Many gym-goers want to know if using marijuana can interfere with their gains or negatively impact their progress.
However, the controversial ban of American sprinter, Sha’Carri Richardson, from the 2021 Tokyo Olympics due to a positive marijuana test also ignited a global debate about whether weed can be performance-enhancing.
In this episode, we take a deep dive into the scientific research surrounding marijuana and its potential impacts on athletic performance, muscle growth, strength, and endurance.
We’ll discuss what marijuana is and evaluate its potential benefits and drawbacks in the context of athletic performance and bodybuilding.
Whether you’re an athlete, fitness enthusiast, or someone interested in the science of fitness, this episode will provide you with evidence-based insights into the complex relationship between marijuana and fitness.
0:00 – Please leave a review of the show wherever you listen to podcasts and make sure to subscribe!
1:27 – What type of performance effects does marijuana cause?
3:59 – How does marijuana affect strength?
6:58 – Can marijuana help improve muscle growth?
9:20 – Try Whey+ risk-free today! Go to buylegion.com/whey and use coupon code MUSCLE to save 20% or get double reward points!
11:50 – Can marijuana reduce pain?
15:38 – How does marijuana help anxiety?
Mentioned on the Show:
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Hello there and welcome to yet another episode of Muscle for Life. I am Mike Matthews. Thank you for joining me today to learn about marijuana, and I wanted to record this episode to answer some questions that I often get, like is marijuana performance in enhancing? Some people ask that because in 2021 there was, uh, an American sprinter.
Named Shari Richardson, I believe I’m pronouncing her name correctly. And she was banned from the Tokyo Olympics after she tested positive for marijuana. And that then raised the question of why exactly is it a performance enhancing drug? And many other people have asked me about marijuana and gains.
Does it interfere with strength? Does it interfere with muscle growth? And then there are questions around health, particularly anxiety, recovery, pain, and so those are some of the things that I’m going to be addressing in today’s episode. All right. Normally I would start a discussion like this with a definition of terms, but I, I think, you know what, marijuana is dried, leaves, flowers, stems seeds of the cannabis plant, and it is the most widely used illicit drug on the planet.
It’s estimated that 188 million adults worldwide used marijuana in 2017, and that’s just under 4% of the. Global adult population. So let’s move on from that to the meat of today’s episode. Let’s start with performance effects. How does marijuana affect aerobic performance or endurance performance, cardiovascular performance?
Let’s start there. In a review that was conducted by scientists at St. Vincent’s Hospital, medical School researchers analyzed the results of 15 studies, and what they found is that marijuana had no positive effects on aerobic performance. Specifically, the researchers found that smoking marijuana hastens.
Fatigue. It increases perceived exertion and it decreases work capacity, which is the amount of exercise that you’re able to complete in one session. It also can make you feel dizzy, which of course can make it harder to complete a workout. There was another review conducted by scientists at the University of Toronto that looked at four studies on marijuana’s effects on aerobic performance, and found that.
Two of the studies showed that marijuana had no effect, and then two of the studies showed that it negatively impacted aerobic performance. And then to quote, one final umbrella review it’s called, which is a review of reviews, quote, cannabis consumption has an ergo litic effect on exercise performance, and therefore does not act as a sports performance enhancing agent as raised by popular.
Beliefs. And ergo litic, by the way, means impairing exercise capacity or athletic performance. So drugs that enhance those things are ergogenic. Drugs that impair them are ergo litic. And so continuing the quote, thus, Cannabis consumption prior to exercise should be avoided in order to maximize performance in sports.
So it’s pretty clear to me that the weight of the evidence shows that marijuana is not going to help you perform better in endurance exercise, in aerobic exercise, in sports, for example, there’s also research that shows that long-term marijuana use can severely, well, I should say marijuana smoking in particular, can severely impair respiratory health.
And that doesn’t mean that it will stymie your aerobic performance, but it is probably not going to help if your lungs are not working as well as they could. So if you play sports or do any sort of in endurance exercise in any quote unquote serious capacity or competitive capacity, marijuana is almost certainly not going to help you.
You will almost certainly perform better. Without it. Now, what about strength though? How does marijuana affect strength? Well, only two studies have investigated the effect of marijuana use on strength, and one found that it was unaffected by marijuana use while the other reported that weakness was clearly demonstrated after using marijuana.
Although there. Aren’t many more details that were shared, and both studies only measured grip strength and neither used athletes as participants. So it’s not clear if those results would apply to weightlifters or bodybuilders. More serious weightlifters. Right, and while it’s purely speculative, some researchers believe that marijuana may.
Increase strength through something called bronchodilation, which is relaxing the muscles in the lungs and opening up the airways. And the reason why some researchers are speculating this is studies show that beta two agonist drugs, which cause bronchodilation, Can improve strength and sprint performance and power in non asthmatic people.
