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I’m a runner, and when I train for a race, I follow a strict schedule: putting in the daily miles, stretching, staying hydrated and keeping up on my carbs.
But more athletes are stepping forward to say they use cannabis, either marijuana or CBD, as part of their regimen, both to help recover and to give them greater focus and enjoyment while exercising. It’s a trend that refutes the stoner-on-a-couch-shoveling-Cheetos-into-their-mouth stereotype.
I gave it a try Saturday morning at Tribe Hot Yoga, a studio in Mantua Township, Gloucester County, packed with women in colorful and floral leggings, chatting cheerfully as they sipped hemp-infused tea before the start of class.
“People come into yoga for a few reasons. It’s the same reason that they turn to CBD,” said Melissa Jackson, the studio’s owner. “People come to yoga because they’re in pain, they have stress, anxiety. All the release that they get from their yoga practice, they can also get with CBD oil separately.”
CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of the many compounds found in cannabis. It’s like a cousin of THC, the compound in marijuana that makes a user high. When derived from the marijuana’s sister plant hemp, CBD is legal and not psychoactive, unlike marijuana.
Some praise the oils, tinctures and lotions, hailing their perceived anti-anxiety and anti-inflammatory effects. Others say the jury is still out when it comes to scientific research on the compound, and caution that it may be the latest snake oil for sale everywhere from gas stations to high-end boutiques. (Whichever is true, the fact remains that CBD is highly unregulated, with federal agencies and states scrambling to come up with rules.)
Meanwhile, a growing number of professional athletes have endorsed using cannabis for recovery, and just last week, U.S.A. Triathlon became the first major sports organization to agree to a four-year sponsorship deal with a CBD company.
Among amateur athletes, a similar trend has emerged: Some 80 percent of marijuana users in states that have legalized recreational weed for everyone said they often use the drug within an hour of starting a workout or the four hours after, according to a study out of Colorado.
“People can do very well to use a little cannabis after an exertion activity to limit inflammation,” said Dr. Mary Clifton, a New York City-based internal medicine doctor and cannabis expert who also works in sports medicine. “You could use it before the activity to relax and then after the activity to recover. I think it’s something that you’re going to see higher and higher usage."
The yoga class was the second with CBD hosted by Jackson. After receiving positive feedback, she wants to hold them once a month. She uses Blue Ridge Hemp CBD products out of Colorado, a company she chose after researching providers for a year.
Her studio isn’t the first to partake in the trend. CBD yoga classes have popped up around the state, in both urban areas and quieter towns like Mantua.
Jackson gave some background information on CBD and its purported benefits at the start of the session. As another instructor led the class, she walked around the room with a CBD gel, putting it on participants’ shoulders, back and arms to alleviate sore muscles. The class ended with a goodie bag, containing a homemade CBD brownie and another single dose of oil.
“We have great feedback,” she said of the first class, noting the attendees said they felt less anxious and clear-headed, or had less inflammation and pain. “Combining the two is such a nice zen experience.”
I’m no yogi, a fact that became clear just a few minutes into the class as the poses became more complicated than sitting cross-legged on the mat and turning side to side.
So did I feel relaxed? Once I got past the initial awkwardness of trying to turn my body into a pretzel, sure — but it may have been the rare opportunity to lock my phone up for an hour and lay on a mat in a dark room while listening to The Beatles that soothed me, rather than the tea and lotion.
I’m a skeptic, but there are plenty of believers. Those in attendance raved about the class, and they aren’t alone. Even as legalization languishes in New Jersey, medical marijuana patients are mixing cannabis and fitness.
“More so than patients bringing it up to us, it’s something that we do recommend to them,” said Niko Gallina, the manager at Harmony Dispensary in Secaucus. Budtenders “ask if (patients) use medication as part of their regime. If the answer is no, they recommend trying to microdose [taking small amounts of the drug to avoid extreme psychotropic effects] with cannabis.”
Some are pain patients or those undergoing physical therapy who seek relief. The dispensary recommends sativa strains for those looking to focus and have energy for workouts, while indicas seem better for those looking to bulk up.
But stigma in the world of athletics is hard to shed. The World Anti-Doping Agency, which regulates Olympic sports, removed CBD from its list of banned substances in 2018, but has not yet done so with marijuana, despite several high-profile athletes advocating for the change.
Studies have found marijuana has no performance enhancing effects. Dr. Clifton said athletes who use to do so to stay clear-headed during competition and manage pain, not to run faster or be stronger than the competition.
Many are keeping an eye on the “trend,” but Dr. Clifton said she doesn’t think that’s what this movement is: CBD has become a common supplement, and soon more people, she said, may keep a supply close, like a bottle of ibuprofen.
“I don’t think that’s going away,” she said. “I think it’s just going to intensify as the fear of cannabis eases up a little bit and people see a potential opportunity where there used to be a prohibition.”
Amanda Hoover can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amandahoovernj. Find NJ.com on Facebook.
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