By Emma Betuel

At first glance, cannabis and endurance sports seem like an unlikely pairing. But a well-timed hit can break up the monotony of a long, grueling workout so effectively that the unlikely pairing has taken hold in some niche endurance running communities. A new survey published in Frontiers in Public Healthsuggests that using marijuana as a workout enhancer isn’t as niche of an idea as it once was, though.

This recent study, led by University of Colorado’s Angela Bryan, Ph.D., showed that 81.7 percent of 605 survey respondents in states where weed was legal reported using marijuana directly before or after exercise.

“We were stunned it was that high,” Bryan, a professor of psychology and neuroscience, said on Tuesday.

Her data helps fill a crucial gap in our understanding of weed-related workouts. Namely, why athletes turn to weed when they’re contemplating a workout. Amid evidence that marijuana will do little or nothing to improve athletic performance, her results suggest that people don’t actually smoke because they think it makes them better at their chosen sport. Rather, they believe it makes the experience more enjoyable and helps with recovery afterwards.

There are plenty of anecdotes that speak to the positive experiences of training while high. Endurance runner Avery Collins, a top finisher at some of America’s most grueling ultras, famously either “smokes a little” or pops an edible about 30 minutes before he takes off on a training run. This experience isn’t limited to elite-caliber runners. The notion of combining weed and workouts is also debated on the r/running subreddit.

“I notice that I usually run really well when I’m high, I stay so focused on the run and my body,” wrote u/PurpleMonkeyRunner in 2015. “I either run faster or I feel like a run faster, I haven’t fully tested if it helps me or not. I sure do enjoy the runs though and have never had a bad experience doing it.”

While Bryan’s paper can’t answer questions about whether cannabis affects athletic performance, it does show that most athletes in the sample who use marijuana do so because it makes their workouts feel better.

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