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The Real Runner’s High

Maureen Meehan

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Whether you’re an ultra-marathoner, an avid runner, or any other athlete for that matter, many scientists believe that pot is providing benefits on a number of levels.

The painkilling and nausea-reducing benefits of marijuana may make it especially beneficial for long-distance running and other endurance-based sports that often result in stomach cramps and intense joint and muscle pain. Marijuana also acts as a bronchodilator, increasing airflow to the lungs.

“We have cannabinoid receptors throughout our brains, and when the THC hits those receptors, it triggers a system that reduces anxiety,” said Stanford Medical School Professor Keith Humphreys, a psychiatry professor and former drug-control-policy advisor in the Obama administration.

Positive comparisons also emerged for bench pressing (not as sore afterward, which Humphreys says may be due to pot’s anti-inflammatory effect) and rigorous mountain biking.

“There’s good science that suggests cannabinoids block the physical input of pain,” said Dr. Lynn Webster, founder of the Lifetree Pain Clinic in Salt Lake City. For distance runners, nausea can ruin a race, preventing them from ingesting needed calories and nutrients.

“The person who is going to win an ultra [marathon] is someone who can manage their pain, not puke and stay calm,” said Jenn Shelton, one of the top female ultrarunners in the world today. “Pot does all three of those things.”

In a nod to the growing acceptance of marijuana as a recreational drug, the normally strict World Anti-Doping Agency in 2013 raised the allowable level of THC to an amount that would trigger positive results only in athletes consuming marijuana in competition. That essentially gives the green light to marijuana usage during training, not to mention as a stress reliever the night before a race. 

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