Saturday, September 8, 2012

Get Off the Pot? by Jerry Brainum

Richard Lake (not his real name, for reasons that will soon be apparent) was a top professional bodybuilder in the mid to late ’60s. Although he did use anabolic steroids, he disavowed using most drugs later in his career—with one notable exception. Lake had a preworkout ritual that he claimed enabled him to train more intensely and concentrate more effectively throughout his training session.
     The secret source of his preworkout ritual became evident one day in the locker room of Gold’s Gym. The gym had a defunct sauna room, located in the back of the men’s locker room. It was the perfect place to engage in clandestine behavior, which was exactly what Lake wanted. What he couldn’t conceal, however, was the grassy fumes that diffused into the nearby gym floor.
      Lake smoked marijuana in that room—and not just a puff on one “joint,” either. No, Lake reveled in a marijuana orgy, losing his thoughts in the smoke that rose slowly toward the ceiling in his secret alcove. He would emerge in an hour or so and head directly to the gym floor, working out with no apparent sign of his activity.
      Although marijuana is illegal, many athletes, not just bodybuilders, regularly smoke weed as a means of relaxation and mind expansion. Erstwhile bodybuilding champion and current politician Arnold Schwarzenegger openly smoked a joint in the 1977 film “Pumping Iron.” In a 1989 interview with a Los Angeles Times reporter, Arnold noted, “We smoked pot once or twice a week before we went to the gym. Sometimes at parties someone would pass around a joint. It never interfered because it was so casual.” A long-held tenet of the drug culture is that marijuana emphasizes the mood you’re already in. Thus, if you feel good, you’ll feel even better after THC, the intoxicating component of pot, does its job on your brain.
Marijuana has always been considered relatively innocuous compared to other mind drugs, such as cocaine and heroin. Entire volumes have been written documenting its physiological effects, but few people are aware of its true effects on the body. Since this is a bodybuilding magazine, let’s examine the impact of marijuana relevant to bodybuilding and health.
Active Ingredients
       Known to botanists as Cannabis sativa, marijuana grows wild throughout the world in temperate climates. Analysis of the 100-species plant yields 460 compounds, of which 60 are cannabinoids. The only one to have psychoactive effects, however, is delta-9-THC, the ingredient that makes you feel high. Interestingly, not long ago scientists discovered nerve receptors in the brain that are specifically affected by THC, suggesting that the body produces its own natural form of the substance.
      In 1992 a cannibislike chemical was isolated from pig brain. It was made in the body from arachidonic acid, the precursor of other chemicals called prostaglandins, most of which cause inflammatory reactions. The substance was named anandamide, derived from the Sanskrit word for bliss.
      Different parts of the marijuana plant vary in THC content. The bracts, flowers and leaves have the most, while the stems, seeds and roots contain lesser amounts. The most concentrated form is hash oil, the distilled liquid resin of the female marijuana plant. It contains up to 65 percent THC, compared to the 1 to 3 percent found in the average joint. Street pot has gradually increased in potency through the years, and current versions are thought to be five to 10 times more potent than the stuff used to “turn on and tune in” in the ’60s. In the ’70s the average joint contained 10 milligrams of THC; today the average is 60 to 150 milligrams or more.
      When inhaled, THC is rapidly absorbed. Studies show its systemic bioavailability is about 18 percent, with heavier users absorbing more than casual smokers. Compare that to the mere 6 percent of oral uptake (as from a pill). The peak effects occur within 20 to 30 minutes and last for two to four hours.
THC circulates throughout the body and, being highly fat soluble, easily enters the brain. About 80 to 90 percent of an intravenous dose of THC is excreted from the body in five days, although metabolites remain detectable in urine for 10 days after a single dose and more than 20 days after chronic use. Due to its proclivity for storage in fatty tissues of the body, in some cases THC may take up to a month to be eliminated.
      How marijuana affects a person varies with individuals. A recent study funded by the United States National Institute on Drug Abuse involving identical twins found a genetic basis in whether you’ll find pot enjoyable. The effects can even vary in the same person.Users of the drug frequently describe a dreamy, relaxed state, in which they feel more in tune with their senses. You get a false sense of time—it appears to pass more slowly. Others, however, get what the drug culture of the ’60s used to call a “paranoid reaction,” characterized by panic and dread. Much depends on such factors as the user’s mood, expectations and personality.
