Garnet Ave, Cass St, and Loring St create a triangle in Pacific Beach. This triangle is about 90% of my life. I drive to work on Garnet, Cass St is the road connecting the two gyms, and then I head home on Loring. I do not think there has been a day since I moved to San Diego, five years ago, that I have not completed this triangle at least once. Most of the scenery hasn’t changed over the years. One thing that has changed is the number of medical marijuana dispensaries. They pop up, go out of business, and then a month later they are right back in the same spot with a new name. I find it interesting that I live in a place progressive enough to challenge the status quo. We may not be Colorado or Washington, but one day, we will follow in their footsteps. It is only a matter of time and taxes.
I run two gyms and coach people on how to live stronger, healthier, and more empowering lives. I do not just coach random people. The athletes that come through my life place an extremely high premium on their health. I have a one-on-one meeting with every athlete who walks through the doors. CrossFit PB is a template that is designed to be skewed for every single athlete to reach their individual goals. My goal, as coach, is to design an individualized plan for clients. We do this by applying the CrossFit PB program to their lives, not their lives to our program. Because of the depth of this conversation, I am often asked a wide array of personal questions relating to people’s training. One question growing in popularity is how marijuana fits into a training profile, and will it help or harm them in reaching their goals.
I have wanted to write this blog for a long time. The goal of this blog is to give an accurate representation of the pros and cons of smoking or ingesting marijuana. For the most part, I cannot tell you how to live. If you want to smoke weed, awesome. If you think someone is going to hell for getting high, that is your call. This blog has nothing to do with your personal opinion. It is here to give an accurate representation of the effects, both positive and negative, of marijuana on nutrition, training, and lifestyle, from a coaching perspective. As a disclaimer, CrossFit PB is in no way advocating the use of marijuana. We are providing direction to people who have questions on the plant and how its use relates to their goals. This is the real world. People have questions and it is our job to provide real life information on the benefits and drawbacks of the choices individuals make.
Cannabis is the most commonly used mind-altering drug in the world. The plant is grown naturally in the wild and is used recreationally as well as for herbal medication. The active ingredient in cannabis is THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). The higher the THC content, the more potent the bud, and the greater the effect will be on the individual consuming the plant. The bud that is most commonly discussed is the female plant. The male plant is most commonly referred to as hemp. Nutrition, fuel, and fabric are at the top of the list of hemp’s uses.
Marijuana has been around for thousands of years. In 1937, President Roosevelt was the first president to make the possession, use, and sale of the plant illegal. Advocates of marijuana argue that the plant, when used for medical purposes, relieves pain, decreases anxiety, relieves insomnia, and produces many other benefits widely accepted in the medical world. Critics would argue the plant causes anxiety, paranoia, and long term health risks. Despite the argument for or against the medical or recreational use of marijuana, federal law still deems the plant illegal. On a state level, California being one of them, the plant has been decriminalized for medical purposes. You are allowed to go to a doctor, describe your symptoms, and receive a medical marijuana prescription that allows you to purchase the product at a dispensary. This is not illegal, statewide, assuming the doctor who issued the prescription is in good standing and that the dispensary is in good standing with the state.
As with fitness and lifestyle, which I will cover, there is no one-size-fits-all to anyone’s nutrition. Yes, you should eat vegetables and lean meat. From there, everything gets fuzzy from the quality, quantity, and timing, down to whether gluten will or will not kill you. It is no secret that marijuana has some pretty significant side effects when it comes to the appetite. Most commonly referred to as “the munchies,” which affects many, but not all users, is a period where users may experience a heightened sense of appetite. “THC fits into receptors that are part of the brain’s natural endocannabinoid system, which helps to control emotions, memory, pain sensitivity and appetite. Our brains typically produce their own chemicals (called cannabinoids) that fit into these same receptors, so by mimicking their activity, THC can artificially alter the same factors in dramatic ways.” [HA1]
Nutritional needs are different for every person and it comes down to one question, “What is the goal?” If you have been prescribed marijuana to calm the effects of chemotherapy, smoke away and eat everything since a loss of appetite is one of the major side effects of cancer treatments. For competitive athletes, your goal is to get stronger, recover faster, and do it in a way that does not affect your training the following day. Many strength and fitness athletes are eating two to three pounds of food a day and training two to three times a day. It sounds ridiculous, but it is very difficult to keep up with the amount of food and the consistency of eating this way. Not only is it hard to eat and train this much in a day, but to continue to do this for multiple years in a row takes its toll. As with every training program, nutrition and training volume will vary based on the athletes’ goals and should be cycled throughout a training year. Some athletes I’ve coached have expressed concern over the nights they could not stand to look at another plate of beef, but they could smoke a bowl and 30 minutes later, their daily nutrition goals were met with flying colors. In this example, I do not find much of a problem with marijuana. They are still getting their proper nutrition, recovering, sleeping well, with very few negatives attached to the marijuana stimulus. These athletes are still able to show up the next day and give a full effort in their training.
