As of writing this piece, 10 states in the U.S. have legalized marijuana for recreational use.
Another 23 states have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes. And surely, more states will adopt or alter their current marijuana laws as time goes on.
This is of great importance because as pot becomes more and more widely accepted it could impact your (and future generation’s) overall fitness journey in the gym.
Currently, there’s not a whole lot of clarity on how marijuana use can impact your overall fitness levels - leading many to have numerous questions about the drug.
Is it a helpful tool to use for recovery and to increase appetite? Or will the increased pain resistance and inability to regulate your food intake prohibit you from meeting your goals?
Can the mental effects increase performance? Or will it impair motor function to the point where you’re unable to perform at a high level?
These are all valid questions and the answers will directly impact your long and short-term results if you so choose to smoke weed.
So, we worked with 21 experts in the fields of health, fitness, and marijuana, compiling their answers to help you make the appropriate decision when it comes to your own individual goals.
1. Jeff Nippard
Although hundreds of studies have been performed looking at the physiological effects of marijuana, the vast majority of this research has been focused on the treatment of chronic medical conditions. Still, when it comes to weed and working out, common sense would expect there to be some effects when it comes to training recovery, motivation, and performance.
While the research is quite clear on marijuana’s positive effect on reducing chronic pain, it isn’t clear whether or not these benefits apply to acute pains like muscle soreness or injuries from training, with one 2018 study expressing skepticism in this regard. (Pergolizzi et al.)
As of now, the idea that marijuana can be used to enhance recovery from training is not supported by scientific evidence. It doesn’t get any better for Mary Jane from here as according to one 2016 review article from the American Medical Association, “there is both preclinical and clinical evidence supporting the view that cannabis use is associated with an amotivational state.” (Kennedy MC.)
However, since most of this work involves animal models and correlational data, before we count it as an official strike against marijuana, it would be smart to assess your own psychological response first.
When it comes to training performance, blowing smoke probably won’t blow up your lifts as one 2017 systematic review concluded that “scientific studies all show cannabis decreases aerobic performance or has no effect on it. There are no theoretical reasons to believe it could increase strength or endurance. It may impair abilities in extreme situations.
There are claims that the psychological effects may have a calming effect before events but this has not been confirmed or disproved in a clinical trial.”
In sum, at this point in time, the best science indicates that marijuana has a neutral effect on your training at best and at worst, may have mildly negative effects in some individuals.
2. Dr. Mike T Nelson
For performance enhancement, it highly depends on what type of exercise performance (eg. strength, hypertrophy, rate of force development, etc) and also how cannabis is administered (inhaled, smoked, edible, etc). Add in that different strains also contain hundreds of different compounds, thus making this a hard question to answer. Here is some of what we know currently based on very incomplete research.
For THC, when it was taken via inhalation there was an associated increase in airway conductance after inhalation that peaked at 15 minutes and lasted for up to 60 minutes (Tashkin, DP, et al.). They also stated that airway dilation after marijuana administration increased and peaked at 3-hours while lasting for up to 6-hours post THC injection (Tashkin, DP, et al.).
In theory this could enhance endurance performance; however, a systematic review (Kennedy MC) in 2017 concluded that of only 15 studies conducted on the effects of THC, none showed any improvement in aerobic performance.
In terms of muscle effects, THC administration in a mouse model performed by Mendizabal-Zubiaga, J, et al showed a decrease in mitochondrial oxidative capacity by 12-15%.
In a human study, researchers lead by Ranganathan, M et al. in 2009 investigated the effects of Δ-9-THC (at socially relevant doses) found that it raised plasma cortisol levels in a dose-dependent manner. Interestingly, frequent users showed blunted increases relative to healthy controls. In theory, this may impair recovery from exercise, although performance/recovery was not measured.
If you are an athlete and play a contact sport there is an increased risk of head injury. Cannabinoids show promise here by potentially reducing the risks. While the data is sparse and preliminary, it is quite promising for the use of cannabinoids in the reduction of risk from TBI.
Current research (Panikashvili et al., 2001) also indicates that endocannabinoids are involved in many different processes that include neuronal survival after ischemia or trauma.
