In honor of our Women’s Health Issue, this month’s Cannabis and Fitness Column highlights six inspiring women who are shattering the stigmas of cannabis through sports.
Merrimac, Wisconsin | Running, Biking, Swimming, Rock Climbing, Hiking
Hepburn calls herself a “senior cannabis athlete.” Recently, at the age of 66, she set a High Five Challenge where she completed races in lengthening distances starting with a 5k and progressing to a 4.2 mile, 10k, Half Marathon, and finishing with a Full Marathon where she placed 1st in her age group. In addition to her running accolades, Hepburn is an avid traveler who incorporates fitness in her travel plans, as seen pictured here in her summit of Mt. Norquay Via Ferrata, Calgary, Canada. These are only a couple of her many athletic adventures, including her upcoming plans to bike 100 plus miles along the Erie Canal Bikeway in New York later this year. When asked how cannabis helps her as an athlete, Hepburn had this to say, “I find cannabis helps me get though the long distance running and takes the edge off any aches or pains. I can focus on the run, bike, swim, or climb rather than focusing on discomfort or pain.” Her routine around consuming cannabis includes edibles and topicals lotions, sprays, or oils which she uses before and after activity.
Lia Oriel Arntsen
Boulder, Colorado | Running, Hiking, Mountain Climbing, Picking Up Litter
Arntsen, who happens to be Marte’ Hepburn’s daughter, describes herself as an “awareness athlete.” She defines an awareness athlete as “someone who uses their athletic ability to complete races, adventures, and challenges to bring awareness to critical environmental and social issues and causes.” Just like her mother, Arntsen incorporates travel into her adventures as an athlete, and she is pictured here running in last year’s MoonRun Marathon in Monteverde, Costa Rica, where she raised $350 for sloths at the Toucan Rescue Ranch. Arntsen is also the founder of health and wellness company, You Canna Be Well, where she educates about the benefits of cannabis for a healthy lifestyle. Her advice for anyone curious about trying cannabis for activity is, “Play around with high CBD edibles and strains if you are concerned that cannabis may make you drowsy or unmotivated.” For her, “Cannabis acts as a motivator, to get me excited to go do something crazy, like run 25 miles through the jungle.” This year she’s planning an Eco-Triathlon involving biking, hiking, and cleaning up our planet.
San Diego, California | Walking, Hiking, Group Fitness
Hamala is a certified personal trainer who offers small group strength and stretch classes, private personal training sessions, hosts a biweekly hiking group, and is the Founder of lifestyle brand, Team Cannababes, where she encourages active living and cannabis for wellness. Hamala prefers to vape or smoke before a workout. She says it helps her “to dial in and focus on the workout ahead, as well as acting as a bronchodilator to decrease airway resistance and increase airflow. Cannabis is wellness, and—if you use it responsibly—it can really boost your overall performance.” Last year she completed the Rugged Maniac 5k which included 25 obstacles throughout the course, and she plans to do it again later this year.
Bethany “B-Train” Semeiks
Denver, Colorado | CrossFit, Ice Hockey, Roller Derby
Semeiks says, “I don’t like being high, but I know the benefits of cannabis.” This is her reason for primarily using CBD topicals, and CBD only or very low THC edibles. “I’m not saying that I’m not sore and leg day doesn’t hurt, but it helps with mental clarity and tomorrow to be less painful.” Considering she spends 5 days a week working out at CrossFit Watchtower, on top of running Sales Strategies for GoFire, who produces their own Gofire Inhaler with an integrated plant medicine health suite, it’s safe to say she lives an incredibly active lifestyle. Being in the healthcare industry, her advice for choosing the right cannabis products is: “Look at the testing. If you’re thinking about buying a product and easily find the testing results, don’t waste your money.” Testing results can typically be found on the labeling, or on the manufacturer’s website.
Portland, Oregon | Rugby, Yoga, Dance, Martial Arts
Symonds played in the USA Rugby Women’s Premier League and the USA Touch Rugby National Championships. She is a member of Athlete’s for Care, and the Director of Education for Eastfork Cultivars, where she manages the CBD Educational & Certification Program, CBD Certified™. Symonds is a strong proponent for only using “cannabis products that are grown organically and regeneratively, with a strong preference for sun-grown cannabis and craft hemp.” She says, “Organically-grown, full-spectrum products will give you the greatest range of potential therapeutic benefits. For me, flower is a tried and true remedy that I like to use the night before competition for rest, and then directly afterward for immediate pain relief and to speed healing.” This is great to hear from an athlete and cannabis educator, considering Florida recently passed legislation allowing flower consumption.
