The Dark Horse Gym in San Jose seems like any other training facility for combat athletes—the loud smack of boxing gloves on leather echoes throughout the space, while punching bags jingle and sway from the impact made by mixed martial artists (MMA).
But every weekend, enter the gym and you’ll notice something different—amidst the crowd of pro-MMA fighters, fitness enthusiasts and folks simply trying to get in shape is a station where a group of athletes consume cannabis in its various forms.
Jean Paul Ghazeleh-Aceves, who goes by JP, is the founder of InEx and cofounder of CannAthlete, the organizations responsible for introducing cannabis to the Dark Horse Gym. Together with Seibo Shen, a jiu-jitsu fighter and the CEO of VapeXhale, the two have constructed a program and a community that brings together people of all backgrounds who are interested in using cannabis to reach their full athletic potential.
Cannabis’s ability to enhance sports performance is nothing new. “Athletes have been using this plant for thousands of years,” says ex-NFL player Eben Britton who has no connection to CannAthlete, but is currently working on a book about cannabis and sports. “I think there’s a very integral relationship between the warrior and the cannabis plant. It just hasn’t been talked about because of how stigmatized [cannabis] has been.”
Indeed, soldiers in ancient times would sometimes use cannabis during battle because it lowered inhibitions, and modern-day athletes have tuned into these benefits—many like Eben say that it adds to their workouts.
“I like to do high THC concentrates before my workout. I feel like it really primes my body for the physical stress I'm about to inflict on it,” says Eben. “I’ve got a lot of scar tissue and bad joints and muscles that don't necessarily stretch the way they used to—consuming a high THC concentrate eases my tissues and wipes out a lot of inflammation that I might feel in my joints.”
For many of the folks at the CannAthlete session, cannabis helps them focus on the task at hand: Nate Moore is a professional mixed marital artist who uses cannabis because it helps with his striking. Nate described the first time he used cannabis during a workout, saying, “I was relaxed; I felt that I could hit much harder—I was more fluid, and I had more endurance.”
“When [my trainer] said, ‘Turn your hip,’ it had a new meaning to me. So that’s when I started to see that [cannabis] was one of the bigger elements in my life that was missing,” he adds.
Not all of the individuals who come to CannAthlete sessions are professional athletes. Cameron Whigham suffered a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed, but he says that cannabis has helped him regain some of the sensation in his legs. Like Nate, he uses cannabis during workout sessions.
“[Cannabis] helps me focus on my workout,” says Cameron. “I get into the zone more, and I actually end up doing more than I intended to.”
“After I work out, I like to use CBD to help relax my body,” says Cameron, touching on another application cannabis has in the sports world: recovery. Athletes are realizing that cannabis’s anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties can help them recuperate—UFC fighter Nate Diaz notably puffed on a CBD vape pen during a post-fight press conference last year, and Eben uses CBD lotions after workouts to help with joint pain.
Nate and Eben—who both partake in sports where hits to the head are the norm—add that the neuroprotective qualities of cannabis are particularly applicable to their bodies’ needs.
“I've studied a lot of plants and herbal remedies—ancient and Ayurvedic, traditional Chinese medicine—there's no other substance on this planet that I know of that has the same neuroprotective qualities that cannabis does,” says Eben.
As athletes and avid cannabis consumers, both JP and Seibo are familiar with the relationship between cannabis and sports, and how the plant can help both athletes and non-athletes achieve fitness goals.
JP works closely with athletes to fine-tune a regimen that works best for their body. He puts an emphasis on getting his clients to establish athletic goals and then uses cannabis to help them zero in on those goals.
“Weed brings you back to a child's mind,” says Seibo. “You see something interesting and your attention focuses on that interesting thing. If we make that thing your competition—that's when we increase performance. And it's not just the weed—it's the full process.” JP and Seibo use cannabis to help athletes become “supple leopards”—calm and focused, yet also dynamic and ready to spring into action.
Cannabis is notorious for its myriad effects: What works for one person may not work for another. “Cannabis tends to facilitate a state of homeostasis—that's why people have so many different effects with the same strain. If you're a little wired and you need to calm down, you can smoke cannabis; if you're really tired and you need to pep up, you can consume cannabis,” says Seibo.
JP and Seibo developed a program with this in mind. Generally, they first observe participants working out normally—without the help of cannabis. They then decide whether an individual would benefit from using cannabis as part of their workout regimen. For those who might gain an advantage, Seibo and JP’s program consists of roughly six steps:
The CPA is a simple questionnaire that you can fill out before attending a CannAthlete get together—it’s a way to evaluate the trainee’s experience with cannabis and what they hope to get out of the program.
Based off of answers in the CPA, participants consume a form of cannabis that meets their personality type and needs—this is the CPF. Participants then move onto the massage and stretching part of the program, which is conducted by a certified resistance stretching instructor and usually lasts for 10–15 minutes.
“We do the massage because most people neglect that aspect of health and fitness and training,” says JP. He adds that this portion is meant to prime the body for the workout to come. This is also the time for the participant to acclimate to the cannabis they’ve consumed.
Depending on how they feel after their massage, participants either consume more cannabis to balance out their mental state, or if they feel ready—they begin their workout.
Oftentimes, if participants are training as a group, JP and Seibo will also incorporate a kundalini breathing technique called “breath of fire,” which gives participants hyper-control of their diaphragm. According to Seibo, this technique “allows us to get everyone (more or less) at the same starting point, which is relaxed but with heightened awareness.”
If participants are on their own, JP and Seibo work with them to create an individualized workout. “This is where [participants] take many different paths. … We’re able to fine-tune the program by adding mixed martial arts, rhythm, dancing, stretching, personal training that includes weightlifting, posture, correction—but it's different for everybody,” says JP.
Workouts are rounded out by 3 to 1 cardio intervals. This type of high-intensity interval training is thought to be an efficient way to increase endurance, burn fat and build muscle—thus it’s applicable to many athletic pursuits.
Once the interval training is complete, athletes are welcome to explore more of the gym on their own, partake in CBD recovery or mingle with others who subscribe to a similar workout regimen and lifestyle.
Overall, the CannAthlete program is about fine-tuning the participant’s relationship with cannabis.
“If you really want to discover this, show up here on Saturday or Sunday. Everything is free,” says JP. “The cannabis is free; the snacks are free; the friendships here are definitely free—and even more valuable than anything else you'll get.”