Cannabis and Runners: A Different Kind of High

The origin story of the modern marathon ends in death: Pheidippides, a Greek military day-long runner, ran an ultramarathon of about 300 miles from Athens to Sparta and back, then an additional 25 miles to the Acropolis to announce Greek victory against the Persians.  Upon the delivery of this message, he collapsed and died from exhaustion.

Needless to say, long-distance running is no joke

Running for long periods of time can cause joint pain, a loss of bone density, chronic inflammation, and heart damage.  Competitive runners may experience anxiety induced insomnia the night before a race and restlessness and pain once a race is over. In both cases, the athlete needs to rest more than anything else but is prevented from doing so by the sport itself.

More Runners Turn to Cannabis

It’s no wonder that runners are turning to cannabis to manage these symptoms without giving up the exercise they love.  Because of the way it interacts with the human endocannabinoid system, cannabis is an effective treatment for inflammation, insomnia, pain, and anxiety—all conditions that long distance runners may face.  Of course, pot is not the only remedy for these ailments.  There’s always ibuprofen, but that drug is demanding on the liver.  And the stronger pain relief provided by opioids is highly addictive and can be lethal if overdosed.  Jeff Sperber, an ultra-marathon runner from Los Angeles, said it best in an interview with Runner’s World:

“I can’t do that stuff (prescription drugs) and function as a normal human being.  As a weed smoker, I can function.”

Cannabis is more than just a way to treat adverse conditions. When consumed at the right time and in the right way, cannabis can actually enhance exercise performance and outcomes.  Weed can increase focus, reduce anxiety, and even increase metabolism.

The Roadblocks of Cannabis for Runners

Cannabis remains federally illegal and is only legal at the state level in 29 states plus the District of Columbia.  Obviously, if you don’t live in one of those legalized states, consuming it is a risk. Even if you do live in a cannabis and runnerslegalized state, the federal government still has the authority to prosecute you for a cannabis related offense. Additionally, cannabis is a banned substance on the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the International Association of Athletics Federations’ lists.

Cannabis’ most notorious side effect, anxiety, and paranoia (and in extreme situations, panic attacks) is definitely not something a runner wants to experience mid race.  One of the most frustrating things about this side effect is that it isn’t the most predictable response.  Ironically, cannabis is also known for its relaxing effect. A runner might ingest cannabis in order to calm down before a race and end up having a panic attack; not the best situation. However, athletes can avoid this by consuming low THC, high CBD strains, especially if they are prone to anxiety.

There are heart and lung health concerns associated with cannabis use while running as well.  While the risks are minimal for young athletes, anyone with a family history of coronary heart disease should seriously consider the likelihood of an increased heart rate due to cannabis consumption.  The risk of pulmonary irritation is greatly reduced if the consumer eats or vaporizes cannabis rather than smoking it.

When Should Runners Consume Cannabis?

While cannabis is a great way to calm down the night before the race and recover upon its completion, it isn’t necessarily the best idea to consume it immediately before or during the race. Cannabis is a sedative and may make it difficult for runners to focus on heart rate, breathing, pace, coordination, and all aspects that it takes to run a good race.  Now, not everyone agrees on this, especially since there isn’t much data to support it, partially because, given its federal status as a Schedule I drug, cannabis isn’t the easiest substance to research for its medicinal attributes let alone its potential performance enhancing or detracting effects on athletes.  Moreover, some runners prefer to consume cannabis immediately before to the race so that they can relax and enjoy each moment rather than stress about how many more miles they have yet to traverse.

Regardless of when the cannabis is consumed, it seems like more and more runners agree that the identities of stoner and runner are not mutually exclusive.

The Marijuana Marathon Man uses Twitter to broadcast that message with tweets saying things like, “Who says all #StonersAreLazy?” accompanied with pictures of his accolades, races, trails, and, of course, bud.  In addition to showing his own identity as a speedy stoner, he uses his platform to proliferate information about pot in politics, medicine, and culture. With 4,862 followers, someone is listening to the message that athletics and cannabis can go well together, and he’s not the only one making this PSA.

Team Hope through Cannabis, Texas NORML’s fitness and athletics club, provides a community for competitive and casual athletes to come together and share their love of cannabis while breaking down stereotypes of cannabis consumers as lazy and unhealthy.  Members participate in charity walks and races around Austin, Texas, so they benefit their community as well.

Through a series of active lifestyle events, the Four-Twenty Games is another organization that strives to “show that cannabis users are NOT cannabis and runnerslazy, unmotivated or ‘stoners’ and to destigmatize the millions who use cannabis in a healthy and responsible lifestyle.”  Each event includes a 4.20 mile fun run, a concert, a beer tasting garden from Lagunitas Brewery, and cannabis education.  While the purpose of the games is to uplift cannabis, the organization makes it clear that it is not a smoke out event and encourages participants to consume cannabis responsibly and discreetly.

If you are a runner interested in supplementing your training with cannabis, check out these strains:

Strains For Sleep the Night Before or After a Race

Sleep is an essential part of preparing for and recovering from a race.  However, the excitement before a race and the soreness afterward might keep runners wide-eyed and anxious.

Hindu Kush–  This 100% indica landrace strain is a great way to relax the body and mind and get a good night’s sleep.

Ogre Kush– Primarily an indica, this strain sedates the body while providing a euphoric high. It is a helpful way to alleviate pain and promote sleep.

Lavender– This indica dominant hybrid is both a powerful sedative and pain reliever which makes it a great option for recovery night.

Strains for Energy Right Before or During a Race

While the effects of running while high are not totally scientifically understood, some runners swear by it.  Strains with high levels of the THCV, a cannabinoid known for its energizing and anxiety curbing properties, are good options for those who want their runner’s high to go a little higher.

Durban Poison– 100% sativa, this strain is known for its high energy effect. It promotes creativity and focus.  Don’t have too much because it can also cause paranoia.

Harlequin– This sativa-dominant strain is high in CBD, making it a great source of energizing pain relief with a low risk of a panic attack.

Green Crack– Given its name, it should be no surprise that this sativa-dominant strain is known for its intense energizing effect.

Dianna Benjamin

About the author: Dianna Benjamin is a freelance writer, teacher, wife, and mom horrified and fascinated by social justice and our inability--yet constant pursuit--to get it right.