Endogenous cannabinoids produce their effects by acting on two different receptors types throughout the body: type-1 cannabinoid receptor (CB1) and type-2 cannabinoid receptor (CB2).
Research in 2014 provided anatomical and biochemical evidence that functional CB1 receptors are located within brain mitochondria, suggesting that a direct link between the CB1 receptor and mitochondrial functions in the brain (Hebert-Chatelain et al., 2014).
In short, the best data related to performance that we have now is the potential to reduce the risk of contact sports. Hopefully, in the future, we will have much more research on all aspects of athletic performance.
- Dr. Mike T Nelson,
3. Georges Dagher
This is a loaded question, but what I would like to highlight is the individual's context - namely, much of my answer is dependent on the individual and their reasoning for smoking and working out.
There are studies that have informed us about the impact of smoking marijuana and how it significantly "increases major and minor errors" in pilots when compared to placebo cigarettes.
On the other hand, I could also tell you anecdotally about patients and athletes who use marijuana to manage their pain without the typical complications from certain medications. Would you feel differently about a bodybuilder who performs cable flys while high because it helps him/her feel focused and "feel" every fiber in their chest than you would about a weightlifter who sets up to lift 130 kg overhead while high in the clouds?
Individual analysis is required: it's challenging to stay motivated when experiencing pain, but it can also be challenging to respond in a sharp, quick fashion when high. Criticality and context are key.
- Georges Dagher,
4. Sal Di Stefano
Cannabinoids (the active constituents in cannabis) have a very fascinating and interesting effect on the body. They possess an immunomodulating effect where they seem to help “underactive” immune systems like those present with cancer but they also seem to help “overactive” immune systems like those present with autoimmune issues.
They also possess anti-inflammatory effects on the body. That being said cannabinoids can be overused where they result in dramatic down-regulation of cannabinoids receptors and may reduce the bodies natural output of endocannabinoids like anandamide. This can result in reduced motivation and reduced dopamine response.
Cannabinoids in consistently higher doses also have an anabolic hormone lowering effects in animals - so I don’t recommend high cannabis use for athletes trying to build muscle or maximize performance.
- Sal Di Stefano,
5. Jenn Pilotti
Research shows marijuana reduces work capacity in athletes but has no effects on grip strength. (Clin J Sport Med) It may induce a calming state by reducing anxiety, assisting in relaxation before a competition, and increasing pain thresholds. (Interestingly, one of the active ingredients in marijuana, cannabis, is believed to be one of the main neurotransmitters responsible for the feeling that occurs during a runner’s high.) It may also assist with recovery from a hard workout.
However, marijuana can also negatively affect memory, coordination, and judgment, so if you are trying to hit a 1RM max or learn a complicated sequence of movements, marijuana probably won’t be helpful. If you are using it in moderation to assist with recovery and relaxation, it doesn’t appear to be any more harmful than alcohol.
- Jenn Pilotti,
6. Stacey Lei Krauss
Exploring sensory integration as it relates to exercise has always fascinated me. It’s a journey that has been an intrinsic and visceral part of my nature for years. I’ve also coupled exercise and low-dose plant medicine for over 25 years.
In my opinion, the most compelling carryover is heightened sensory perception during workouts, meaning: sounds, sights, proprioception, even interoception… become deeply magnified.
For example, a trail run will present a copious amount of split-second decision-making skills (especially in minimal shoe or barefoot) and I find myself 100% absorbed and fascinated by every flash of information. The experience is a pure connection to movement, breath, IQ and EQ – from intrinsic happenings to the connection with external stimulus.
Indoor movement (dance, yoga) is an opportunity to be absorbed in choreography, alignment, thoughts, and emotional processing – often leading me to creative epiphanies.
7. Sarah Hentges, PhD
The effects and impacts of marijuana can be different for everyone and these days there are many forms, varieties, and methods to choose from. The same can be said about working out.
The combination of smoking weed and working out means knowing yourself—your body and your mind—and finding a key to wellness and balance. Pot lends itself especially well to yoga practice as it can help both the mind and body relax and release tension, and perhaps even help facilitate a mind/body connection—finding the flow or being “in the zone.” Weed can also enhance the overall sensory experience (color, sound, energy, movement).
