I go to the gym almost every day—not because I’m training for a marathon or trying to lose weight but simply because I’m way more productive on days I work out. Exercise makes it easier for me to stay focused and think creatively. I love the feel-good endorphins, which, in turn, help me be a nicer, happier person. Plus, being in shape makes me feel great. The secret to my workout success? Marijuana.
I know, I know, you’re probably skeptical, but hear me out.
Before I started using marijuana for exercise, my relationship with the gym was complicated. From a very young age, I noticed my anxiety had a tendency to make me a little obsessive about exercising. I fixated on the numbers on the machines and measuring my process in very quantitative ways. I liked working out, but it wasn't exactly a positive experience for me.
I smoked weed for the first time at the end of my senior year of high school. I stayed over at a friend's house and had a few hours to kill before going home, so I went to the gym. It was the best workout of my life. When you exercise, studies show that THC (or tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical compound in cannabis responsible for the high) stored in fat cells is released and you can experience a high again. Exercise increases plasma THC concentrations in regular cannabis users. Wong A, Montebello ME, Norberg MM. Drug and alcohol dependence, 2013, Aug.;133(2):1879-0046. Can physical exercise or food deprivation cause release of fat-stored cannabinoids? Westin AA, Mjønes G, Burchardt O. Basic & clinical pharmacology & toxicology, 2014, Apr.;115(5):1742-7843. For me, exercise went from something I obsessed over to something that felt euphoric. I didn’t even look at the numbers on the elliptical once; I was just experiencing the music and moving.
For me, cannabis makes working out easier, and I’m not alone. There’s a growing trend of Americans who use legal marijuana products to aid in exercise and recovery. And this goes beyond a small group of athletes getting high. A first-of-its-kind cannabis gym, Power Plant Fitness, recently opened in San Francisco, and there are weed-infused yoga classes popping up around the country in marijuana-legal states, encouraging yogis to puff a vape pen in between chaturangas.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a ton of scientific research on the subject. The United States’s Schedule I classification of cannabis makes peer-reviewed studies pretty difficult to perform.
But in my experience, using a sativa strain of cannabis gives me a boost of energy to work out. Cannabis helps me focus and give my workout my undivided attention. Rather than stressing about what I have to do later in the day or counting down the seconds until the set is complete, I can clear my head and just live in the moment. I move my body and mindfully enjoy the way it feels—kind of like the way you dance to the beat of music without thinking about it.
And it may not be all in my head. A recent study linked the body’s own natural endocannabinoid system to the sensation of “runner’s high.” Meaning, the euphoric feeling endurance athletes report may not be caused by endorphins but rather is a result of the body’s own natural form of THC. Although more research is needed, I find that weed and exercise enhance one another to increase my own euphoric sensation, possibly because using the plant also increases the body’s pain threshold.
I also find cannabis useful when I get home from the gym for post-workout recovery. When I’m really sore after pushing myself, massaging my muscles with cannabis-infused body cream or salve eases the pain. That’s because studies show that cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD, reduce inflammation and provide pain relief when they bind to endocannabinoid receptors in the skin. Most topical products are also nonpsychoactive, meaning they won’t give you a head high, so they’re gaining popularity outside the cannabis community.
I get it—this isn’t for everyone. For one, recreational marijuana is still illegal in most states. It's been connected to impaired motor function, so there’s a risk users could wipe out on the treadmill or other equipment (it’s also inadvisable to drive to or from the gym after consuming). And for some, especially those with exercise addiction problems, the benefits of weed could cause users to go overboard or make dangerous decisions when performing an extreme sport like skiing. Getting high before working out is especially dangerous for those with preexisting heart conditions, as marijuana use has been linked to elevated heart rate, so one could possibly increase the risk of heart attack or stroke. Marijuana Use and Cardiovascular Disease. Franz CA, Frishman WH. Cardiology in review, 2017, Mar.;24(4):1538-4683.
But this is what works for me. I’m used to people looking at me like I’m crazy when I mention mixing marijuana and exercise, but in combination with practicing meditation and healthy eating, cannabis and exercise are important parts of my lifestyle. Besides, I’m not saying this will work for everyone, but for me, weed was the one thing that finally helped me enjoy exercise, making me happier, fit, and more successful than ever.