Highly Resolved: New Year, New You
It’s that time again: we put on a little thickness from all the holiday goodness we devoured. After recovering from the New Year’s Eve champagne hangover, we’re making New Year’s resolutions to shed the pounds and keep them off.
And this time we mean it.
According to the University of Scranton’s “Statistic Brain” research, most of us are just wishfully thinking. “Lose weight” consistently ranks as the most popular resolution, and the fifth most popular is “staying fit and healthy.” Yet only 8 percent of people stick to their resolutions.
There are a lot of reasons why most Americans fail to fulfill their New Year’s exercise resolutions. But a commitment to improving your life doesn’t have to be a pipe dream—with a little pot, it can become a pipe reality.
Cannabis as a Motivator
Get that old, rehashed image of the lazy stoner out of your head. Believe it or not, cannabis can get a real go-getter up and running.
Although cannabis can induce the dreaded couch-lock effect, some strains can get you pretty wired. These strains are usually denoted as sativas, but many hybrids and even some indicas provide a smoky shot of energy. Ask your budtender which strain may be right for you, and prepare for a little experimentation until you find the best one.
The idea that cannabis can act as an exercise supplement is gaining momentum. A series of active events known as the 420 Games seeks to dispel the stigma of lazy “stoners” while promoting the healthy and responsible use of cannabis. Jim McAlpine, founder of 420 Games, says attendance tripled between 2015 and 2016. The series is slated to take place in six states in 2017.
McAlpine may wholeheartedly support cannabis, but he cautions against treating it as a miracle supplement. “I’m not of the mindset that it’s just something everybody should do or that it’s good for everybody,” he says. “I think everybody should explore the possibility because for some people it doesn’t work.”
McAlpine notes some athletes may become “sedentary” from smoking pot, or that it could impair motor coordination. For these people, he advises avoiding cannabis before, during, or after workouts.
Some people, however, may find cannabis inspires them to become physically active. For folks curious about cannabis and exercise, he recommends microdosing, a method of ingesting small amounts of cannabis in order to gauge an optimal dose.
The key to incorporating cannabis into an exercise regimen is “starting slow and small,” McAlpine adds. “Start with 5 milligrams or less of an edible, or smoking or vaping a tiny bit and seeing how it affects you. Then you can slowly and gradually increase your intake.”
The 420 Games is just one sporting endeavor teaming up with marijuana. McApline is joining forces with former NFL superstar Ricky Williams to open a cannabis gym in San Francisco, with sights set on 2017 as well. Williams’ gym will go beyond simply promoting cannabis as an athletic aid; it’ll allow lifters, trainers, and other sports enthusiasts to consume on site, too.
Runner’s High is Perfectly Named
Hardcore athletes experience something called the “runner’s high.” Marathon runners may be most familiar with this phenomenon, but weightlifters, swimmers, and hikers know it, too. The runner’s high is a feeling of contentment and joy simultaneously dissociated from the pain caused by physical activity alongside an inner awareness of the body. Pain, strain, or exhaustion ebb away as the runner’s high takes effect.
For decades, scientists thought runner’s high was caused by endorphins. Endorphins are natural brain chemicals that resemble morphine, one of the world’s most powerful painkillers. However, the endorphin hypothesis didn’t hold up to scrutiny, so scientists looked elsewhere for the source of runner’s high.
In 2004, a research team at the University of Georgia found it: our bodies’ endocannabinoids (“endo” meaning “inside” + “cannabinoids” = “endocannabinoids"), otherwise known as our “brain’s natural pot,” were partially responsible for runner’s high. The endocannabinoids produced in the brain behave much like the cannabinoids found in marijuana (e.g. THC and CBD). This may explain why the runner’s high quite literally feels like a high—because it is.
Arne Dietrich is the psychologist who led the University of Georgia study. He says it’s true the endocannabinoid system activates while running, but it’s inaccurate to say our brain’s natural pot is solely responsible for the runner’s high effect. He credits a complex soup of neurochemicals, including serotonin, adrenaline, and dopamine, to the overall feeling.
Additionally, Dietrich doesn’t see cannabis as a performance enhancer, per se. “Marijuana has two strong effects that would interact with running,” he writes in an e-mail. “First, it is an analgesic. In running, it would mask pain, which is not necessarily a good thing. Second, marijuana is a sedative, not a stimulant. Given this, I cannot see much of a motivator potential.”
Cannabis for Recovery
Any personal trainer will tell you that recovering from a workout is just as important as the workout itself—if not more important. Optimal healing and repair of a post-workout body are what gives athletes increased strength and endurance.
Cannabis can reduce inflammation in muscles and joints, and as noted by Dietrich, it can dull pain, too. In terms of recovery, easing aches can make post-workout recovery much more bearable. A 2013 study in Nutrition & Metabolism concluded cannabis use after exercise can help the mind and body calm itself, leading to deeper, uninterrupted sleep. Good sleep, after all, is the key to recovery.
Cannabis for Metabolism
Marijuana can make us hungry. Ravenously hungry. This is a good thing for weight trainers, who need to slam down massive amounts of calories throughout the day. Some athletes, especially those with high metabolisms, may have trouble working up an appetite. With a little pot, they may find themselves scarfing down plenty of (hopefully high quality) calories with ease.
Paradoxically, cannabis appears to cause slimmer figures for the average person, athlete or otherwise. Although one would think a plant that makes users hungry should automatically cause weight gain, that’s not usually the case.
This was discovered in 2013 when researchers at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard University, and the University of Nebraska investigated pot smokers and obesity. They found pot smokers rocked smaller waistlines than non-users, had higher levels of HDL (“good cholesterol”), showed balance in blood sugar levels, and demonstrated improved insulin resistance. Although the researchers weren’t sure why this was the case, they suspected it had something to do with cannabis regulating insulin, the hormone responsible for breaking down the sugars we eat.
Does all of this mean smoking a bowl between workouts will keep you looking leaner and slenderer than ever before? The verdict is out on that, but the data suggest it can’t hurt.