When it comes to marijuana use and how it affects different areas of the body, there is still a lot unknown. While various sites online may tout its benefits or complications, in many areas the research is very thin. Unfortunately, because of prohibition, marijuana research has been limited. With that being said, the connection between marijuana and bodybuilding is still in a bit of a gray area. Let’s take a look at what we do know.
How Muscle Mass Increases with Bodybuilding
To begin with, you should understand how your muscles grow. When you lift weights, you are essentially inflicting trauma (microtears) in your muscle fibers. This muscle injury triggers satellite cells (muscle stem cells,) to repair the damaged muscle fibers which essentially increases the thickness of the muscle, increasing muscle size (hypertrophy).
What You Eat is More Important
As you probably know, what you eat can have a huge impact on your bodybuilding success. Most trainers focus on protein in the diet and there is a reason for this. When it comes to those satellite cells repairing the damaged muscle fiber, the amino acids found in proteins are essential. Specifically, the amino acids actin and myosin. Lean proteins, such as turkey, help provide the necessary amino acids for muscle growth.
However, that doesn’t mean you should skimp on the carbohydrates. Healthy carbs increase insulin levels that in turn help the muscles take in the amino acids. Because bodybuilding often requires a higher caloric diet in order to maintain muscle mass, marijuana and the “munchies” can prove beneficial as long as you are disciplined with your diet. While studies show that marijuana doesn’t cause significant weight gain, it does stimulate appetite, and when you need to consume high calories for bodybuilding, this can be beneficial.
Testosterone and Growth Hormones
The topic of testosterone and growth hormones is a hot one in the world of bodybuilding, as well as in the discussion of bodybuilding and marijuana use. A few minutes of research on the internet and you will find incorrect information claiming that marijuana reduces the levels of testosterone and growth hormones. With regards to the effect of marijuana on levels of testosterone, in a 2017 study conducted by the NIH and the CDC, 1,577 men in the US were assessed for levels of serum testosterone.
The key factor was NOT the frequency or duration but the recency of use particularly among 18 to 29 year olds. In fact “serum testosterone concentrations were higher in men with more recent marijuana use.” While testosterone and growth hormones supplements are promoted to enhance muscle growth, a recent study by McMaster University in Canada showed that participants were able to make new muscle protein despite huge differences in testosterone levels.
“While testosterone is definitely anabolic and promotes muscle growth in men and women at high doses, such as those used during steroid abuse, our findings show that naturally occurring levels of testosterone do not influence the rate of muscle protein synthesis.”
Cannabis, Muscle Pain, and Inflammation
Another hot topic in the bodybuilding world when it comes to cannabis is muscle recovery, including inflammation and pain relief. This is also one area of marijuana research that shows actual results. THC has been reported to possess anti-inflammatory properties in studies and a number of reports have highlighted the role of non-psychoactive cannabinoids such as CBD in inflammatory processes. The US Federal Government itself considers “cannabinoids useful in the treatment and prophylaxis of wide variety of oxidation associated diseases, such as ischemic, age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.”
Numerous studies have looked at the effects of marijuana on pain and inflammation. A clinical review in 2015 showed that marijuana use for chronic pain is supported by high-quality evidence. As we mentioned above, in order to build muscle, you must essentially damage the muscle in order for it to repair and build. This damage and the rebuilding process contribute to inflammation. Cannabinoids, the active component of marijuana, suppress inflammation. The reduction of inflammation post-workout often results in less pain, swelling, and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
While marijuana research is still in its early stages, what we know now is that, when it comes to bodybuilding, current research shows it shouldn’t hinder your workout and for some, it might even help.