This article has been making the rounds because of its provocative postulating about whether marijuana is a performance enhancer in ultras. I am not a doctor. I am not a pothead. I am not a competitive ultrarunner. But I can say this with complete confidence: The idea that marijuana is a performance enhancer is total horeshit.
Jenn Shelton was quoted in the article saying, "the person who is going to win an ultra is someone who can manage their pain, not puke and stay calm," said veteran runner Jenn Shelton. "Pot does all three of those things."
Hmmm. Ok. While all that sounds plausible, what Ms. Shelton leaves out is that marijuana totally messes with your endocrine system. Dry mouth, inconsistent heart rate, irregular appetite, and, more than anything else, an overall sluggishness and lack of motivation. Do that while ultrarunning, and you're toast. And never mind the fact that marijuana doesn't exactly improve your coordination. Do it at Leadville and you'll be tripping every fourth step around the lake and on the Colorado Trail. Do it at Hardrock and you're likely to end up floating downstream in the San Juans.
Could you have a pot brownie at mile 93 and finish ok? Sure. Just like you could have a beer at mile 93 and finish just fine. Do it at mile 7 and you won't finish or won't finish anywhere near your potential, at a bare minimum.
How confident am I am about this fact? I'll bet anyone - anyone - $1000 they can't finish top five at Leadville this year while high the whole time. I'll be there and I'll be watching the leaders. If you can eat a pot brownie at the start, mile 25, the turnaround, and mile 75, and still finish top five, I'll give you a $1000. It ain't gonna happen. The idea that you can be high at four in the morning and then go trade blows with Aish, Sharman, Krar, Zeke & Co. for 100 miles is an insult to the dedication and intensity of those athletes. And I don't think anyone who is a serious threat would even consider the challenge, because anyone capable of finishing top five knows how important having all your faculties in tune is to having a good race.
The only runner who is quoted as saying he's done it uses it exclusively as a "post-race, post-run remedy." To that point, in very limited quantities, that sounds plausible. But note how even he talks about levels. In the same way that if you take too much Advil and you could put yourself at serious risk, the same would apply to marijuana as a pain-reliever. Except that in large quantities it would just throw off your motivation and recovery, because your endocrine system would be overly taxed.
Could you consume small amounts post-run and still remain reasonably competitive? Sure. Just like you could have a few beers after every run and it would only have a marginal impact on performance. But to the extent that it's a pain reliever, I don't think its benefits would outweigh its drawbacks. And it could only be used as a pain reliever successfully in very modest quantities, at which point, I don't think it moves the needle. Either way, serious ultrarunners won't be consuming weed to improve their performance any time soon. The rigors of competing at the highest levels simply don't allow it.