Running high: Some athletes seeing beneficial side of the pot leaf

Not everybody pays extra attention to birds singing or the texture of the dirt while they’re running. But Billy Davis said smoking before working out makes you more attuned to life’s simple pleasures.

Davis and Tim Smith, who ran cross country in high school shortly after he started smoking, said the possibility of combining the two intrigued them.

“Everything is different in that state, so you wonder,” Smith said.

But Smith isn’t alone. People often use the term “experimentation” to describe recreational drug use, but some physically active people take the concept further. Curiosity leads them to find out the answer to this question.

The Pitt News spoke with a few current and former students about the practice, all of whom requested anonymity because of employment concerns, given the drug’s illegal status. They appear under aliases in this story.

Before anxiety issues caused Smith to stop using marijuana 10 months ago, he occasionally ran high recreationally. 

“When you’re running sober, you’re familiar with how your body reacts to certain thresholds of exhaustion,” Smith said. “And then when you’re high, just the fact that you’re in a different mental state, it’s confusing to be feeling pain and causing it for yourself. ‘Why am I doing this again?’” 

Smith felt like he was a worse runner while high, but Davis said he hasn’t noticed a difference one way or the other in his physical ability.

“I used to hate running because my mindset was always focused on how tired I was getting. And then it was like ‘ah, I’m tired. I don’t want to run anymore’,” said Davis, a senior who regularly runs and plays soccer while high. “When I smoke, I’m not focused on that as much. I’m more focused on making strides and everything because my thought process is ‘I may be tired, but I want to keep going. I want to keep pushing myself. I’m not really that tired.’”

Increased awareness of his natural surroundings adds pleasure to the activity, which Smith felt as well. He runs on trails to optimize this sense.

On the soccer field, Davis finds his ability to maintain focus increases while high, as the drug slows the game down.

“I focus more on the stuff that I want to be doing, as opposed to everything else going on around me,” he said. “So I focus more on the ball when it’s coming in. My head’s not all over the place. I’m just focused on ‘make the touch, make the pass, make the shot.’”

The increased ability to focus helps others, like Ben Michaels, who wears headphones to block out what’s around him. Despite that, Michaels said he still can find his mind wandering.

“It’s easy for me — if I haven’t taken any sort of pre-workout [supplement] or even a cup of coffee or something to wake myself up a little bit — to veer off course and not really think about what I’m doing so much, which is not really what I want,” he said. “I want to think about, obviously, what muscles I’m using and what I’m working.”

When Michaels uses before going to the gym, he takes a pre-workout supplement to lessen the drug’s effect, ending up in what he described as a sort of enhanced middle ground. Some of the senior’s best workouts have come out of this mix.

“It’s like tunnel vision, and you really focus on what you’re doing, and you can feel all the muscles working,” Michaels said.

Davis added that it also leads to increased creativity on the field.

“I may try a certain pass to find someone that’s open that I wouldn’t try usually. I’m more open to trying difficult things or crazy passes ’cause I like the creative side of soccer,” he said.

Jane Greene said she felt enhanced senses while biking across the United States in 2013.

“In the morning, we would smoke a lot and start biking, and then smoke more and keep biking,” she said.

Greene, a sophomore, said she does not consider herself to be a frequent smoker. She added that smoking allowed her to sustain her bike rides for longer.

“I didn’t notice my legs hurting as much, which was really nice,” Greene said. “We just kept going.”

Bob Jones, who played club Ultimate Frisbee all four years he attended Pitt before graduating in 2013, doesn’t get high before competitive games, not smoking a week or more in advance of them, because it has a negative effect on his energy level.

A 2006 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine supported Jones’ concerns about energy levels.

“As the dose increases, the user may experience hallucinations, an alteration of the perception of reality and a marked reduction in concentration,” the study said. “THC also engenders a certain heaviness, marked relaxation and excessive fatigue of the limbs.”

But Jones has smoked before informal pickup-type games, and, like Davis, he found himself playing with more freedom.

“Five hundred times in a week I catch a throw in a certain place and I make a certain throw to the next spot because that’s what I have the muscle memory to do,” Jones said. “When you’re high, you experience everything differently. So instead of making that throw, I might do something different.”

While Michaels uses stimulants to better control the range of the high, he said consuming the drug via vaporizer helps additionally.

All four described vaping as allowing for a more mild and clear-headed kind of high, allowing a person to still be functional.

Jones and Davis use glass pipes for the same reason. None use edibles.

“I’m not trying to get super stoned before I go and play. I like to get it to the point where it mellows me out a little bit and my thinking is still clear,” Davis said.

Just as their experiences combining exercise and marijuana differ, so does their advice and overall view of the practice.

“It’s fun to be stoned and it’s fun to be playing sports, so if you put the two together I figured it would be good,” Jones said. “It is. It’s great.”

But not everyone feels that way. Smith wouldn’t recommend it to others as something to do more than once.

“I used to try it, thinking it could be better than it was,” Smith said. “But then eventually I realized, just keep them separate.”

There is one thing they all agreed on.

“There are a lot of people that take care of everything in their life and are extremely healthy and also enjoy the benefits of marijuana,” Davis said.