BY ALEX THOMAS | Photo by Alessio Soggetti
The first time I took an edible before my semi-daily run was last summer. It was boiling hot and I ran along a rural road cutting between pine trees. The road was cracked and went on for miles, unchanging, and near enough the Chesapeake Bay that the muddy smell of brackish water clung to the air. The road was removed from the world so that I ran straight down the yellow lines, listening to a country music playlist. I remember all this because I took too much of the edible and burst into laughter at the country music lyric: I wish every road was named Copperhead. I had to stop running, overtaken by laughter brought on by the images of the mass confusion that would result from naming every road Copperhead Drive. It was the plot of a cheap Saturday Night Live skit but I howled laughing at it.
I’d taken the edible before my run because I was looking for some way to quiet the pain in my knees. Like every has-been athlete wasting away at a bar somewhere, I tore my knees to pieces during a career stretching from the time of my first memories through college. I also tore the menisci in my knees, meaning that if I lock my legs while standing, the bones will touch and I’ll get a shot of pain similar to the spark you get when you touch a nerve in a tooth. But I need to run, I run to get away from things, I’ve run my way through breakups and layoffs and if you run for long enough, you can trick your head into happiness.
I could have taken some ibuprofen, but I hate painkillers. As a result of the opioid epidemic, I’m terrified even of mild painkillers. Instead, I took an edible before my run. I’d read about taking edibles before a run, done a bit of research and found that barely anybody actually did research on running while stoned. There were plenty of scattered anecdotes from stoned runners, promising everything from damnation to indescribable euphoria, but those were only anecdotes.
When I got to the other side of the laughter and was able to catch my breath, I jogged back. The pain in my knees was gone—it’s always gone by the end of the run. But I didn’t feel my knees creaking like they usually do after a long run. I walked past the house onto the dock and sat down. I was still stoned—I’d taken too many edibles—but the sun was coming down into the Chesapeake Bay and the sunset was on the surface of the water like a mirror. And I rode out the end of the high on the dock, going back inside only after it got dark and the stars began to gather in the inky sky overhead.
Since that run, I’ve often taken edibles before runs—never more than 10mg at a time—and I always make sure there’s an equal CBD ratio in the product. Of course, stupidity must be addressed. I live in a city and I never take edibles if I’m running through the crowded downtown. Those runs require all your faculties to ensure you’re not flattened by a taxicab or that you don’t smash face-first into a tourist. I don’t even wear headphones on those runs. But in every good city, there are a few parks with a trail winding away from civilization. If you run enough, you’ll find barely trafficked routes. I’ve got a few favorites.
Studies on pain relief and cannabis are wide-ranging and sometimes less-than-reputable. But there is evidence to suggest that it’s worth it. One study on cannabis and chronic knee pain by Canadian researchers found that medical cannabis therapies “may be a cost-effective strategy in the non-surgical management of chronic knee pain relative to current knee pain therapies.” A paper in the peer-reviewed Journal of Clinical and Experimental Rheumatology reported that “Natural phytocannabinoids and synthetic derivatives have produced clear activity in a variety of models of joint pain in animals. These effects are the result of both inhibition of pain pathway signalling (mostly CB1) and anti-inflammatory effects (mostly CB2).”
And there is a recently discovered link between cannabis and running—the “runner’s high” that we all know well is caused not by endorphins as we've historically assumed, but by a triggering of the endocannabinoids released by your body during a run. It was such a blow to our understanding of the experience that the New York Times wrote it up. Endocannabinoids are similar in their chemical makeup to cannabis, inferring that we can game our endocannabinoid system with cannabis.
As I’ve begun to understand the way my body reacts to these runs, I’ve learned how to get the most out of them. My edible runs are notably useful if I’m troubled by something or if I’m working on a piece of writing and feel blocked. Running on cannabis allows me to look at my mind from 30,000 feet, to step away from the thought-rut that we all sometimes get caught in. There’s a line in a memoir of a Buddhist monk that I’ve always loved when a Tibetan lama opines, “It’s so pleasant. Just take a deep breath and watch the mind from a corner. Whatever arises goes away on its own.”
And that’s where my mind goes on those runs, passing through the trees in the parks, past the occasional statue and fellow jogger. Letting all those clouding thoughts pass on away and when I get home, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. If I’ve timed it right, the edible is just wearing off and after a shower, I’m back to work. The only difference is that after those runs, I don’t have to wear bags of ice on my knees for an hour.
Alex Thomas is a writer from Washington, D.C.