Jun 06, 2019 08:55PM
● By Leland Rucker
It’s that time of year when you’re about ready to head for the gym, bust out a bike ride or a hike in the hills. And, chances are, if you live in Colorado and other states where cannabis is legal for adults to use, you’re also hitting a vaporizer, smoking some bud, eating an edible, or letting a tincture settle under your tongue before or after the experience.
That interesting bit of news comes from “The New Runner’s High? Examining Relationships Between Cannabis Use and Exercise Behavior in States with Legalized Cannabis research,” a study published in Frontiers in Public Health from the University of Colorado-Boulder Department of Psychology and Neuroscience and the Institute for Cognitive Science. It found that 80 percent of participants indicated they use it before and after they exercise maybe even during it.
The study doesn’t make a determination on whether cannabis actually helps or hinders their exercise routine. “What this suggests is that it is not case that cannabis is associated with obesity and sedentary behavior,” says Angela Bryan, a professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at CU and one of the paper’s seven authors. “It’s much more nuanced than we thought.”
Indeed. The science on the subject, like on almost all things cannabis, is decidedly mixed. In a 2015 paper, Bryan and some other scientists pointed out major discrepancies about cannabis use and exercise. On the one hand, the World Anti-Doping Agency prohibits cannabis use in sporting competitions because of its potential to improve performance.
On the other, we have the image, continually propagated by popular culture and marketers alike, of potheads locked on the sofa, overweight, junk food in hand that has proliferated for half a century, back to the days when Cheech and Chong were poking fun at the whole thing. This year’s 420 celebration was more an orgy of marketing than a celebration of legal, adult-use. A national chain promoted a hamburger in Denver that included a dab of cannabidiol, or CBD, in the sauce, and my inbox was deluged with product pitches in the month leading up to the April “high holiday.”
Those images and the concept of the inert stoner are not just used to sell things. A 2018 Australian study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology looked at 57 people who used cannabis and 57 control subjects. The results, researchers concluded, were that marijuana can be detrimental to “long-term goal planning.” Another one last year suggests that cannabis, unlike alcohol or tobacco, might give some heavy users “amotivational syndrome” and “lower initiative and persistence.”
This brings up something that has always bothered me and probably any cannabis user. I began reading as much as I could about it, and there was much about how pot somehow takes away your motivation. Sure, I’ve engaged in my share of couch lock after consuming some cannabis, but most often after smoking a joint, I’m cleaning the house, weeding the yard, or working, so I began to question the literature. It was a lie then, and it’s a lie now. But like the old trope about cannabis being a gateway to more dangerous drugs which has been debunked time and again these lazy stoner images, in films and television and commercials, endure.
RUNNING ON FUMES
Bryan and her colleagues created an online survey about cannabis use and health behavior and posted it in places where users would find it in California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, where adult-use cannabis is legal. The 620 respondents’ mean age was 37, with 54 percent males and 46 percent females.
They were asked about their use of cannabis in relation to health. Almost 500, or about 81 percent, said they use cannabis before or after exercise. Slightly more said they used it after than before, but the report notes that “most cannabis users who use cannabis concurrent with exercise report doing so both before and after exercise.”
Why? Slightly more than half said it helped motivate them to get physical, more than 70 percent said it increased the pleasure of exercise, and almost 80 percent said it helped them recuperate afterwards. “When we asked what it does for them, most said it enhanced their motivation to work out and helped them recover from exercise,” Bryan says. “Less than 40 percent say it helped their performance.”
This corresponds to what ultra-endurance runner Avery Collins told me a couple years ago. He uses cannabis to control inflammation after a workout, but never during a race to improve his performance. “The starting point is recovery,” he said. “Whether eating an edible, using a topical, or smoking a bowl, it just slows me down back to normal, real life.”
The study’s admitted limitations include that respondents were not asked what strain or type of cannabis was used or how it was ingested, and the respondents were in legal states, all of which rank high in citizen exercise numbers anyway. “I wish we knew this many people were going to answer the way they did,” Bryan says. “We know generally what they use because they’re users. But we have no idea what kinds.”
That people use cannabis when they exercise shouldn’t be that much of a surprise. TV newscasters reporting the story seemed dumbfounded. Perhaps they have fallen for the stereotype, or maybe they fell asleep or had a bad time the couple of times they tried it.
Are there people who probably shouldn’t use cannabis? Of course. Which is one reason regulations include education programs. A person who already struggles with motivation might not find cannabis helpful, and there’s a lot of marketing out there pushing the stoner image. People who gravitate to and stay with cannabis as part of their lives know better. And if we want to sit on the couch and vegetate every now and then, who cares?
MOVING ON UP
As I write this, the dust is just settling over the fact that Denver voters narrowly approved the decriminalization of psychedelic mushrooms. Which means that if you want to exercise while eating shrooms, you won’t be arrested for it.
In the larger scale of things, this might seem like such a big deal. It in no way legalizes mushrooms, and it only applies to local police priorities. But a little hindsight reminds us that cannabis decriminalization preceded legalization and there are still many states that haven’t even decriminalized and it wasn’t until people began realizing that people shouldn’t be arrested or imprisoned for using a plant that states began to seriously consider making it legal.
In some ways, you can’t really compare the two. Psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, is much different than cannabis. A majority of Americans admit to trying cannabis, while only about one in 10 say they’re taken mushrooms. Denver police rarely arrest anyone for possessing them. Psilocybin is not an addictive substance, and you can’t overdose. As Michael Pollan noted recently in the New York Times, it shows real promise in treating illnesses, but nothing at this point is definitive and more research is needed (where have we heard that before?) before we jump to conclusions.
The Denver vote to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms brings the issue further into the open. The concept that psilocybin can be used in therapeutic ways is hardly novel. It has been used for centuries in religious and spiritual ceremonies, and was being seriously studied until it was swept into the War on Drugs and listed as Schedule I by the United Nations and the US, considered to have a high potential for abuse and not recognized for medical use, where it remains today.
Which is why this vote is important. It cracks open the door, hopefully beyond the Denver border, for honest conversation on all sides of the issue. Let’s not screw it up this time.