The Stoner As The Gym Rat


When we think of marijuana users, many people harbor preconceptions about their lives and lifestyles. The image that comes up for many of us, often cobbled together from watching The Dude in the movie “The Big Lebowski” or the misadventures of Harold and Kumar, is of the laid-back stoner who dreamily takes yet another hit on the bong. “The usual stereotype is of someone lying on his couch for hours, blissed out and eating Doritos,” says Angela Bryan, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado Boulder, who oversaw the new study. Her lab studies health behavior and the actions and decisions that tend to promote or reduce people’s health. She and her colleagues realized that legalization of recreational cannabis use, which had occurred or was about to in several states, would most likely increase usage. But current government regulations restrict research with the drug, which remains illegal at the federal level. As a result, little has been known about the possible effects of regular cannabis use on behaviors that can affect health, including exercise. “If using cannabis encourages people to be sedentary and overeat, that obviously would be a concern,” Dr. Bryan says. But she and her colleagues had no idea whether or not that scenario was true. They sought to find out with their new study, which was published last month in Frontiers in Public Health. For the study, the questionnaire probed how often people exercised or used cannabis and whether they combined the two, using the drug in some form within an hour before or four hours after a workout. It also asked if people felt that using marijuana made their workout more pleasurable, upped or reduced their desire to work out, and possibly hastened their recovery afterward. Eventually, they wound up with responses from more than 600 men and women who used cannabis, most of whom said they also exercised at least sometimes. It turned out that almost 82 percent of them said that they used cannabis around the time of their workouts. And about 70 percent of them reported that using marijuana increased their enjoyment of workouts, while nearly 80 percent felt it enhanced their recovery, and more than half were convinced it motivated them to be physically active. These findings should not be seen an endorsement of marijuana as an adjunct to exercise, Dr. Bryan says. But they do suggest that some of our entrenched ideas about cannabis and lifestyle may be outdated.The new study’s results are severely limited, though, by being self-assessments from self-selected volunteers, she adds. The survey also tells us nothing about how cannabis affects people during exercise, including whether it increases injuries, risk-taking or, as some anecdotal evidence indicates, the tendency to giggle and grow easily distracted by the puffiness of clouds while hiking under the influence.

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