Las Vegas, Nevada | Trail Running, Ultra Running
Madsen embodies every aspect of what it means to be a trail runner. “It is important for me to not only race but to give back to the trail running community.” In just the past 12 months, her race resume is 11 races long, including the Black Canyon Ultras 60k, the Skyline to the Sea 50k, and the Kodiak 50k, spread out with several full marathons in between. Madsen prefers to vape before and during her endurance runs, and she smokes flower after to relax and help reduce pain and inflammation. She highly recommends the use of natural remedies like cannabis over common NSAIDS, which are known to have harmful side effects. For those who may be curious about cannabis and activity, she tells us, “I used to not smoke before I ran, and the thought of doing so seemed kind of strange. During a recent marathon, my buddy offered me up some CBD oil about 9 miles in. I was struggling with my run, in a negative headspace already and figured, why not? 30 minutes later, everything turned around for me. I got my groove back, was in a positive mindset, and ended up having a successful race. After that, I started experimenting more. I tried a few methods and a few strains, and now I have my go-to routines.” On top of competing in another long list of races this year, she is also committed to giving back to the community by volunteering at an assortment of local races, pacing friends at the Javelina Jundred 100M, and crewing at the Leadville 100.
Can Cannabis Enhance Performance in Athletes?
As an athlete who consumes cannabis and educates about the science behind its athletic benefits, I get this question a lot. Is cannabis a PED (Performance Enhancing Drug)? Performance enhancing drugs are any prohibited substances used by athletes to improve athletic performance. Although cannabis has many health and wellness benefits for athletes, it is technically not a performance enhancing drug. CBD was even officially removed from WADA’s (World Anti-Doping Association) list of prohibited substances, starting on January 1, 2018.
In 2017, there was a systematic review published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, focused on the research available regarding cannabis and exercise performance in sports. At the time, it concluded “Only 15 published studies have investigated the effects of THC in association with exercise protocols. Of these studies, none showed any improvement in aerobic performance”, and that “THC does not enhance aerobic exercise or strength.”1 Despite this, THC still remains on WADA’s prohibited substance list.
There have also been studies on the effects of cannabis in relation to athletic performance. One study, published in 2018, in the American Thoracic Society Journals included a randomized controlled trial of people with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). Part of their objective was “To test the hypothesis that inhaled vaporized cannabis would alleviate exertional breathlessness and improve exercise endurance.”2 This clinical trial only had 16 participants, but after measuring single inhalation doses of vaporized cannabis against breathlessness intensity during exercise, it was concluded “Cannabis had no clinically meaningful positive or negative effect on airway function, exertional breathlessness, and exercise endurance in adults with advanced COPD.”2
Although cannabis has many health and wellness benefits for athletes, it is technically not a performance enhancing drug.
A more recent literary review of research, concerning the relationship between cannabis use and athletic performance, was published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine in 2018. It too, concluded cannabis doesn’t enhance athletic performance. “Although cannabis use is more prevalent in some athletes engaged in high risk sports, there is no direct evidence of performance enhancing effects in athletes.” However, they also suggested, “The potential beneficial effects of cannabis as part of a pain management protocol, including reducing concussion related symptoms, deserve further attention.”3
This ties right back into the several health and wellness benefits athletes can get from consuming cannabis, but at the same time, further solidifies cannabis is not a PED. With more research being conducted every year, it’s only a matter of time before WADA removes cannabis from its prohibited substance list as the world continues to recognize the natural benefits of cannabis for athletes.
