I love swimming, but every time I try to exercise in a pool, the endeavor ends in dismal failure with me gasping for air halfway through the first lap.
Today I'm trying something different. Don't tell the Seattle Parks Department, but I've consumed some cannabis on my walk to Colman Pool. About 100 yards into my workout, I feel like I can keep swimming forever. I feel sleek and precise as each arm stroke cuts into the water in front of me and pulls my body forward. My breathing is natural and measured, my legs kick in perfect time.
You might think that filling my lungs with smoke before working out makes no sense, but I'm convinced that weed helps me when I exercise—giving me energy, helping me focus, and making repetition less boring. Will I finally be able to swim more than two laps in a row?
If you're looking for an objective answer to whether weed can help with doing laps, don't hold your breath too long. Science has rarely studied the connection between pot and working out, and mainstream fitness experts aren't very willing to talk about the combination.
Only 15 studies have been published in the last 10 years that looked at the relationship between pot and working out, according to a scientific review published in the Australian Journal of Science and Medicine and Sport in March of this year. That review concluded that "THC does not enhance aerobic exercise or strength."
But a 2015 review published in the journal Sports Medicine concluded not enough scientific work had been done to accurately determine pot's effects on physical activity, and called for more research to "develop a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between cannabis and exercise, specifically the potential effects of use on exercise performance, motivation, and recovery."
I tried to get some local experts to weigh in on my stony swim through the salt water of Colman Pool, but professional pool people weren't willing to talk to me. Calls to local private aquatic clubs and swim coaches went unanswered, and coaches at the Seattle Parks Department didn't want to talk about swimming high. Brian Jaeger, an assistant aquatic center coordinator at the Ballard Pool, said the city's drug policy prevented them from exploring the connection.
"The City of Seattle is a drug-free environment, and thus we do not have experience with combining cannabis with swimming," Jaeger said in an e-mail.
There are, however, people within the cannabis industry that tout pot's potential for helping people exercise. Jim McAlpine, who created the 420 Games, a traveling festival that combines weed with exercise, said pot helps him work out in the pool longer and more effectively.
"I know for sure I stay in the pool a lot longer when I use cannabis," McAlpine said. "It just helps my mind quiet down and focus on the task at hand, meaning the athletic task. It allows me to go into a Zen-like meditative state. It makes me focus more on my strokes. I think the strokes are better, and I think the breathing is more consistent."
I've felt similar while cycling high. And I've noticed that some strains are better at getting me into these meditative states than others.
Origins, a pot shop in West Seattle, is one of a growing group of retailers that has dropped the classic indica versus sativa distinction and instead groups strains in categories like "After Hours" and "Self Discovery." I picked up a couple grams from their "Adventurous" category, a Lime Skunk made by Fire Bros. that smelled like a tangy lime soda and a Sour Tangie by Dutch Brother Farms that smelled like a tangerine candy.
To get to Colman Pool, you can walk through Lincoln Park's woods or along the beach, so there was ample space to smoke before I got to the waterfront pool.
Did those two bowls turn me into Michael Phelps? Not quite. The Zen feeling continued for two laps, slightly longer than my usual, but as I set out on my third consecutive lap, that familiar feeling of gasping for air came to me. After getting to the deep end, I bobbed in the afternoon sun and caught my breath. I took in the unobstructed view of Puget Sound that runs the entire length of the pool. Two ferries passed each other in front of the Olympic Mountains.
Pot may not have made me into an Olympian, but I couldn't have been happier. Where else in the world can you see mountains from their snowy peaks to sea level while sitting at the edge of a publicly owned saltwater swimming pool?
Nowhere else, I thought, as I pushed off and kept swimming.