A collage of three people working out, their skin replaced with weed leaves, on an orange backgorund.

Does Weed Ruin Your Workout Gains?

Maybe a cheeky toke is the key to unlocking a new PB...

Felix is what some would call a gym bro: Stacked as anything, with a cupboard full of MyProtein supplements, he wakes up at 5AM and heads straight to the gym to lift weights before work. After a day at his desk, the 27-year-old runs or cycles for an hour before making a dinner which – you guessed it – is suitably protein-packed. Then he lights a joint


“I usually only smoke in the evenings once all work, tasks, and exercise are done for the day,” says Felix, whose name has been changed for privacy, like others in this piece. “I also try to smoke once I've finished eating, otherwise I won't stop eating for the rest of the evening.” He has other rules such as making sure he smokes at least two hours before going to sleep to reduce its impact on REM sleep and he never mixes with tobacco, either. “We all know smoking isn’t good for your respiratory system,” he adds. 

Drug use among fitness fanatics isn’t exactly a surprise: You’ve definitely seen stacked guys at raves on MDMA and heard yogis talking about the spiritual journey of their latest shroom trip. But those obsessed with sharing Strava stats or gaining rippling muscles aren’t exactly seen as the target market for the cannabis industry – especially as the stereotypical stoner is lazy and unmotivated. But Felix is far from alone in his calculated cannabis use. 

With decriminalisation in countries like the U.S. and Australia, more pro-gym goers are talking about their use: Even Arnold Schwarzenegger admitted to getting stoned in his bodybuilding heyday. Studies backup its prevalence in fitness fanatics, too. One from 2017 found that over 92 percent of gym-goers have gotten high, while a 2020 survey found one in four athletes regularly use cannabis. But what’s the actual impact of weed on your athleticism?


Weed and workout gains 

In a paper about cannabis use in female athletes, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in March, researchers found there was actually no difference in body composition, heart function or strength between weed users and non-users. They compared female athletes who were long-term users of cannabis and those who weren’t, and the only change seemed to be that those who used cannabis weren’t as powerful, but had better endurance. 

That’s potentially good news for long-distance runners like Felix, who only started adding weed into his routine recently, when he changed jobs and no longer had to be drug tested. “I’m conscious about when, how and the quantity I smoke, but I’ve not noticed a difference in my fitness since I started,” he says. “It’s also reduced my alcohol use which is a positive.”

Christian Cheung, a researcher specialising in cannabis use from the Human Performance and Health Research Laboratory at the University of Guelph, thinks the science is far from certain, though. “At the moment, there’s only very limited research which addresses whether cannabis has any long-term impacts on performance,” Cheung tells VICE. “The few studies suggest that cannabis does not impact athletic performance in the long term but, that said, this is far from conclusive evidence.”


Getting high and keeping fit doesn’t work for everyone, either.

“When I started to cycle to work and do lots of breathwork and training, I found myself short of breath so I eventually stopped smoking cigarettes and weed,” says Carlotta Artuso, founder of Carlotta PR and a reiki practitioner. After giving up, she says her breathing felt better – although that could be down to changes in her fitness routine as she “knows plenty of people who smoke weed and feel fine”. Nowadays, she finishes her day with a drop of homemade CBD tincture (made from cannabis and alcohol): “It’s helped massively with muscle recovery and having a deep night's sleep.”

Weed and workout recovery

While there’s no research done into whether a joint could ever replace a protein shake to help rebuild muscle after a session of squats, the most common reason that avid exercisers (who are typically in go-go-go mode) smoke is that weed helps them chill out and recover: 77 percent of active people who use cannabis report it positively affecting their performance through improved focus, energy, relaxation and recovery. 

Personal trainer and ex-Olympian Ava says weed is “the one thing I just can’t give up”. Growing up in the Middle East as an athlete, she didn’t get her hands on a joint until her final year of university in the UK.


“I started smoking after I quit sports and went through a breakup,” Ava tells VICE. Now she’s a personal trainer, eating edibles is her evening ritual to wind down after long, high-intensity work hours. “It really helps with my appetite too, because I struggle to eat enough for the amount of exercise I do,” she continues. “I’d never say smoking is healthy for you, but I researched how weed impacts my training and muscle growth and there seem to be no adverse effects.” 

One big component of weed – CBD – has actually taken over the fitness industry in recent years. Brands like PureSport now target the regimented and knackered workout-lovers with products designed to help sleep, stress, pain, inflammation and immunity, while still being certified by the World Anti-Doping Agency. But if CBD is that good, is there any point in consuming THC (AKA bothering with actual weed)?

“Cannabis is made up of over 120 cannabinoids, not just THC and CBD,” says Mags Houston, head of projects and communications at the drugs advisory committee Drugs Science. “And we’re only just starting to look at the benefits of the plant as a whole and how it can support health, largely because of the stigma, law and drugs narrative.” 

Drugs Science is working on collating real-world evidence for the benefits of medicinal marijuana on people with health conditions. “We measure anxiety, depression and sleep and we’re seeing significant improvements after only three months of cannabis use,” Houston continues. “When people get more sleep they tend to function much better through the day, and that’s in patients who are suffering.”


Imagine, then, what the knock-on impact could be for athletes or gym goers, where the extra one percent push is make-or-break for their career or reputation. 

While some research – as mentioned by Felix – shows that weed can impact REM sleep, Drugs Science research showed improvements in sleep for those using medicinal cannabis. The Sleep Foundation note that certain strains like indica and sativa may have the least impact on sleep disruptions and that keeping THC peaks away from bedtime is useful. 

Overall, the calming impact of weed seems to be most agreed upon. Joints and edibles might even become a staple in relaxation rituals for athletes sooner than we think, too. Earlier this month, the NBA announced they’re no longer testing players for marijuana. This comes after years of disciplinary action for basketball players and other athletes caught smoking weed.

In 2021, American sprinter Sha'Carri Richardson was banned from running in the Olympics after testing positive for cannabis. Her ban prompted questions about the reasoning behind testing athletes for weed, but in 2022 the World Anti-Doping Agency confirmed it would stay on the banned substances list, not because it improves athleticism (like steroids), but rather being high during competitions can endanger athletes


Exercising while high

It’s unlikely that anyone would turn up blazed to their Olympic race, but how exactly would weed impact a workout? According to Schwarzenegger, training high is “fantastic”, but it isn’t likely you’ll actually make it to the gym, says expert Cheung. 

“More research needs to be done, but the overall research shows that THC before training either has no effect on, or a reduction in, exercise performance,” he says.

“Patients actually become more exercise intolerant after using cannabis”, explains Cheung, meaning you’re highly likely to avoid the gym while high. 

While some people like using weed to feel connected with their body – which could help you tune in to your movement – personal trainer Eleanor Heaton-Armstrong agrees that weed should be kept out of the gym. 

“I definitely wouldn’t ever train high,” she says. “You need to be completely focused, especially when you're working with weights, and weed can impact your coordination and balance.” As a “downtime drug user”, Heaton-Armstrong keeps her fitness and substances very separate.

But getting high and working out can clearly co-exist. Chilling out and sleeping well is an underrated element of health and performance, so maybe a cheeky toke is the key to unlocking a new PB? Get ready for me, Strava.