Recovery and rejuvenation are also aided by weed, whether through a deeper savasana or a better night’s sleep.
- Sarah Hentges,
8. Greg Robins
I by no means have any actual expertise on cannabis and working out. Common sense would tell us smoking weed has the same negative side effect as inhaling any kind of smoke. I would imagine that the actual relationship between cannabis and working out is unrelated unless of course, you are high while training.
I would encourage anyone to do their homework on any substance, exercise moderation, and if you believe it is helping you in some way...then it probably is.
- Greg Robins,
9. Amanda Thebe
Smoking weed is not generally associated with increased athletic performance, it's more likely to be associated with an increase in your munchies. A quick scan of fitness articles with cannabis, highlight some athletes using it to help with recovery and even as a training aid.
UFC fighters seem to be very keen, reports of up to 84% of them using it. My personal thoughts and this is purely anecdotal, is that I am not a fan of using cannabis in workouts and would never personally use it.
We know that cannabis can dampen your fine motor skills, so it would be of no benefit to you doing an activity that requires coordination for your performance. Call me old fashioned but I think I will stick to my coffee pre-workout. On the other hand, I am a fan of CBD for its recovery properties and help with lowering stress and anxiety.
- Amanda Thebe,
10. Sandra Hilton
I don’t have any expertise in the area other than to recommend against the use of attention or alertness altering substance prior to exercise.
CBD oil is likely fine, we just don’t have the data yet to know if there is benefit or harm to using it.
We do know that focus and attention is best for exercise, so just as one would not expect the best outcome or effort while drinking alcohol, I don’t expect marijuana would be of benefit for exercise.
- Sandra Hilton,
11. Cole Matthews
I am not an advocate of working out while high on marijuana. There have been no studies that I am aware of that indicate that weed can improve performance in the gym. What it is known to do is to dull pain sensors, slow down reaction time and impair mental sharpness.
None of these effects are beneficial in the gym. Being tuned in to your pain sensitivity is a key means of avoiding injury, as is having a fast reaction time. The mental effect will impair the mind-muscle connection. In addition, weed raises estrogen levels, which will make you softer rather than harder.
- Cole Matthews,
12. Dr. Junella Chin
Here is how cannabis can help post workout recovery instead of taking Advil which can have long term gastrointestinal effects:
Cannabis works as:
- Anti-inflammatory – reduces inflammation from muscles and tendons and can help prevent overuse or injury
- Antispasmodic – reduces muscle spasms
- Pain reducer – eases soreness and pain
I don’t recommend THC or anything that might cause a loss in coordination with intense exercise.
- Dr. Junella Chin,
13. Meghan Doyle
When deciding whether or not to smoke pot and exercise, your immediate and long term goals must be considered.
Chronic marijuana will decrease your cardiovascular ability by increasing inflammation and resistance in the airways similar to having bronchitis all the time. If you already have diminished cardiovascular health (resting heart rate greater than 60, slow recovery from an elevated heart rate) then smoking pot can limit your ability to increase your cardiovascular health.
Next, if your goal is to increase muscle mass and decrease your body fat, then there a number of factors to consider. First, chronic marijuana will disrupt your endocrine system, including increasing the activity on your estrogen receptors. The anabolic effects of weight lifting heavy weights can be negated with routine usage.
Secondly, it is well known that pot stimulates the appetite, so if you’re trying to control calorie consumption then it may not work with your goals.
- Meghan Doyle,
14. Riley Cote
Not long after I was introduced to cannabis, I began experimenting with cannabis pre-workout and I’ve been going strong ever since. The calming energies of cannabis help me dial in and focus on my training in a very mindful manner. I’d plug my earphones and get into the zone.
I retired from professional hockey in 2010 and began practicing yoga religiously. It was then when I really noticed how in tune I was with my body, mind, and spirit when I would consume cannabis before my practice.
It puts me into a meditative flow state that allows me to connect my breath to mindful movement while really being aware of what my body needs. Consuming cannabis before my workouts and yoga practice has added a whole other dimension to not only the actual workout itself but it seems to help jump-start the recovery process.