Running Away from NSAIDs
This entire issue has focused on several pain conditions cannabis can help with and has referenced many scientific studies suggesting the roles cannabis and other plant medicines can play in pain management. With the widespread legalization of medical and adult use cannabis, as well as other substances worldwide, an evolving global culture of self awareness, and accountability for self-care over healthcare, more people are turning to plants over pills. One of those people is accomplished ultrarunner, author, and speaker, Brock Cannon, who is also the Founder and CEO of Prevail Botanicals, where their mission is “Ridding The World Of Ibuprofen One Human At A Time”
Ibuprofen is one of several drugs, along with others like naproxen and aspirin, that are classified as being NSAIDs (Non-steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs). NSAIDs are used to reduce pain and inflammation, but they’re also known to cause ulcers and bleeding in the intestines. As an ultra runner, in 2016, Brock was taking 2400mg of ibuprofen a day, to treat his pain and inflammation from trail running long distances, up and down the California mountainside. Even though his daily dosage was so high, including 6 pills in the morning, and 6 six at night, he was still in pain, and didn’t feel like the pharmaceuticals were reducing his inflammation. He was also aware of the dangerous side effects associated with their overuse, so he started exploring safer, natural, plant-based alternatives like arnica, turmeric, and eventually CBD.
“I love any plants with medicinal properties,” says Brock. “If you think about how our ancestors operated even just 100 years ago, we didn’t rely on pharmaceuticals that were created in labs. We relied on plants, botanicals, herbs, and medicines that we had pulled and tested directly from nature. One could argue that pharmaceuticals ultimately come from nature, but I feel like the efficacy changes in a big way once it gets in the lab.” This is the reason he created Prevail Botanicals, to offer people a safer alternative to NSAIDs, by providing a natural plant based treatment for pain and inflammation, especially for runners.
In 2019, Brock won 1st Place overall at the Almost Lost 25k and Whoos Trail 50k, as well as taking 5th overall at the Born to Run 30 Miler and 14th overall at the Leona Divide 100k. In 2020, he will be taking on his very first 100 mile race, the SISU 100 Miler, and he’ll be using his own Prevail Botanicals to help him through it. From all of us at GRAM, we wish you the best of luck and thank you for advocating for natural plant medicines.
Fighting Old Age with Exercise
It’s a new year, and with the start of every new year, many of us have New Year’s resolutions. In fact, according to a 2018 survey1, 44% of adults in the U.S. are likely to make a New Year’s resolution. In this same survey, the number one resolution was to exercise more, followed by stop smoking, lose weight, be a better person, and eat healthier. All of these top resolutions are centered around taking better care of ourselves, and quite frankly, they should be. We all deserve to be in good physical and mental health, especially seniors.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Adults ages 65 years and older gain substantial health benefits from regular physical activity.”2 These benefits include reducing the risk of several cardiovascular diseases and cancers and can even help prevent type 2 diabetes. The evidence for exercise fighting diseases is overwhelmingly strong. In reference specifically to seniors, “Physical activity is key to preventing and managing chronic disease. Other benefits include a lower risk of dementia, better perceived quality of life, and reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression.”2
Regular physical activity also reduces the risk of falls, which are a common cause of injuries in older adults. Aerobic fitness even improves memory. In a study at the University of Pittsburgh3, they researched the relationship between aerobic fitness and the volume of the hippocampus, which plays a large part in our memory. The research concluded, “Our results clearly indicate that higher levels of aerobic fitness are associated with increased hippocampal volume in older humans, which translates to better memory function.”
So we know we want to exercise. There are tremendous health benefits for doing so: improving our quality of life and offering sustained independence for seniors, but how can cannabis play a role in exercising? The answer is easy, and it’s however you prefer. If you’re already consuming cannabis in some way, I suggest you keep your current routine, begin an exercise program, and find out how you prefer to incorporate it into your program. If you’re consuming flower or vaporized concentrates, try it about 30 minutes prior to beginning exercise. I personally find consuming cannabis flower prior to exercise helps motivate me to get active and makes the activity more enjoyable. Edibles should be used with caution unless you already consume them regularly, and are familiar with their onset and effects. Tinctures and oils are great to use as a daily supplement, just like B-12, and topical products like creams and patches are perfect for targeting isolated areas of discomfort.
If you’re new to exercise, consuming cannabis, or both, the rules remain the same. Start slow, learn what works best for you, and have fun. Not all exercise is going to the gym. Go on walks with your family, friends, and neighbors. Volunteer for local organizations and sign up for positions that require physical activity. Even activities like gardening and dancing are excellent ways to increase your level of fitness, while lowering your risk of disease and encouraging sustained independence alongside a longer and happier life.