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If your goal in the gym is to build muscle, but you are afraid that marijuana will affect your results, I’ve got one word—ARNOLD.

After winning the 1975 Mr. Olympia title, Schwarzenegger famously enjoyed a fat joint while eating some fried chicken. The next day, Arnold woke up and his suit of muscles remained—the weed (and fried chicken) had not dissolved his physique.

The Science

bodybuilding molecule Marijuana and Bodybuilding: Does Weed Affect Muscle Growth?
Photo credit: Weedpad

Transitioning from someone who is a novice weightlifter into a bodybuilder takes a lot of time and dedication. Bodybuilders spend a lot of time monitoring hormones like testosterone, estrogen, and growth (hormone) in order to achieve the muscle gains that they desire. Other important aspects of being a successful bodybuilder include, proper diet, focus, dedication, and time. Without even picking up a weight, the effort that goes into becoming a successful bodybuilder is daunting.

If you are a marijuana user and also a bodybuilder or aspiring to become one, you might wonder if marijuana is in any way detrimental to the pursuit of your goals. There are really two aspects of the answer to this question—a chemical “sciency” answer and a behavioral answer.

Marijuana and hormones – “Sciency” stuff

Testosterone

Studies show that THC can potentially reduce testosterone production, but not permanently.  Tests done on rats showed that THC could suppress the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary axis or HPA. A common belief is that the HPA is responsible for the majority of testosterone production, and when suppressed by let’s say THC, testosterone production will also be thwarted. The fact is, the HPA is only responsible for about 5% of the body’s testosterone production. The majority of testosterone production comes from Leydig cells that promote the secretion of testosterone in male testes. So, it is possible that THC can decrease the 5% total testosterone production coming from the HPA, but for at most a 24-hour period. As you build a tolerance, it will take more THC to affect your HPA, but not necessarily the cannabinoid receptors responsible for getting you high.

Estrogen

There is a rumor out there that suggests marijuana can give a male “man boobs” because it increases estrogen production. This is not true.  Marijuana and estrogen do certainly interact in both males and females. Studies on male and female rats showed that when female rats had increased estrogen levels, the pain relieving effects of marijuana are more intense. When marijuana is consumed and THC penetrates the blood brain barrier, it competes with estradiol to bind with the brain’s estrogen receptor. In theory, when there is an increased estrogen level in males or females, less THC will bind with the estrogen receptors, leaving more available THC to bind with endocannabinoid system. It looks like the interaction of THC and estrogen is beneficial for those looking for pain relief from cannabis. Male Bodybuilders—do not fret about “man-boobs”, and female bodybuilders—you could brag about having to use less marijuana for pain relief around your guy friends… if you want.

Human Growth Hormone

Human growth hormone (GH) is produced in the pituitary gland and is responsible for cell growth and regeneration. Building muscles requires growth hormone, but it is also vital for tissue growth in the brain and organs. Growth hormone is processed through the liver and converted into growth factors like IGF-1 that has anabolic features. A 2002 study revealed that when given to rats, concentrated THC can cause the reduction of growth hormone produced. This is due to THC’s affect on the hypothalamus that causes it to release somatostatin, a chemical that the body uses to stop HG production.

Remember these studies were done on rats!

bodybuilding science Marijuana and Bodybuilding: Does Weed Affect Muscle Growth?
Photo credit: Time Magazine

Fortunately scientists have conducted studies on humans to determine whether or not marijuana can affect GH production. The study found that though THC did reduce testosterone levels (though it remained in the normal range), but it increased GH production and cortisol production were slightly elevated, but not significantly. It is also important to understand that the subjects of this study were not regular marijuana users, thus it did not consider the effects of tolerance.

From a scientific standpoint, we must conclude that marijuana use does not have any significant affect on the hormones that are crucial to bodybuilder’s development. In each case, the THC found in marijuana has a certain interaction with the hormones discussed, but nothing permanent or debilitating. Don’t stop your research here though; another aspect of bodybuilding and marijuana use is the behavioral effect.

You can be your worst enemy

We have shown that on a chemical level marijuana use probably won’t influence your bodybuilding goals in a negative way, but you have to consider personal behavior before making your decision.

We all know the stereotypes about marijuana users, lazy, unmotivated, overweight, and spaced out. But you are a bodybuilder; you have been destroying these stereotypes with muscle gains for as long as you can remember—right?

bodybuilding diet Marijuana and Bodybuilding: Does Weed Affect Muscle Growth?
Photo credit: Bodybuildsupplements

You have to look inward to decide if marijuana will inhibit your ability to perform in the gym. Part of bodybuilding is maintaining a diet that compliments your goals. If you need to gain weight, a high calorie diet will certainly push you in the right direction, but not just any calories. If you have trouble building the appetite you need to consume extra calories marijuana may help, but if you lack discipline when the munchies come be careful—a carrot is always going to do you better than a bag of Cheetos!

Some of you may take a pre-workout formula that is designed to get you pumped up and focused for the gym. Marijuana may be the medicine that you need to calm down and relax after stressful workouts. Just don’t let marijuana use become the reason you need a pre-workout formula. If marijuana makes you sleepy long after you want it to, do not take another supplement to bring you back up, it’s a vicious cycle that is hard on the heart and organs. Instead, you should monitor your marijuana consumption, being sure that you are using the correct amounts at the correct times.

Marijuana can be a valuable medicine for bodybuilders. It can help induce deep sleep that is valuable to muscle restoration and growth. It can help you build an appetite when eating is the last thing on your mind. Part of being human is that we are all different and marijuana will affect us differently. Rest assured that you will not screw up your body’s ability to build muscle if you choose to use marijuana. The rest is up to you.

Are you a bodybuilder who enjoys the herb? Let us know on social media.

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