- Riley Cote,
15. Dr. Jessica Shepherd
As a health care provider and fitness/wellness expert, the use of marijuana is a drug that affects all aspects of the body that will decrease performance.
From a cardiovascular standpoint, marijuana is known to increase heart rate and also decreasing stroke volume which diminishes the ability for the heart to perform at its peak. The smoke also harms the lungs in its effectiveness and ability to conduct oxygen exchange.
Performance is also hindered with reduced motor coordination and slowed reaction time, and these effects can last for up to 24-36 hours after smoking!
Many people know of the "munchies" that is seen with marijuana use which increases food intake, therefore, decreasing optimal nutrition goals. So it is not advisable to smoke marijuana when the outcome is an impaired concentration in addition to short and long-term memory loss.
Be your best self by finding ways to enhance performance and not using agents that affect your ability to learn and performance-enhancing potential.
- Dr. Jessica Shepherd,
16. Acadia Webber
Marijuana norms and practices are changing, and scientific research on these practices is still an emerging area.
So far, evidence suggests that marijuana can be a useful tool for workout recovery and pain management. As athletes who use marijuana tend to report that they use it for performance-enhancing benefits, the link between marijuana and athletic performance is a promising area that requires further investigation.
- Acadia Webber,
17. Dee Dussault
Cannabis has many positive effects on yoga and other forms of physical fitness. When used before a session, it can help people to tap into their body's sensations and wisdom, instead of directing the body from the mind.
The workout becomes interesting, even pleasurable. When used after yoga or a workout, cannabis can be anti-inflammatory to reduce any swelling or soreness.
- Dee Dussault,
18. Michael Eng
Research has shown that mammals produce endocannabinoids (eCBs) during exercise, and the receptors for these eCBs are also activated. These changes are thought to reduce the perception of pain.
It has been shown that after aerobic exercise, cursorial mammals (animals specifically adapted to running) generate high levels of eCBs, whereas non-cursorial animals do not. The so-called "runner's high" utilizes the endocannabinoid system as a reward for engaging in aerobic exercise.
Plant cannabinoids perform the same function, reducing pain perception and producing a sense of pleasure to reward otherwise taxing aerobic activities.
- Michael Eng,
19. Jim McAlpine
Using cannabis before working out is NOT for everyone. But it is something EVERYONE should consider. It is all about knowing yourself and what works for you.
Some people become less focused and lose coordination when using marijuana. But for many, many people, when used right it actually helps accentuate focus. I consider cannabis a gateway to flow state and it helps me focus when in the gym or engaging in a sporting activity.
The other reason cannabis is a great option for athletes is it makes training more fun and takes away a lot of the pain. It makes working out more fun.
Finally, cannabis is a great recovery tool for post workout, both CBD for recovery and THC for a mental warm down.
- Jim McAlpine,
20. Daniel Osterman
Our bodies have an endocannabinoid system which aids in the way we experience the world. When used intentionally cannabis can have profound effects on your workout and fitness routine.
It helps when I’m lacking motivation. After consuming Cannabis I’m in a better mood and able to silence the chatter in my mind, enabling me to focus on my goals and propel me through my workout. I use CBD and THC to help reduce inflammation and assist in recovery.
- Daniel Osterman,
21. Zach Moore
Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of direct research looking at the impacts of marijuana on training and body composition. The studies we do have show that it may reduce performance acutely, but there are arguments that could be made for its ability to improve recovery.
If you are someone who struggles to unwind and relax, a little marijuana may have some benefits for your recovery, but I would argue that there are other modalities with more research backing their safety and efficacy for recovery.
If you are going to use it, save it for a recovery day, and avoid it before a hard session which requires focus, concentration, and results that hinge on force production.
- Zach Moore,
3 Questions & Key Takeaways From Our Experts
With all of the experts’ feedback in mind, there’s a number of things we can deduce and take away.
The primary takeaway - there’s simply not enough scientific evidence on the matter to make a clear science-based recommendation. However, as time goes on, that’ll surely change.
