts with your mind. According to Plant Medicine Specialist Kathryn Cannon, cannabis can be a great way to clear the negative, critical thoughts keeping you away from the gym.
“Using cannabis as pre-workout can assist us in clearing mental blocks associated with performance,” Cannon told GreenState.
Studies indicate cannabis and CBD both have anxiety-relieving properties that could contribute to this effect. Many people suffering from depression and anxiety have found cannabis to be a beneficial supplement to therapy, medication, and other treatments for mood disorders.
RELATED: Does CBD help with anxiety?
4. It may relax muscles
One effect of cannabis that is almost universally accepted is that it helps the body to relax. While nothing is proven, Weinberg believes this effect may help muscles repair post-workout.
“I have a lot of patients with multiple sclerosis, and high THC products are really helpful for them because muscle spasticity is relieved by THC,” Weinberg said. “Cannabis increases blood flow, so it makes sense that tense muscles might be able to relax and repair better after a workout if you use cannabis right after exercising.”
5. It may open up your airways
For those looking to get a little more cardio in your workout, here’s some good news. Some studies indicate that THC may be a bronchodilator, meaning it could cause you to breathe better while exercising if consumed before working out. Cannon said this could be particularly helpful for those with respiratory diseases, such as asthma, who find exercise challenging.
“If you have an existing lung condition, THC can open up the airways when taken in low doses,” Cannon said.
So far, only Delta-9 THC (i.e. the kind of THC found in most cannabis products, which causes psychoactive effects) and Delta-8 THC to a lesser degree are believed to cause this effect. CBD does not seem to be a bronchodilator.
So, what’s the catch?
While the benefits make using cannabis as pre-workout seem like a no-brainer, there is some risk to consuming cannabis before intense physical activity. Cannon and Weinberg caution that cannabis often makes people slower to react, which can make accidents more likely to happen. Additionally, consuming too much cannabis can significantly elevate your heart rate and lower your blood pressure. If you experience these symptoms while working out, stop and seek medical attention immediately.
To avoid these unwanted effects, Weinberg recommends consulting a physician before incorporating cannabis into your workout routine. Then, start with the lowest possible dose and work upward from there.
Cannon also recommends trying different forms of consumption based on your needs.
“The delivery method makes a difference,” Cannon said. “A few drops of a tincture can be enough to make a difference in performance. I recommend using topicals after workouts to decrease inflammation and pain.”
Cannabis affects everyone differently, so the only way to really discover what dosages and products work best for your health and wellness goals is by keeping track of what works, and what doesn’t work, for you. Take notes on how each product and dosage makes you feel, and adjust your regimen as needed.
Elissa Esher is Assistant Editor at GreenState. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Guardian, Brooklyn Paper, Religion Unplugged, and Iridescent Women. Send inquiries and tips to email@example.com.