I walk up a wood staircase in a nondescript building in Northeast Portland,Oregon with my yoga mat slung over my shoulder. Once I get to the top and turn the corner, I’m welcomed by an incredibly fit woman with the kind of abs that would make anyone rethink the choices they made at brunch that morning.
She greets me with a hug and hands over a slip of paper, instructing me to write down whatever is weighing heavily on my mind, stick it in an envelope hanging next to the entrance—a play on “leave your worries at the door”. I survey the room. There are women (and a few men) decked out in their finest 80s-inspired workout gear, all leg warmers and shiny spandex. There are leotards for sale with geometric prints and neon hues that look straight out of an episode of Saved by the Bell. In the corner, there’s a woman mixing up mocktails with a healthy dose of THC.
She smiles at me and says, “Welcome to Mary Jane Fonda." Mary Jane Fonda (MJF) is a cannabis-infused workout series in Northeastern city where cannabis is recreationally legal. Started by Portland local Amarett Jans (the woman who greeted me upon arrival) in 2016, Mary Jane Fonda hosts fitness events for cannabis enthusiasts in search of a few hours of movement and connection, who are as passionate about getting fit as they are about getting high. It’s also for the type who isn’t afraid to get a little goofy with time-warped garb meant to pay homage to the woman the studio is named after. “I hope Mary Jane Fonda challenges all kinds of misconceptions,” says Jans. “Not only the lazy stigma, but that stoners ‘never achieve anything’ stigma.”“I wanted something holistic, thoughtful, meaningful and still really fun,” says Jans. “I think thoughtful social interactions, physical movement and cannabis is one awesome trifecta.” I stop by the drink station and grab a tropical-inspired mocktail infused with 5mg of THC and drop my yoga mat towards the center of the room. As I settle in and start stretching, I strike up a pleasant conversation with my neighbors as vaporizers are passed around the room. The vibe at Mary Jane Fonda is all about inclusivity, far away from the intimidation I’ve experienced at other workout classes.
Mary Jane Fonda is part of a larger movement to incorporate cannabis into the world of fitness. There are an increasing number of cannabis-centric products and events geared towards athletes (like Floyd’s of Leadville, which markets CBD oil to cyclists, or 420 Yoga Retreats, which hosts cannabis-infused weekend yoga retreats), and as cannabis becomes more mainstream, athletes, trainers, and medical professionals are starting to explore how the plant can enhance workouts, aid recovery, and provide a safer pain management solution.
“The attitude surrounding cannabis has definitely gotten better as legalization continues to spread throughout the United States,” says Rebecca Kelley, Content Director at Leafly. “You’re seeing a lot more professional athletes become outspoken about the benefits of cannabis—MMA fighters and professional football players are increasingly vocal about how much safer cannabis is compared to debilitating painkillers, and CBD is becoming really popular for pain management. The Olympic Committee has even adjusted its permissible cannabis threshold.”
In addition to working in the cannabis industry, Kelley is also an athlete herself. A two-time Ironman finisher, Kelley started using cannabis while training for various endurance events, including the Boston Marathon. “At first I would just slather some cannabis-infused creams and balms (topicals) onto sore muscles after my runs when I’d do my post-workout stretches,” says Kelley. “I’d also ‘reward’ my efforts by vaping some flower after my long runs or any super punishing workouts, like speed or tempo runs, or hill repeats/strength-based runs—either a nice mix of CBD and THC or some high-THC strains to help ease any soreness or post-run gut issues.”
Eventually, Kelley started incorporating cannabis directly into her running workouts. “I’d pack a 5-10mg edible in my run pouch as a backup in case a long run… felt especially grueling or unmotivating… Once the edible kicks in, it provides some nice effects that are actually similar to a runner’s high, where I just feel like I’m cruising at a nice pace and feel relaxed and comfortable.”
Because the plant isn’t recreationally legal across the US, there’s very little research on the effects of cannabis on athletic performance (and the research that does exist is inconclusive), but as its use becomes more widespread, medical professionals are starting to see positive results in their patients who use cannabis as part of their fitness routines.
“With the legalization of cannabis, people are beginning to recognize the therapeutic potential this plant has to offer,” says Dr. Shena Vander-Ploeg, a Naturopathic Physician in Portland. “[Cannabis] has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that can assist with improved performance and reduced recovery time. I’ve heard feedback from patients about improved stamina, athletic focus, improved cognitive and physical performance, and [faster] recovery.” I’m too distracted by my environment to keep the science behind Mary Jane Fonda in mind; I’m more interested in how my first attempt at incorporating cannabis into my fitness routine will feel.
After a few minutes of stretching (and a few tokes on the vaporizer), it’s time to start moving. The instructor takes us through a lower body circuit with a seemingly endless round of squats, lunges and hip thrusts, but I’m surprised to find that it doesn’t really bother me. It’s like I can feel the burn, but it’s not entirely unpleasant; the high has taken the edge off and allows me to actually enjoy the sensations in my body with each rep.
As the circuit winds down, the DJ switches the music to a deep, primal drum track. The music grows in momentum while the instructor tells us to shut our eyes, let go and feel the music. Normally, dancing in a large group of strangers would make me extremely self-conscious, but the head buzz (courtesy of my cannabis mocktail) combined with the endorphins coursing through my body (courtesy of the workout) have me feeling energized, happy and, most of all, uninhibited. I close my eyes, let the music pulse through me, and move my body to the steady hits of each drum beat.
And in that moment, I am high.