And since short-term marijuana use is associated with bronchodilation, theoretically it could have a similar effect to other beta two agonists. But I will say that has not been proven in research currently is just a hypothesis. And I should also mention that there is a credible counter argument to that, which is, For strength to be effectively employed in any sort of sporting context, even in weightlifting, in the case of more technically demanding compound exercises, like even a back squat or a deadlift or an overhead press, that strength needs to be focused and it needs to be precise.
You can be very strong. You can have a lot of raw strength potential. Strength, but you can fail to express that strength effectively if you have trouble concentrating, if you can’t coordinate your body properly to use good technique. And I mention that because research shows that using marijuana can hinder hand eye coordination.
It can hinder focus. It can hinder decision making, and those things are going to make it harder to effectively express strength. In the gym and certainly in more complex activities like strength dominant sports. So the weight of the evidence here isn’t as clear as in the case of aerobic performance, mostly because we don’t have much research on marijuana and strength.
But if I had to. Bet some money and then look into the crystal ball to see what the determination will be at some point in the future when there is more research, I’m gonna guess that marijuana does not have any consistent, reliable strength enhancing effects, and it’s probably more likely to decrease.
Strength, or at least the ability to apply that strength effectively. A best case scenario is maybe a neutral effect, neither enhancing nor impairing. Okay, let’s move on now to marijuana and muscle growth. A hot topic, parentally. Hot topic. Unfortunately, there are no studies that I know of that have looked at the effects of marijuana on muscle growth, so it’s not.
Possible to draw any firm evidence-based conclusions about how it can affect your gains. And even speculating is difficult because if we look at relevant research, there are a lot of conflicting findings. So for example, On one hand, you have studies that show how marijuana can affect anabolic hormones, particularly how T H C can lower testosterone in rats and monkeys.
But then on the other hand, human trials are more of a mixed bag. You have some studies that have. Shown that th h c can lower testosterone and growth hormone levels in humans. And then you have other studies finding that it has no effect on these hormones. And there are various reasons why that could be.
Why. Some studies are showing that it impairs these hormones and other studies are showing that it doesn’t impair these hormones, individual factors, lifestyle diets, genetics. So it’s basically impossible at this point to predict how marijuana can affect. Your hormones, you would have to conduct an N one experiment and just see what happens.
And then in addition to the hormonal component of muscle building, you’d have to consider what we talked about regarding strength and how marijuana might impact negatively impact your strength or your ability to use that strength effectively and thereby negatively impact your workout performance. And of course, If marijuana impairs your ability to train effectively, then it almost certainly is going to impair your ability to build muscle effectively, even if it’s indirectly.
But if your workout performance is impaired by, let’s just, let’s just just sign an arbitrary number by 20% on, on average, an average workout because of your marijuana use is 20% less effective than it could be or than it would be if you were not using marijuana. Well, if you play that out over time, That is going to mean gaining less muscle and strength.
And so then if you want to maximize muscle and strength gain, if you want to maximize workout performance, I think it is best to steer clear of marijuana. One of the easiest ways to increase muscle and strength gain is to eat enough protein and to eat enough high quality protein. Now you can do that with food, of course, you can get all of the protein you need from food, but many people supplement with whey protein because it is convenient and it’s tasty, and that makes it easier to just eat enough protein, and it’s also rich in essential amino acids, which are crucial.
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Okay, now let’s talk about marijuana and pain. Let’s start with what I think is a little interesting aside, and that is that athletes have been using cannabis to relieve pain for a very long time, for thousands of years. Actually, it was one of the ingredients in the Fusco Olympian Co in script or the Olympic Victor’s dark ointment that was used at the classic Olympics, and more recently Western.
Researchers conducted a large meta-analysis. This was done by scientists at the University of Bristol, and they looked at 79 studies that encompassed 6,462 participants, and they found evidence that marijuana can indeed treat pain and spasticity, muscle spasms, and therefore marijuana can. Indirectly boost athletic performance by helping athletes deal with aches and pains that accompany their usually rather rigorous training routines.
And so again, if pain is impairing performance and if marijuana can help reduce pain, that of course then allows for better performance. Research also shows that smoking marijuana can increase pain tolerance, which of course then can. Give athletes a competitive edge by allowing them to train and compete through pain that might otherwise reduce their performance or even sideline them.
Now, that does not necessarily mean that I generally recommend people use marijuana to. Deal with pain. There are many other things that you can do, and I would say you should do to try to get at the root of the pain rather than just treat it as a symptom. And that is especially true for everyday gym goers who are dealing with.
Everyday Jim goer pains, which often are the result of either improper training or I guess you could just say bad luck. So in the case of improper training, of course, doing many different exercises, not just heavy compound exercises, but many different exercises with improper form, with bad technique. And then if you add heavy weights on top of that, that is an easy way to get hurt.
