Marijuana and Rock Climbing, then and now
I’ll never forget sitting on the rubber floor of the North Rock Climbing Gym flipping through the owner’s old climbing magazines. While I only started climbing in the 1990’s, I was enthralled with the dirtbag history of the sport. Pictures of legendary Yosemite greats like Jim Birdwell and John Long lined the pages. Disenfranchised hippies whose single-minded approach to climbing was like a beacon to me and my friends struggling to stand out. There was a sense of freedom in what they were doing, living in their vans, climbing new routes, and partying like they were going to live forever. I can’t remember who was in the photograph, but it was a stunning black and white portrait of one of the “Stonemasters” of Yosemite with a big smile and an equally large spliff smouldering away. They seemed to be living the dream, far from our mundane, suburban lives.
While marijuana and climbing have a long history together, a lot of things have changed since that photograph was taken. Neither climbing nor marijuana are on the fringe anymore, and recreational marijuana is now legal in Canada. More people are trying weed in a growing number of situations, and why not? Everywhere we look there seems to be a study supporting new benefits of cannabis. New users are curious about the potential of the drug to help them with whatever ails them. And some people want to see if they also might be able to pull other advantages from partaking in what appears to be a wonder drug. So, do climbing and pot mix?
The Science, kind of
In 2015, Climbing Magazine did an informal survey of professional climbers to get some feedback as to their usage of marijuana. Fearing sponsor backlash, responses were kept anonymous. The results of the survey were highly subjective in terms of whether or not cannabis provided beneficial effects in climbing and training. But respondents unanimously highlighted the need for safety in the sport. One record-setting climber’s motto was “Smoke pot, check your knot.”
Aside from the safety aspect, using weed as a performance enhancing aid appears to depend on the user. In a well researched article, Training Beta references two studies that indicate that drugs such as cannabis are actually detrimental to athletic performance. From both perspectives of performance and safety, marijuana does us no favours. In a sport where participants are trying to limit their exertion, the drug actually increases heart rate, and thus limits performance. And of course the psychoactive effects of THC can cause any number of effects that could compromise judgement, clarity and focus.
Of course, there’s an opposing argument. For many users, smoking marijuana during climbing helps them remain calm and focused on the task at hand. Being able to drill into an exact body movement or sequence without distractions is a good thing in high-level climbing where precision is an absolute must.
The legendary days of the Yosemite climbing scene are mostly behind us now. The sport has evolved into the mainstream and is approached by many with regimented training routines and somewhat stricter diets. Necessary things if you intend to climb at the top of the game and stay safe and injury free. But there’s still a healthy percent of the climbing population who uphold the standards of the old guard, using both marijuana and climbing as vehicles to exploration and freedom.