Thursday, January 14, 2016

Is Biking while High on Marijuana Dangerous?

You may think that this question is stupid and answer YES right away as Marijuana consumption might affect your balance, orientation, and other senses. And you will be dead wrong – sorry! A new study produced a completely opposite set of results – scientists found that marijuana does not impact in negative way people ability to safely ride a bicycle.

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The participants in the experiment rode a bike through an obstacle course while completely sober and then after smoking one, two and three joints.

“Hardly any coordinative disturbances could be detected under the influence of high or very high THC concentrations,” the study, published by the International Journal of Legal Medicine, found.

A representation of the course that participants had to bike while stoned.

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A diagram of the course that stoned participants had to bike.

The scientific study, titled, “The effect of cannabis on regular cannabis consumers’ ability to ride a bicycle,” was conducted by German and Austrian researchers.

The cannabis cigarettes, which were standardized to contain 300 micrograms of THC per kilogram of body weight, were supplied by Dutch grower Bedrocan with the approval of the German government. Test participants “were instructed to consume the joints in the following way: 4-s inhalation, 10-s holding breath, and 15-s exhalation,” the study says.

While cycling the obstacle course, the fourteen participants in the study were given demerits for errors like leaving the track, knocking over barrels, swerving, running a red light and failing to go at a green light. Along the way, they had to slalom between poles and were presented with distractions like balls rolling in their path, verbal interruptions and being subjected to the glare of torch lights.

“Hardly any driving faults occurred under the influence of cannabis,” the researchers wrote. “Only a few driving faults were observed even under the influence of very high THC concentrations… On average, there is no increase in the number of demerits after the cannabis consumption.”

None of this is to say that operating any vehicle, particularly automobiles, while under the influence of marijuana or other drugs, is recommended. Driving while stoned is illegal, even in states that have ended cannabis prohibition.

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Marijuana and Sports

Well, there is no second or third opinion. Driving under influence is illegal, unsafe, and irresponsible, does not matter what type of vehicle you are driving. However, what can be said on using marijuana when it is not dangerous for the user and people nearby?

The surprising evidence comes that marijuana might actually help some people perform better at certain sports. This may sound crazy. But there are people that say training while high has helped them unlock new performance gains.

In November, Men's Journal interviewed elite triathlete Clifford Drusinsky, a Colorado gym owner who also leads training sessions fueled by marijuana edibles. "Marijuana relaxes me and allows me to go into a controlled, meditational place," Drusinsky told Men's Journal. "When I get high, I train smarter and focus on form."

Outside Magazine correspondent, Gordy Megroz, wrote in the February issue of that magazine that while he has never been much of a pot smoker, he heard enough close friends — especially skiers — say that getting high helped their performance that he decided to give it a shot.

Megroz first tried a cannabis gummy while on one of those snow-covered mountains and wrote that with a "slight yet very functional high," he "felt invincible and proceeded to attack the steepest lines without fear" — ski-speak for feeling able to tackle the craziest parts of a mountain. It is easy to see how this kind of fearlessness could be appealing to an expert skier, but could lead anyone — especially a novice — into making a dangerous decision.

Stanford Medical School professor Keith Humphreys explained to Megroz that there is a scientific explanation for this. "We have cannabinoid receptors throughout our brains, and when the THC hits those receptors, it triggers a system that reduces anxiety," Humphreys said. "That you would feel more aggressive is a natural reaction to the drug."

In the World Anti-Doping Association's current ban on competing while stoned, the organization cites studies that show marijuana can decrease anxiety and increase airflow to the lungs by acting as a bronchodilator, something that decreases resistance in the airways.

So Megroz decided to perform further tests, with the help (and under the supervision) of a physiologist. The basic test was simple. He got on a treadmill, set the pace for five miles per hour, and then increased the ramp angle 2.5% every two minutes. Sober, he could keep it up for 19 minutes. But stoned, he could last 19:30 — a "substantial performance gain," according to the physiologist. He repeated the test twice more with similar results. He also found that he got less sore after a heavy squat session.

In other words, getting stoned helped him perform and recover better.

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What does the science say about marijuana and exercise?

Up today, there is not much research available yet on how pot affects performance. As long as marijuana is considered a Schedule 1 drug by the Drug Enforcement Agency, it is incredibly difficult for researchers to study its effects. It is becoming easier as states legalize medical and recreational use, but there is not a ton of research yet, and it will still be hard to do unless the government changes that policy.