And before you. Get hurt before you sustain an acute injury. Often there are some pains that you start to notice, and then what some people do is train through the pain and then the pain gets worse, and then they start using drugs to dule the pain. Pain killers, marijuana, whatever, and they continue to make the same training.
Mistakes continue to aggravate what is now turning into an acute injury until it is a very painful acute injury that forces them to stop. Continually aggravating it. And so then in that case, which is very common, I’ve made that mistake myself over the years, just being stubborn and not wanting to change my programming, to work around what is maybe just a repetitive stress injury, which you can do things to avoid.
Use proper technique, for example, follow a well programmed workout routine, get enough sleep, eat well, blah, blah, blah. But if you train rather intensely for long enough, You are going to run into some repetitive stress injuries, which are those nagging aches and pains that you can push through, but don’t quite feel right.
And if you do keep training through them, they get progressively worse over time, and so that is inevitably going to happen to you. It happens to me probably once every six months. There’s something that just gets a little bit aggravated and I have to change something in my training to let it. Recover and that is what you have to do.
Do not train through pain. Now I’m not talking about muscle soreness. You can train through muscle soreness. I’m talking about pain. Ouch. Especially pain in your joints. All right, let’s move on to marijuana and anxiety. Studies show that it can indeed lower anxiety and it also appears to be able to help some athletes reach a, a flow state and be more.
Creative in their expression of their athletic abilities. There’s also research that it can suppress, or I guess you could say scrub fear memories. So athletes are less afraid of what might go wrong and are more likely to perform without fear of failure. And because of those effects, it’s very possible that marijuana can improve sleep quality, which then would further improve recovery and.
Improve feelings of wellbeing and directly improve performance. That said, those potential benefits and really all of the potential benefits that I’ve mentioned in today’s episode have to be weighed against the potential downsides as well. People who who are enthusiastic about marijuana will often point to research showing that marijuana is safer than alcohol for treating pain or anxiety or depression, or achieving other benefits and.
I would agree with that. I think that is a, a fair interpretation of the weight of the evidence, but I think it’s also a stretch to refer to marijuana as safe. For example, studies show that regular long-term use of marijuana is associated with a number of. Non-op optimum conditions like a number of negative changes in the brain, including white and gray matter volume, blood flow in the brain.
Marijuana also appears to disrupt important brain chemicals like glutamate, dopamine, and others. And those things taken collectively are associated with negative changes in learning. Attention, memory, overall brain act. Activity that is also then associated with mental health related issues, like earlier onset of psychosis, depression, anxiety, and if all that is not enough to discourage you from using marijuana regularly.
Studies also show that regular long-term marijuana use is associated with an increased risk of stroke, of atrial fibrillation, which is irregular heartbeat, respiratory complications, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, testicular cancer, and research shows that people who use. Use marijuana regularly are also at an increased risk of tobacco and nicotine dependence and smoking cigarettes is one of the worst things that you can do for your health.
Drinking too much alcohol, smoking cigarettes, two of the absolute worst things. You can do if you want to live a long, healthy life. So to summarize, weed is not going to kill your gains. It is not going to cause you to lose muscle. It is not going to give you the testosterone levels of a prepubescent girl, although it may reduce your testosterone levels significantly.
However, it almost certainly will impair your aerobic performance. So that would be. Basically any and all sports, it very likely will impair your strength training to some degree, and thereby it can reduce the effectiveness of that strength training over time. And it comes with considerable health risks if you use it.
Regularly and if you use it over the long term. And so my position on marijuana in general is more or less in line with my position on many drugs. Stay away from it if you can. If you are dealing with pain or anxiety or other issues that we can help with, try other options. Try lifestyle interventions, diet interventions, exercise interventions, supplement interventions.
Interpersonal interventions, psychological interventions, I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. And finally, if you are resolved to continue using marijuana for whatever reason, at least understand the risks. Maybe look into ways to mitigate those risks and understand that people who claim that there are no serious risks or that marijuana is safe or entirely safe, those people are either ignorant or lying.
Well, I hope you liked this episode. I hope you found it helpful, and if you did subscribe to the show because it makes sure that you don’t miss new episodes. And it also helps me because it increases the rankings of the show a little bit, which of course then makes it a little bit more easily found by other people who may like it just as much as you.
And if you didn’t like something about this episode or about the show in general, or if you have. Ideas or suggestions or just feedback to share. Shoot me an email, mike muscle for life.com, muscle f o r life.com and let me know what I could do better or just, uh, what your thoughts are about maybe what you’d like to see me do in the future.
I read everything. My, myself, I’m always looking for new ideas and constructive feedback. So thanks again for listening to this episode, and I hope to hear from you soon.