Updated: Apr 5, 2020
As the popularity of marijuana grows in the distance running community, so does the continuing controversy. Marijuana has been around for a long time, yet the research of the effects of using the drug is still in its infancy.
There have been many changes in our culture in regards to the nationwide legalization of the drug, however there are still many roadblocks ahead, as researchers try to understand the physical and mental effects of cannabis.
In a recent poll from my website and Facebook page, I asked the following question:
"Should marijuana be allowed in running events, even though it may not be legal in all states or countries?"
Unfortunately, many people commented on part, but not the entire question, despite me asking people to just answer with a “yes” or “no.” I had comments like, “Yes, marijuana should be allowed in all sporting events…” I even had a question that asked “Why wouldn’t marijuana be allowed in running events, since it’s now legal in all 50 states?” I’m not sure where that person got her information, but this is part of the controversy – some people don’t know where, or if it’s legal.
Once again, I was simply asking if people think that it’s fair if some people can use it, and others cannot because not everyone has access to it. According to the results of the survey, 55% of respondents said that it is not fair, since it’s not legal in every state or in every race.
Adding even more to the controversy is the fact (not theory) that there really isn’t a lot of research, either confirmed or contrived in the short or long term effects of cannabis. Because it’s not legal under Federal law, there is little or no funding for accurate research and testing by the government. No grants are available for third party researchers, so the information is basically in limbo, with no conclusive surveys or results. Is running under the influence safe? Could the effects be harmful or beneficial?
The controversy continues as high profile ultra-runners like Avery Collins openly advocates the use of “smoking a bowl” before a long training session or ultra-marathon race. Collins says, “That’s where cannabis really plays a big part. With its various medicinal compounds, you can really cut down not only on the fatigue but you can calm the muscles and shoot down a lot of that inflammation.” He goes on to state that after he gets high before a run, “the greens are greener and the blues are bluer.”
"With its various medicinal compounds, you can really cut down not only on the fatigue but you can calm the muscles and shoot down a lot of that inflammation..."
“To run 100 straight miles, I could be out running for 28 straight hours. Once you stop, you sit down and it is crazy, your body has been so used to running for over a day, it thinks it is still going, so your muscles just throb and throb and all of a sudden it all stops and everything swells up.”
On the flip side of the pot advocates are the doctors and scientists who say how marijuana can wreak havoc on the human body, particularly for those who actually smoke the substance. Inhaling any kind of product that ingests smoke into the lungs, ultimately raises the risk of cancer further down the road.
Iñigo San Millán, Ph.D., Director of Sports Performance at the University of Colorado, Boulder, explains “Marijuana decreases work capacity and cardiac output.” Because pot reduces cardiac output, while increasing the heart rate, dangerous problems could arise for those who have underlying heart problems.
" Marijuana decreases work capacity and cardiac output...”
Research suggests cannabis is an “ergolytic” drug, meaning it impairs, not enhances athletic performance, even though the athletes who use may tell you a different story. Most of the user-athletes state they feel less distracted by pain, and it allows them to focus more on the trail – things become clearer with the substance in their bodies. It is true that marijuana is a proven mental painkiller – that is, it’s not really numbing the pain, but it is distracting you from the pain. This can be detrimental for those who try to push through the pain, as damage to the body may be occurring, but they are not fully aware of it.
Your brain naturally produces endocannabinoids which is linked specifically to the “runner’s high” that produces the feel-good buzz. The use of THC adds to those feelings and can possibly put a runner in danger by placing the body’s priority of mental judgement over physical output. Dizziness, numbness and vertigo can occur during a drug induced training run or race, and that can put the runner in a dangerous position.
Conversely, your mental state can play a role on how well you perform on the race course. Cannabis is known to reduce anxiety and stress, and can help with insomnia. This in effect, can help an athlete recover faster between training sessions.
Even though many athletes smoke Marijuana, a growing number are turning to edibles. Unfortunately, many people who consume edibles are unaware of the dangers associated with their use.
Edibles can be homemade or prepared commercially for dispensaries. When made at home the Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, is usually extracted into oil or butter that can be used in cooking or spread directly on food. Because edibles can be made in a home setting, there can be great risks involved.
The amount of THC is difficult to measure and is often unknown in many edibles. Regulations and quality assurance regarding the determination of THC content and product labeling are generally lacking, and as a result the dosage estimation for many edibles is often inaccurate. Consequently, many products contain significantly more THC than labeled and people who consume these edibles can be caught off-guard by their strength and long-lasting effects.
The effects of marijuana edibles last much longer than smoking, usually up to several hours depending on the amount of THC consumed, the amount and types of the last food eaten, and other drugs or alcohol used at the same time.
DELAYED ONSET AND HIGH POTENTIAL FOR OVERDOSE
Perhaps the most prominent difference between smoking marijuana and eating edibles is the delayed onset of effects associated with edibles. Whereas the effects of marijuana usually occur within minutes of smoking, it can take between 30 minutes to 2 hours to experience the effects from edibles. This delay can result in some people consuming a greater than intended amount of drug before it has taken effect. Marijuana overdose is also referred to as acute marijuana intoxication. Research has shown that edibles are the form of marijuana consumption most likely to lead to emergency room visits for marijuana overdose, and the authors of at least one study believe that this is due to the failure of users to fully understand the delayed effects of these products.
SERIOUS NEGATIVE SIDE EFFECTS
The symptoms associated with eating highly potent edibles are often much more severe than the symptoms experienced after smoking marijuana. Some of the more adverse effects associated with the consumption of edibles include:
• Anxiety and panic attacks
• Psychotic episodes
• Impaired motor ability
• Respiratory depression
• Heart problems (ranging from irregular heartbeat to heart attack)
"...the majority of these respondents are the purists like me who believe in running in its truest form, by enduring and embracing the pain, not by deflecting or masking it..."
So, the controversy continues – to use or not to use – that is the question. If you are considering pot, doctors recommend a thorough physical, complete with a stress test or echocardiogram to help detect potential health issues. And remember - it's not legal everywhere. In some states, possession of certain amounts is a felony. Moreover, under U.S. Federal Law, it's still illegal.
In regards to the “fairness” of athletes using cannabis, that answer is still up in the air. When I created the survey and the results came in, 55% of the respondents said that it is NOT fair if it’s not available to all.
I imagine the majority of these respondents are the purists like me who believe in running in its truest form, by enduring and embracing the pain, not by deflecting or masking it. Until it’s legal in all 50 states and openly allowed by the running organizations, such as the USATF, it is my firm belief that it should not be allowed, and drug testing should be done to confirm that sanctioned events aren’t tainted by users who use cannabis. Of course, this is only my opinion, which further fans the flames of this debate. Feel free to login if you'd like to comment!
Bill Watts - author of Running for the Average Joe