Fitness with Cannabis

More people discover that weed and working out aren't mutually exclusive

For Shaun Durkin, staying fit is a top priority that's become a habit over the past decade. When he worked as a firefighter in the U.S. Air Force, it was part of his job. Now it's more of a favorite hobby. When he got out of the service, he moved home to Spokane and started working at the TreeHouse Club, where he's a manager. Selling recreational marijuana inspired him to experiment with how the drug affects his body, especially during a workout.

He keeps up a routine of working out five to six days a week, primarily lifting weights and running. He's completed a handful of endurance races in the past two years, including four half-marathons and a tough mudder. He got high before each race.

"I wanted to bust the stereotype that's common that stoners can't be physically active and in great shape," says Durkin, 30. "My priority is being healthy."

Whether to push through the monotony of a workout or recover from a tough training session, hearing stories of people using weed before or after exercising isn't uncommon, especially now that more states have elected to allow recreational use. But research in the area has lagged, partly because federal rules and regulations remain roadblocks. In October 2015, scientists in the University of Colorado Boulder's Psychology and Neuroscience Department called for further study, saying reports on the effects of cannabis are completely anecdotal. That includes claims that weed decreases motivation.

"Given recent political, cultural, and legal trends, and the growing acceptance of recreational cannabis use, it is important to develop a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between cannabis and exercise, specifically the potential effects of use on exercise performance, motivation, and recovery," the authors wrote in an article in Sports Medicine.

Glen Duncan, chair of the nutrition and exercise physiology program at the Washington State University medical school, says he doubts that marijuana enhances athletic performance. He's most familiar with it being used as a recovery aid, but says there isn't any evidence that cannabis has qualities to make anyone run faster or anything.

But it could have desirable indirect effects, he says. It's known to reduce pain and relieve anxiety. The second factor could include breaking down mental barriers athletes encounter when pushing toward a new goal. An increased appetite would be useful in some sports.

"It'd be another tool in the toolbox, just like any other drug — over the counter or otherwise," Duncan says. "That would be why the research would be important. It could be better than existing ones, could be the same, could be worse. That's why you'd really have to find out what kind of effects it has."

Durkin and fellow TreeHouse budtender Jimmy Pugh testify to feeling extra motivated while they're high. Durkin says the zen-like state of mind gives him a deeper focus that helps him get through long workouts. Pugh admits he was surprised by that particular side effect.

"It does give me a heightened sense of excitement to do the workouts that I'm doing," Pugh says. "It's hard to explain why it helps. But it's a state of mind that I have a hard time achieving without cannabis. It gives me quite a drive."

At 31, Pugh says he's been focused on bodybuilding for about a year. He's at it five days a week. He used to keep his pot-smoking separate from exercise, but once he tried it, he realized a mind-muscle connection that seems to take his lifting to a new level.

"I would imagine it's probably no different than people who use cannabis before they do yoga or before they meditate," he says. "I think the most important thing in body-building is to know yourself. Cannabis helps me do that." ♦


As budtenders at Spokane Valley's TreeHouse Club (14421 E. Trent), Shaun Durkin and Jimmy Pugh share their experiences and make recommendations with others who also want to be active. Going that extra mile for customer service was one reason Durkin started experimenting in the first place.

They suggest sativa-dominant strains to get an energetic high. They usually smoke but both have tried extracts as well. Pugh says using an extract in the morning leaves him a little more "clear-headed."

Durkin recommends Jack Herer, which he says has terpenes that act as a bronchodilator, meaning, in theory, that it increases airflow and improves lung function. Also, try Super Lemon Haze – "That's a really energetic, uplifting strain," Durkin says. And Sour Diesel: also uplifting, plus it has appealing terpenes — or aromas — that enhance the senses.

Pugh recommends Strawberry Lemonade to get motivated. Or sativa hybrids like Allen Wrench, Pineapple Express and Chernobyl. (TARYN PHANEUF)

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