But the little evidence we have on pot also explains some potential performance gains. Researchers say that marijuana has an anti-inflammatory effect and that the chemical compounds that come from weed might mimic the body's natural endorphins, which could help increase our pain threshold like a natural runner's high and make it easier to push through a tough workout.

So there's evidence that pot can help people deal with pain and inflammation while decreasing anxiety and improving mood, but it also has potentially risky motor-control side effects that could lead to an accident, especially in a sport where a wrong turn (like mountain biking or skiing) could be disastrous.

Yet decreased anxiety can lead to dangerous decisions. There is also a temporary elevated heart rate associated with consuming marijuana, which could be a negative side effect for athletes and a risky complication for anyone with a preexisting heart condition.

What Athletes Say?

The World Anti-Doping Association bans cannabis use during competition, citing studies that say the drug decreases anxiety, potentially helping athletes stay calm in the heat of competition, and acts as a bronchiodilator, which increases airflow to the lungs. Therefore, most pro athletes who use marijuana are obviously reluctant to admit it, but in 2003, skateboarder Bob Burnquist told Thrasher magazine, “I have learned a lot of tricks while stoned.”

One of the high profile skiers admitted that the drug improves his skills on the mountain, claiming that he can “feel the snow better”.

Medical marijuana's benefits for alleviating pain, decreasing nausea, and improving mood are well known. Therefore, it is not hard to see why those same qualities would appeal to endurance athletes, who must cope with high levels of pain, stress, and boredom during grueling hours-long events. "It may help some athletes get into a zone and put their bodies through very tough physical activity," says Mark Ware, a McGill University professor and executive director of the Canadian Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids. "It may enable them to focus on those repetitive tasks."

Just as endorphins help you push through an intense workout, these endocannabinoids could increase your pain threshold to do the same.

And it's not just endurance athletes. "Frank," a climbing guide in Boulder, Colorado, who prefers not to use his real name, says that two-thirds of the pro climbers he knows use marijuana before climbing and working out. "People have a stereotype of a zoned-out stoner, but for a lot of people it makes them super focused and motivated," says the guide. "For climbers I work with, it's like drinking two espressos. They're psyched, ready to go."

Whether marijuana really gives these athletes an edge, is not something exercise science has solved. "What research we have is anecdotal," says Iñigo San Millán, director of the Human Performance Lab at the University of Colorado. "We know it might help with inflammation, sleep, and pain relief. But we don't know if it will improve performance — or if it might even jeopardize it."

Here is what we do know: When marijuana is ingested, its chemical compounds, known as cannabinoids, bind with receptors in the brain and body that regulate pain, mood, appetite, and memory. Scientists suspect that these receptors may play a role in aerobic activity's neurological benefit — a.k.a. the runner's high. "The endocannabinoid system works like endorphins," says Andrea Giuffrida, an associate professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center and an expert on endocannabinoids. Giuffrida and his colleagues have conducted studies showing that after high-intensity treadmill running, people have elevated levels of naturally occurring endocannabinoids in their bloodstream. What that suggests? Just as endorphins help you push through an intense workout, these endocannabinoids could increase your pain threshold to do the same.

There could be other athletic advantages beyond pain relief. Studies have shown that low doses of THC increase motor activity in mice — so maybe a bit of pot could equal a little extra speed. What's more, an intriguing study from the University of Bordeaux in France found that when the brain is exposed to marijuana, it reacts to the THC by producing more pregnenolone. That chemical is a precursor to the natural steroids produced by the body, and is often used as a supplement to increase energy and reduce fatigue.

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Marijuana and Exercise Eliminate Your Muffin Top

While the research on the marijuana and exercise engagement is still on the early stages of development, there is convincing evidence that engaging in moderate exercise each week is a smart way to burn off the extra calories in your diet to maintain a lean body shape. No one doubts that, but the news are that marijuana can actually help with weight management, while accompanying the physical exercises. According to a recent study from the American Journal of Medicine, researchers have discovered that pot smokers actually have 16% higher levels of fasting insulin in their bodies than those who abstain from marijuana. In addition, the study indicated that cannabis users have 17% lower insulin resistance levels as well as significantly smaller average waist circumferences than their non-smoking counterparts.

Since insulin is an important hormone that signals your body’s cells to take in glucose for energy, having too much unused sugar floating around in your cells will lead to weight gain, especially in the tummy region. As the ultimate enemy to fight against the notorious muffin top, the cannabinoids that are found as active ingredients in marijuana will help handle insulin properly and facilitate more efficient metabolic functioning. Therefore, beyond the obvious pleasurable effects of a high, marijuana and exercise go hand in hand in improving health.

As always, the keys are moderation, consideration, and common sense.

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