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When U.S. Olympian and Ironman champion Joanne Zeiger recovered from a devastating bike accident in 2009, which caused severe structural and nerve damage, she spent five years taking a variety of opioid medications to help ease the pain coursing through her body. But those narcotics didn’t work.

“So I turned to cannabis to get relief,” the Colorado resident says in an interview. “The biggest thing it does is help me sleep, which those other drugs never did.”

Zeiger isn’t the only runner who advocates for using cannabis. While scientific and survey evidence is scarce, anecdotal evidence is replete across the web, with countless blog posts and articles explaining how running enthusiasts have turned to cannabis before they exercise.

A 2016 study1 discovered that cannabis was the second-most used drug among athletes, though not as a performance enhancer, but recreationally.  

Dr. Johannes Fuss of the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf has authored a study about “the neurobiological mechanisms that mediate the emotional benefits after acute exercise, often termed as a runner’s high,” as The Guardian wrote2. This research revealed that the endocannabinoid system is central in the emotional aspects of running.

“Some researchers argue that long distance running might have evolved in our ancestors when forests were replaced by open savannas in Africa,” Fuss tells reporters. “This land conversion allowed the chasing of prey by endurance running. Reduced sensation of pain and less anxiety through long-distance running would have been a benefit for running hunters.”

Josiah Hesse, a 36-year-old Denver-based journalist, says he first got interested in blending cannabis with exercise when he spotted Arnold Schwarzenegger smoking a joint in his 1977 documentary Pumping Iron. Around seven years ago, Hesse began to use cannabis before going on a run because he felt “this amazing euphoric catharsis while running on cannabis.”

Hesse only eats edibles before a run and ensures he times the ingestion so the high doesn’t kick in too early or late.  Getting buzzed definitely motivates him for a run, in the first place. “I need things like cannabis and music to get me into a headspace to do this kind of exercise,” he notes.

He advises runners looking to try cannabis before a session to follow Colorado’s cannabis PSA: “Start low, go slow,” Hesse says. “And go on a high run on familiar territory. I once ran along a trail and got lost because I wasn’t paying attention while high.”

As for more research into athletic use of cannabis, Zeiger is actively trying to impact that space. She’s the lead investigator of a new survey3 analyzing how athletes around the world use cannabis and to examine its effect on pain and well-being. “Cannabis can be a potent medicine and I want to allow that research to come to light so there’s an opportunity to better understand its potential benefits,” says Zeiger.

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27629700
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/may/02/marijuana-athlete-running-performance-enhancing-drug
  3. https://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/4539059/The-Athlete-PEACE-Survey

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