Last year, I wrote about a first-of-its-kind “cannabis fitness center” opening up in the Bay area, called Power Plant Gym. The studio sells mild weed edibles with the hope that gym-goers will consume them before their workouts in order to have a better experience.
I remember cofounder and retired UFC fighter Kyle Kingsbury gushing about the concept on the phone. “Cannabis is a natural pain reliever, which can help you focus on your training rather than the discomfort you might feel during it,” he explained. “It’s also easier to get into the zone and quiet your mind.” An exercise physiologist I chatted with afterward confirmed those claims, though he warned they could be too much of a good thing. Tuning out and not feeling pain—your body’s warning sign that something is wrong—could encourage you to go too hard, potentially causing more damage after the fact. (Looking for a running challenge? Sign up for Women’s Health’s Run 10 Feed 10 10-K Race!)
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But ever since that interview, I’d been curious. I’m a pretty anxious person, and while I go running to clear my head, sometimes my thoughts are so loud, I hardly hear my music. I also have an annoying issue with my left knee—it aches subtly on a daily basis, and when I’m logging a ton of miles for an upcoming race, the ache often grows into an incessant throb.
So when a bit of pot fatefully landed in my hands during a bachelorette party in D.C. (where it’s legal!), I had to try it out on my next training run.
I decided to keep the run short and standard—my usual 3.5-mile loop around Central Park, which I’ve done a thousand times. (It was nighttime and I knew better than to try an unfamiliar route under the influence.)
Things started off fine, great actually. I was acutely aware of the soft breeze hitting my skin, the crispness of my music (a weird thing to notice, but alas…), and the rhythm of my two feet working together to propel me forward. I felt completely blissful—like someone zapped all the stress from my mind and body and replaced it with a heaping dose of wonder and gratitude.
But about a half-mile in, things began to go south. I started to feel like I had been running forever and aimlessly, the way I feel around mile 11 of a half-marathon, even though my watch clocked in at an even four minutes and 30 seconds of run time. The transverse that connected the East side to the West side, which comes early in my run, felt about as far away as New Jersey. I started to panic, and my breathing followed. Suddenly I was panting on my way to the transverse, worried that I’d completely run out of gas—like an actual car—and not be able to move another foot before finishing the loop.
Then the paranoia set in: Could people hear my heavy breathing? Why did my feet sound like an elephant’s? Was I making a goofy face? Relax, I told myself. But the more I tried to, the harder it became.
The frustration hit then too. Why did I still feel my left knee? Or was the pain all in my head? If it was in my head now, was it always in my head? The thoughts continued, distracting me in some way, I suppose, but never in the way I wanted. I couldn’t get back to the happy vibes I felt during those first four minutes, when everything felt like cloud nine.
At mile two, out of nowhere, a huge raccoon crawled across the track and up a tree. (Keep in mind, the only creature that had ever crossed my path during my six years of running in New York City was a rat.) I stopped short, amazed, and looked around to gape with the fellow runners and walkers near me—but no one was there! I saw one woman walking toward me, but she was completely unaware of the raccoon. I must be hallucinating, I thought, panicking even more. I pulled out my phone to take a picture—the only way I’d know if I imagined the whole thing—then started sprinting. A stoned woman, alone in the park, attacked by an unusually large raccoon? (Or worse, having a psychedelic breakdown solo in Central Park?) That’s the stuff of newspaper headlines.
My phone died right after that. Apparently running a GPS app, listening to music, using your camera, and texting (of course I had to tell someone about the raccoon) does not fare well for an old iPhone with a battery problem. The panic set in again, and I trotted the final mile and a half feeling part-exhilarated (what a great story!) and part-defeated (this now felt like the longest run of my life). My legs felt as heavy as ever, my lungs, like deflated balloons.
By the time I made it home, I decided never to run high again. Perhaps I smoked too much or didn’t have enough in my stomach to absorb the impact of the weed. Regardless, I’m too anxious to have a repeat experience. I’d personally rather just have anxiety than have anxiety about having anxiety.