      A 1970 medical review of marijuana described the following effects in a user of the drug:2
“Typically, the user feels a series of jittery ‘rushes’ soon after inhaling. A sense of relaxation and well-being follows. There is awareness of being intoxicated not unlike that produced by alcohol. The user becomes acutely conscious of certain stimuli to the extent that his whole attention is focused, immersed and at times lost with the sensory experience. In this state, jokes are funnier, misfortunes more poignant and human relations more deeply perceived.
“The appreciation of food, sex and, in particular, music is intensified. The user may believe that his thoughts are unusually profound (an impression rarely shared with observers). Paranoid thoughts and feelings of depersonalization have been reported by subjects and observed in the laboratory. Visual imagery is increased, and in larger doses, colors may shimmer and visual distortions occur. There are feelings of changed body proportion. Among the most striking perceptual changes is the subjective slowing of time.”
At least two effects rapidly occur in most people who smoke marijuana: The eyes redden, and the heart beats faster. The increased load on the heart tends to impede athletic performance, as shown in some studies. That’s because while pot speeds the heart, the cardiac stroke volume, or amount of blood pumped by the heart, decreases.3 One study showed that in men cycling against increasing workloads, pot decreased exercise performance.
      A recent case study reported on a 21-year-old man who suffered a heart attack, despite showing no apparent cardiac risk factors, other than drinking too much the night before. THC can cause vasospasms, or contractions, of blood vessels, particularly in the brain, that may predispose to stroke. The substance is also linked to causing heart rhythm disturbances secondary to increased release of catecholamines, such as epinephrine.
      The body’s amandamide promotes increased blood platelet activation. That, in turn, can result in the formation of a blood clot in the coronary arteries that is the most prevalent cause of heart attacks.
Those facts have led some researchers to suspect marijuana use as a factor in heart attacks with normal (not blocked) coronary arteries, which occurs in only 6 percent of heart attacks, but at a frequency of 10 percent in those under age 35.
      Another study showed a general decrement in standing steadiness, simple and complex reaction times, and other athletic skills in 161 men and women who took THC.5 Contrary to the beliefs of the bodybuilder described at the beginning of this article, pot, if anything, decreases training concentration and focus—an effect so potent that it can’t even be overcome with concomitant amphetamine use.6
     From a bodybuilding perspective, a crucial question is how smoking pot affects anabolic hormones, such as testosterone.
Marijuana and Hormones
      A brief report concerning the appearance of gynecomastia, or male breast development, in three male pot smokers published in 1972 sparked a number of subsequent studies that examined the relationship between marijuana use and testosterone levels.7 Gynecomastia, however, is not a common side effect of marijuana use.
      The condition is usually the result of an imbalance between testosterone and estrogen in men, with something increasing the latter. Various studies have shown that the active ingredients in pot don’t have any estrogenic activity; however, a recent study did find potent estrogenlike substances in the smoke emitted from a marijuana joint.
8 Since joints are inhaled deeper than cigarettes (which, by the way, also provide estrogenic compounds), you are getting a considerable estrogenic effect from smoking marijuana.

1 Jones, R. (1984). Marijuana: Health and treatment issues. Psychiatric Clinics of North America. 7:703.
2 Pillard, R.C. (1970). Marijuana. New England J Med. 283:294.
3 Tashkin, D.P. (1978). Cannibis: 1977 UCLA Conference. Annals of Internal Medicine. 89:539-549.
4 Caldicott, D.G., et al. (2005). Keep off the grass: Marijuana use and cardiovascular events. Eur J Emerg Med. 12:236-44.
5 Bird, K.D., et al. (1980). Intercannabinoid and cannabinoid-ethanol interactions and their effects on human performance. Psychopharmacology. 71:181-188.
6 Forney, R., et al. (1976). The combined effect of marijuana and dextroamphetamine. Ann NY Acad Sci. 281:162.
7 Harmon, J., et al. (1972). Gynecomastia in marijuana users. New England J Med. 287:936.
8 Lee, S.Y., et al. (2006). Estrogenic effects of marijuana smoke condensate and cannabinoid compounds. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 214:270-78.

©,2012, Jerry Brainum.Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited.