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Matt Hart Thursday, 12 September 2013 10:13 TWEET COMMENTS 0

Should You Inhale - Page 3

Buzz Kills

With the recent exceptions
of Washington and Colorado, marijuana use in other states 
is illegal without a medical marijuana prescription. It goes without saying that anything illegal in the public domain is not allowed during a race.

Typically offering little or no prize money, trail races rarely test for drugs. As the landscape for money in our sport changes, however, so does the likelihood that athletes may be tested. Last season Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc and IAU World Championships both drug tested, though neither event found a positive test for marijuana use.

While a 49-year review by the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program showed no effect on overall death rates of those who smoke marijuana versus those who don’t, it’s important to note that the impact of marijuana smoking on pulmonary function and respiratory complications has not been systematically assessed. The major concern seems to be a possible risk of cancer, caused by the inhaled carcinogens when marijuana is smoked. Little is known about the true risk, though, because of the drug’s illegal status, and therefore limited study samples.

Dr. Huestis says, “Cannabis smoke contains more carcinogens than tobacco smoke, but people smoke less of it.”

Although tobacco and cannabis smoke have similar chemical properties, their pharmacological activities differ greatly. The limited research, although inconclusive, suggests that cannabis-smoke inhalation does not have the carcinogenic potential of tobacco. It’s thought the THC in marijuana smoke exerts a protective effect against carcinogens; in contrast, nicotine increases carcinogens. A 2005 review of studies by the International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded, “Increased risks of lung or colorectal cancer due to marijuana smoking were not observed.”

Any amount of smoking is correlated with increased respiratory effects, including phlegm, cough and tightness in the chest. Adds Dr. Huestis, “Obviously [smoking marijuana] is not great for your lungs.” Vaporizing and oral ingestion through foods have been shown to decrease those deleterious effects; it’s not yet known if ingesting marijuana this way also negates the bronchodilation benefits.
 For athletes in high-speed sports where reaction time is important, studies have shown marijuana use can impair hand-eye coordination and reduce motor coordination. For trail runners, this could mean an increased likelihood of falls and associated injuries.

A 1986 study from the American College
 of Sports Medicine showed that smoking marijuana decreased total duration at maximal effort, an obvious detriment during a short, hard race, but one that doesn’t seem to affect longer aerobic efforts.

In the end, though, Dr. Huestis says, “We have very few good, controlled studies relating marijuana use with sports.”


Pot Opinions: Trail runners comment on marijuana and trail running


  • “I’m a big advocate of marijuana during long runs. That runner’s high is hit quicker and is often more euphoric.”
  • “Great way to break up a six-hour run while surrounded by nature.”
  • “A quick toke definitely helps you eat when you’re 10-plus hours into an ultra, and definitely helps the nausea.”


  • “Since I don’t smoke very often, weed makes me sleepy, meaning I never get out the door for my run.”
  • “It isn’t something I will do running. I want the experience to be pure.”
  • “Above 11,000 feet [if I smoke pot], I’ll experience a sudden and uncontrollable hacking cough, making me think, ‘Hmm, what was that?’ Might just be the altitude ...”
  • “Paranoia. I started racing my shadow! It won!”


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