Pot Heads and Distance Runners, More in Common Than We Thought?

You might view the stereotypical stoner and distance runner as polar opposites.  And a comparison of the amount of calories each burns on average might bear out those assumptions.  But the stoner and the runner might not be as different as we think.   For example, many athletes excelling at the highest levels and other highly motivated, successful professionals use cannabis as a natural medication or intoxicant.  So the image of a stereotypical stoner – sitting unshaven on the couch in his mother’s basement, hands covered in pretzel salt – may be a bit antiquated.  For another, the stoner (whatever he or she looks like) and the runner surprisingly may share motivations, at least physiologically.

A recent New York Times article (link at bottom) suggests that the “runner’s high” is the result of increased activity in the endocannabinoid system – the part of your body designed to receive marijuana – not an increase in endorphins as is commonly assumed.  Perhaps more interesting, the article underscores our lack of, and need for, a complete understanding of the human endocannabinoid system.

What we know is compelling.  And leading researchers like Dr. Donald Abrams M.D. and Dr. William Courtney, M.D., and Harvard Medical School Chairman Emeritus Dr. Lester Grinspoon may advise you that a healthy endocannabinoid system is key, if not critical, to maintaining a healthy brain and body.

Well what is the Endocannabinoid System?

Here is the skinny as I understand it, and keep in mind that I am not a doctor.  The body’s Endocannabinoid System lies in the brain and in other parts of the body.  It has receptors which naturally bind to certain exogenous (fancy way of saying “outside the body”) cannabinoids (usually from marijuana) that we introduce to our internal systems.  Basically, your body is specifically designed to receive cannabis (marijuana).  According to Wikipedia,”studies have revealed a broad role for endocannabinoid signaling in a variety of physiological processes, including neuromodulator release, motor learning, synaptic plasticity, appetite, and pain sensation.”

Some of this is readily corroborated from first or second hand experience.  For example, most of us know that cannabis can dramatically increase one’s appetite i.e. the infamous “munchies” – responsible for Tostitos-induced comas and empty ice cream containers everywhere.  For another, MS sufferers, among many other patients, will attest to the fact that cannabis provides pain relief where synthetic pain relievers fall short or produce horrific side-effects.  In any case, it seems clear that we need to know more about this stuff, and so let the research flourish.

Or so one would think.

Despite the American Medical Association’s recent call for “clinical research and [the] development of cannabinoid-based medicines,” the federal government denies nearly all applications for marijuana research, which take years to process.  In fact, many researches eventually abandon their plans for federally authorized (legal) research after years of red-tape and frustration.  The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which controls about 85% of the world’s research on controlled substances, is making things very difficult.  A NIDA spokesman stated in 2010, unabashedly, “our focus is primarily on the negative consequences of marijuana use….We generally do not fund research focused on the potential beneficial medical effects of marijuana.”  However NIDA must approve studies, so you see the problem.

Additionally, the DEA inexcusably continues to classify marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug pursuant to the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.  Schedule 1 is the most restrictive classification, and is reserved for drugs which, among other criteria,  have “no currently accepted medical use.”  To help place this scheduling fallacy in perspective, consider that cocaine is listed in Schedule 2.  That’s right.  There is less concern for, and control over, cocaine, which by definition under the Controlled Substances Act has a higher medical import than marijuana.  In fact, marijuana has no medical use, according to the DEA.

Cannabis has no accepted medical use?

That conclusion and the Schedule 1 designation seems pretty inaccurate, and is rather offensive to many patients who rely on the plant for a quality of life.  Additionally various studies in the United States and other countries demonstrate cannabis’ efficacy in curing or managing cancers, glaucoma, MS and other conditions of the Central Nervous System, AIDS, HIV, neuropathic pain, Autism, PTSD, migranes, among many others.  Yet,  there are still a few people out there who stand by the seemingly odd conclusion, drawn in 1970, that marijuana has no accepted medical use.

Who are these people?

They work at the Department of Health and Human Services under Katherine Sebelius, and report their findings to the DEA which is headed by Michele Leonhart.  If you want to know why the DEA and HHS refuse to acknowledge what most people already know to be true (marijuana has beneficial if not miraculous medical applications), keep an eye out for an upcoming post (or subscribe to this blog and I’ll email it to you) on a well known drug war architect whose secret and nefarious intentions were misguided.  In other words, he was a “Dick.”

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/16/phys-ed-what-really-causes-runners-high/

Photo Credit: http://www.madetorun.com/

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