High Jump

Peer-reviewed studies finally bust the ‘lazy-stoner’ stereotype

The “stoner” stereotype might be best represented by a guy sitting in front of a TV, watching Warner Bros. cartoons while surrounded by Yoo-Hoo empties and crumpled Funyuns bags.

And being an idle, vacant slob is—occasionally—one perfectly valid mode of being stoned. It’s just another version of vegging out, which we all do. But there are plenty of others, including, perhaps counter-intuitively, the athletic mode. For many people, cannabis use and exercise go hand-in-hand.

Critics and moviegoers had many problems with the 1999 movie American Beauty, and for good reason. In it, Kevin Spacey plays a creep—huh?—who falls in love with his teenage daughter’s friend, undergoes a midlife crisis and starts lifting weights and smoking weed—often at the same time. Some critics thought that last bit unlikely, given the Yoo-Hoo-and-Funyuns stereotype. But the testimony of many athletes, and a growing pile of scientific studies, show that cannabis use and exercise are far more compatible than many people seem to think.

Another movie, 1979’s North Dallas Forty, sheds even more light on the issue and highlights the disconnect between conventional wisdom and what pot-using athletes have always known. In the film, Nick Nolte plays an aging pro-football player who smokes weed, in part to deal with his many aches and pains. For this, he is ultimately drummed out of the league, even though the team doctor, under orders, had pumped him full of powerful, dangerous painkillers so he could keep playing.

But we have entered a more enlightened era. Now, athletes are talking openly about their cannabis use, and many have endorsed products or started their own companies. They often choose CBD products, which don’t offer a high, but can effectively for various ailments, including aches and pains.

Ex-NFLer Ricky Williams, Olympic gold-medalist swimmer Amy Van Dyken and 2006 Tour De France–winner Floyd Landis are, like dozens of other top athletes, involved in the cannabis industry in some way. Jim McAlpine, a sports entrepreneur who founded the 420 Games, claims he swam the mile-and-a-half across the San Francisco Bay—from the city to Alcatraz—after eating a cannabis-infused treat.

Athletic endorsement doesn’t mean much by itself, of course. Ex-NFL tackle Kyle Turley, a longtime advocate of medical pot, created a world of pain for himself and his CBD company last year when he repeatedly claimed that CBD could cure or prevent Covid-19.

But the evidence is piling up that cannabis can not only be a real aid in exercise, but also, contrary to the stereotypes, a motivator to get people moving. Last month, the Royal Society of Public Health in London released the results of a global survey of data, concluding that cannabis use is “associated with higher levels of physical activity.” It also found cannabis-using men—but not women—watch considerably more TV than average, proving that some stereotypes exist for a reason.

Another recent study, by Florida International University’s psychology department, found a similar correlation among adolescents: those who use cannabis are more likely to exercise regularly than those who don’t.

When one considers the science of how cannabis works on the body, it’s not that surprising to learn weed and exercise go together. One leading theory is that the two mesh well because the endocannabinoid system—the receptors that are triggered by cannabis—is involved in the production of endorphins, the hormones that cause a “runner’s high.”

Athletes and exercisers also seem to use weed both as an adjunct to their workouts and as a source of relief for the aches and pains that beset them.
A study by the University of Colorado Boulder found that the 600 cannabis users researchers surveyed exercised an average of 43 minutes more per week than non-cannabis users. More than half reported that cannabis made them more motivated to exercise, and more than three-quarters said it helped them recover from workouts.

“There is a stereotype that cannabis use leads people to be lazy and couch-locked and not physically active,” Angela Bryan, a lead researcher for the study and a professor at Institute for Cognitive Science, said in a statement. “But these data suggest that this is not the case.”

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