Why some athletes are turning to cannabis to help them train

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This coming October, I’ll be completing my third half marathon — fingers crossed. Considering that I could barely run one kilometer when I first started jogging six years ago, I am pretty proud of myself. However, I am also self-aware enough to know that this journey has solely been to push my body and boundaries, not break any long distance records or compete in the Olympics.

One thing that has always been a concern for me, pre- and post-race, is pain management. I am laden with a myriad of ailments — think: lower back issues, torn ligaments in my left foot and a broken big toe on the right, both of which never quite healed properly. And ever since I was a child, I have been wary of taking pain meds.

So when I started looking into cannabis, for curiosity and journalism sake, I quickly came upon stories of people consuming cannabis for training purposes when it came to sports.

“Cannabis can be helpful for sports both during activity and afterward,” Dr. Jordan Tishler told me recently over email. “Its primary role is that of a pain reliever, which can be helpful in both situations.” Dr. Tishler, a Harvard-trained physician and cannabis therapeutics specialist with over 23 years experience in the field, notes that one stoner-ism does ring true regarding marijuana — it’s not a performance enhancer, and it can affect reaction time, so choose wisely when consuming for sports. “However,” he adds, “for real-world exercise, the decrease in pain, and perhaps increase in focus, can be of greater benefit than any specific detriment.”

One fascinating aspect for me were the women who were using cannabis as a pain salve while pushing their bodies to the limit.

When over-the-counter pain medications weren’t cutting it, Lorilynn McCorrister turned to cannabis. Photo provided.

Lorilynn McCorrister, co-founder of Weedbox, was used to taking over-the-counter pain meds and enjoying the occasional Epsom salt bath to help ease sore muscles. “I’ve been doing CrossFit for just over six years,” McCorrister told me. “I started at a gym in Winnipeg right before I moved to Toronto, in September 2012, and found my gym here as soon as I arrived. I’ve been CrossFitting more competitively for about five years and now coach three times a week at my gym.”

“I took, and still take, magnesium at night, which can help you recover faster,” she continues, “but I found it hard to sleep and recover enough to hit workouts as hard as I wanted. I ended up needing more rest days the harder I trained.”

Many have reached to cannabis for pain relief due to medical ailments, but McCorrister actually looked to cannabis initially as more of a sleep aid — she was suffering from mild insomnia and found it really hard to feel rested and recovered enough to hit the gym. “I workout around 7 a.m. each morning, and your body does most of its muscle building and recovery when you’re sleeping, so I needed to ensure I could get a full eight hours. I started experimenting with different, higher THC strains and found it not only relaxed my muscles and body, but helped me fall asleep as soon as I got into bed, and it allowed me to wake up feeling rested.”

Angelina Blessed, the founder of Blessed Edibles, is a Muay Thai fighter and, about three years ago, found that cannabis helped her in all aspects of training, including aiding in recovery from a concussion. “With my injuries getting so stacked against me for a while, cannabis became quite a part of my daily regimen,” Blessed said. “From oils to edibles and topicals, I use cannabis to help explore my runs, to go deeper into the flow of shadow boxing, and to find a better range in my stretches.”

Muay Thai fighter Angelina Blessed, founder and CEO of Blessed Edibles, was exhausted, had nagging injuries and was unable to train the way she wanted before discovering how cannabis helped with her recovery and performance. Taylor Oakes, Taylor Oakes Productions

The introspection and anti-inflammatory properties of cannabis are what Blessed leans on while training. “Using cannabis while working out allows me to enjoy the movement,” she said. “It takes me out of my head and [allows me to] just be in the flow of what I need to do. Run? It’s like runner’s high without having to run to achieve the runner’s high. It takes the pain out of my legs and lightens the mood—it gives a more acute body awareness. With my Muay Thai, I feel a relaxed movement instead of a forced aggression, and steadier concentration on technique.”

A quick search on athletes and cannabis turns up a few interesting perspectives; NHL player Riley Cote is trying to help enlighten his sport about the benefits of the plant, even though he was fired from the coaching staff of the Philadephia Flyers for bringing cannabis information to the table just a few years ago.

Former NFL players have been outspoken on the benefits that cannabis can have on head injuries, and most recently running back Mike James, who found cannabis after becoming dependant on opiods following an ankle injury, has become the first player to file a therapeutic exemption with the league, hoping he can eventually get back on the field while consuming cannabis — which is still considered a banned substance — for pain relief. And Big3 basketball, a three-on-three league founded in 2017 that features mostly retired NBA players, announced this past summer that they would allow players to use CBD for pain management. In a statement, the league said, “Despite many states around the country making efforts to decriminalize or legalize cannabis, both medicinally and recreationally, professional athletes who could benefit medicinally are prevented from doing so by league outdated mandates.”

Riley Cote founded the Hemp Heals Foundation in 2011. Photo: Hemp Heals Foundation

But for amateur athletes, without strict imposing regulations, the cannabis space can offer a lot of possibilities.

“As I learned more and more about cannabis, CBD became a big part of my training and recovery,” said McCorrister. “I take a CBD isolate tincture right after training — sometimes in a smoothie, or just under my tongue, and that has worked wonders. It really helps calm down muscles I may have overworked or that I need to use the next day.”

“It’s like athletes are all waiting to finally talk about what we have all been doing for years,” Blessed, who believes along with legalization in Canada that we’ll start to see cannabis recovery lounges at local gyms, said. “The cannabis athletic community will definitely grow when people discover the multi-faceted uses of this plant. I would say 80 percent of the people I train with use cannabis for recovery already.”

As for myself, so far I’ve begun using CBD after my 10-km-plus training sessions, usually in the form of a tea post work-out. I find that I am less sore that day and the following day, although Dr. Tishler warns that CBD is not water soluble, meaning that tea might not be the best mode of consumption to really be effective.

Meanwhile, if you see me out on the Toronto streets looking hyper-focussed in runners and workout gear, you may have caught me on the first of many cannabis-infused training runs!

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