Social marijuana use and fitness: A risky combination

by Ryan Wagner

With last year’s passage of Initiative 300, the social marijuana measure, the City of Denver’s Department of Excise and Licenses is now hard at work trying to figure out how to practically make this happen. Meanwhile, local businesses are preparing in their own way. While the concept of smoking marijuana in a bar-like environment is easy to visualize, and something that many of us figured was bound to happen sooner or later, there are peripheral industries toying around with the idea of combining marijuana use and fitness. One industry is of particular concern: Fitness.

I read an article several months back about a yoga studio that is considering applying for a license. As a fitness enthusiast, I feel that encouraging the consumption of marijuana as part of a fitness program is at best irresponsible and at worst, dangerous.

First, a little background on Denver’s fitness scene: There are a huge amount of gyms in the Denver metro area. Gyms are in a constant battle for attention, specifically the small ones that bring a lot of value to their communities. It’s an incredibly tough market and running a fitness business is no easy thing.

From a business perspective, I understand that yoga studios and small gyms (maybe big gyms too) are weighing the benefits of social marijuana consumption either as an innovative marketing strategy or as an opportunity to hone their brand’s identity in a very crowded marketplace, but I can’t help but to look at the concept of fitness paired with marijuana use as, well, absurd.

Drug use in sports is nothing new. From steroid use to EPO, drugs have been involved in sports and fitness for a very long time, all ostensibly in search of enhanced performance. There’s also an ongoing debate with the NFL community regarding medical marijuana. There’s growing evidence that it may be a safer alternative to traditional, and very powerful, pharmaceuticals.

However, with Initiative 300, the thing that’s new is the context. Should marijuana use be allowed in a fitness environment, and perhaps even promoted(!), I think coaches would now be sending a message to the fitness community that marijuana may somehow enhance a workout.

I admit that there is little to no research on the effects of marijuana use and fitness. Perhaps the increased sensory perception that some users experience may actually enhance a workout. As a former engineer and still a very much technically minded person, I know that if I can’t disprove something, I have to leave room for it as a possibility. Yet when I take a close look at marijuana’s impact on the human body, I think it’s clear that it’s highly improbable for there to be any positive impact on a workout.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has found that most people experience elevated heart rate and increased blood pressure with marijuana smoke inhalation. In the context of a fitness class we have to look at the big picture, that classes are filled with all sorts of different people with varying levels of fitness. Sometimes their only commonality is that they signed the same waiver. Handicapping their cardiovascular capability with a drug and then asking them to exercise will be no small thing.

I think it’s important to remember that in order to lose fat and build muscle, the two things that most people want from their fitness programs, we need to get our heart rate up. Whether we lift weights, cycle, run, practice yoga, whatever it may be, we need our hearts pumping to burn those calories and induce the desired changes in our bodies. With the possible exception of some of the less strenuous forms of yoga (i.e. hatha or yin), we’re asking our hearts to work extra hard. Any sort of marijuana use, either prior to, or during a workout, will only further tax one’s cardiovascular system.

Of course, a smartly written waiver paired with carefully selected insurance would take care of things, right? Perhaps, but I don’t think that most people understand how marijuana use would affect their bodies, even if they are regular users of the drug – because remember, fitness is the new variable.

It remains to be seen how this new freedom will impact the Denver landscape. And I understand that as our fitness obsessed culture here in Colorado continues to seek out innovations and gyms and yoga studios search for that ever competitive edge, social marijuana consumption is being eyed as a potential benefit. Yet as fitness professionals and coaches, our job — our duty as ethical teachers of movement — is to improve upon people’s health and wellness while minimizing risk. It’s all about risk versus reward, in the context of movement. Cardiovascular training with a known irritant in your lungs and/or blood and with an elevated heart rate, tips the risk-versus-reward paradigm in the wrong direction.

I really hope that Denver’s fitness community – yoga or otherwise – can continue to be a model for the nation and keep social marijuana consumption where it belongs, out of the gym.

Social marijuana use and fitness: A risky combination by