If weight loss is your goal, I highly recommend not using marijuana at all. It is impossible to stop chemical reactions in your brain. You are going to get hungry and unless you have a great plan, you are going to eat a lot, and most likely it is not going to be good food. Depending upon where you are in your fitness journey, medical or recreational use of marijuana may not be a smart decision. Understanding the side effects of the plant and how you react should be at the forefront of your decision making process. Instead of the medical card being a prescription to less anxiety and better sleep, you may be compounding the problem by mowing through your pantry every night.
As a general rule, marijuana should never be consumed prior to going to the gym. There are some innate safety issues caused by consuming the product before lifting heavy weights, much less Olympic lifting. There is no research that states that marijuana aids performance in any way. There is a small amount of research that says marijuana, in small amounts, can increase performance by lowering anxiety. I think we can all agree that performance, and the effects of marijuana on the nervous system, serve no benefit.
Just because something does not benefit you, however, does not mean it is harming you. There is currently very little research on whether or not performance is affected over the long run. Yes, a very easy argument can be made that burning and inhaling smoke has to be harmful. This is a valid point but does not take in to account edibles, focuses on paper or the burning of the plant, and discounts the actual herb and THC itself. If ingested or applied to the skin, the side effects of the actual burning does not take place and bypasses what could possibly be the only harmful part of the use of the plant.
It should also be stated that nearly every single governing sport body considers marijuana to be illegal, including the Olympics, the NHL, the NFL, and even the CrossFit Games. The health benefits of the plant have created a debate in the NFL on whether they should take the plant out of their collective bargaining agreement. As a coach, it is important that athletes play by the rules. When athletes are in season they must abide by the rules laid out by their governing body. The majority of the drug policies are in place to protect the organizations and athletes against the use of anabolic steroids. Without much research, you can see there are very significant differences between synthetic testosterone and marijuana. As a coach, I will never advocate for athletes to use marijuana. There is no benefit to strength or capacity, however, there is also very little evidence that the use of the plant will hinder your growth as an athlete. In the end, as with everything, your actions should mirror your goals. There is no way marijuana can help your fitness. If you are willing to take the risk, this is a personal decision. Please, just do not come to the gym high.
When I discuss “lifestyle,” things can get a little crazy. It is nearly impossible to define a quality lifestyle because everyone has their own moral code and values. When meeting with clients, I define lifestyle as their general feelings on their actions and the feedback they receive from others. Deep down, criminals know they are doing the wrong thing, their feedback loop is terrible, and therefore their lifestyle probably needs some improvement. Individuals who work at non-profits have feedback loops filled with compassion; they are genuinely inspired, and feel great about their contribution. This person has a great lifestyle.
So when we discuss marijuana, and its contribution to one’s lifestyle, you have to look at the whole picture, not just the plant. On the negative side, there are a ton of burnt out people who contribute less than nothing to their community. If you wake up, get high, sit on the couch and eat food all day, your feedback loop is dreadful and you contribute nothing to the greater good. This would be one end of the spectrum in which you do not want to use marijuana.
For some individuals, marijuana allows for a greater contribution to those around them. I am friends with many people who have high stress jobs. These people love what they do, love the people around them, and find it very difficult to turn off the switch between working and relaxing. Some people are able to go home and have a glass of wine. Some people have a beer. Some people have a small hit off of a pipe and the entire world exhales at once. They compare it to that moment after you get through security at the airport. No matter what you are leaving at home, you cannot do anything about it and you can finally exhale, you are actually on vacation. Due to the lack of intoxicants, compared to alcohol, you are side effect free in the morning.
Lifestyle is such a broad topic that there is no real research on whether it enhances or harms one’s life. In fact, the extremes of each scenario are most likely equidistant from the median. There is nothing in the world that says you need to use marijuana. Nobody will ever force you to smoke weed. However, if this is the path you choose, recreationally or medically, it is important understand the extremes. The lack of research on how it affects individuals and what causes specific effects is still to be determined.
Please understand I am not advocating the use of marijuana. This is a part of our lives and the real education comes between your own ears. By coaching athletes, I have developed a base of experiences and research. No matter what the coach or the research says you make your own choices.