So, what we’re left with are anecdotal evidence and incomplete research. Still - this can be useful information when considering whether marijuana use will impact your overall goals.
The three things you should consider prior to consuming weed based on the feedback from our experts are:
- What Form of Exercise are You Performing while High?
- What Method are You Using to Consume Marijuana?
- How Will Using Weed Affect Your Current Goals?
What Form of Exercise Are You Performing while High?
The first question is important to consider because it seems different styles of training might lend itself better to pairing with marijuana use.
If you work out using or compete in more of a flow-state activity in which you’ve already mastered the necessary movement patterns (yoga, martial arts, endurance sports), then you might benefit from training while high.
If instead, you perform activities that require complex motor functions (Olympic lifting, powerlifting, etc.), it may be in your best interest to remain sober - at least during the time of training.
You may also want to consider how new you are to your form of training. If you’re in the process of learning new movement patterns, it is likely best to abstain from marijuana use.
These recommendations are general and don’t take into account each individual’s personal reaction to getting high, their tolerance level, or the types of strains consumed prior to exercise. All of which are trickier complications to an already debatable subject matter.
What Method Are You Using to Consume Marijuana?
Also mentioned by our panel of experts is the concern inhaling smoke can have on the cardiovascular system.
It’s widely debated whether the smoke produced by marijuana has a similar effect on the lungs as smoke inhaled from tobacco. And at this time, there’s really not a whole lot of scientific evidence to say one way or another.
That being said, the safer consumption method for those concerned about their cardiovascular health and inhaling any form of smoke would potentially be through edible consumption. This may prove to be especially beneficial for endurance athletes.
Another thing to keep in mind when we talk about methods is the overall timing of the actual consumption of the drug. For those looking to use it in flow-state activities as mentioned above, it may prove to be beneficial to consume prior to working out.
For those looking to utilize its potential pain relief and recovery benefits, post-workout, during active recovery, or as part of your pre-bed ritual may prove to be the most opportune time to use the drug.
Again, none of this takes each individual’s reaction into account and the guidelines may be highly dependent on that. If you feel it’s (or will) negatively affecting your performance, it’s best to abstain.
How Will Using Weed Affect Your Current Goals?
The obvious answer to this question is to ask yourself: "How does pot consumption affect my individual motivation levels?"
For some, it may kill your motivation. For others, it might heighten their sense of motivation and mental well-being. Where you fall on the motivation spectrum will highly determine how the use of marijuana affects your current goals.
Another thing to consider is if your goal is physique-oriented or health-oriented.
Consuming pot while trying to achieve body recomposition may prove to be difficult. Especially if your recomp goals are fat loss based. A well noted side effect of marijuana use is the increase in appetite.
An increase in appetite isn’t exactly what you want during a fat loss phase. However, during a muscle growth phase - it may prove beneficial in helping you consume enough calories to elicit muscle growth.
Although, that’s assuming consumption doesn’t affect hormonal balances to the point where your surplus of calories is leading to increased fat gains instead of muscle growth. Hopefully, science will clear that up a bit as time goes on.
Lastly, if your goal is more general health and wellness-oriented, weed consumption may or may not be beneficial for you. As mentioned above, it has anecdotal evidence to suggest it can promote pain relief and heightened spirituality. Both of which are crucial to aid in stress relief.
On the other hand, if you’re someone who responds negatively psychologically or marijuana use will have negative moral implications for your lifestyle, abstaining may be the best approach to increase health and well-being.
To summarize the information we received from our experts on how marijuana use can affect your workouts: It depends and the science isn’t there to support either side of the anecdotal arguments.
It also might depend on your training style, goals, and method of consumption.
So, if you’re a marijuana user currently who experiences no ill-effects when it comes to your training and lifestyle (and you’re doing so legally), proceed with some caution until science paints a clearer picture.
If you’re not currently a marijuana user and would have negative moral inclinations or fear it may negatively affect your performance while using the drug, don’t use it. There’s no science to prove it’s beneficial currently.
We’d also love to hear your thoughts on the topic. So, please feel free to add to the conversation in the comments section below.
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- Cannabis and the Health and Performance of the Elite Athlete
- Cannabis and sport