The scene is the famous Gold's Gym in the late 1970s. The gym at that point was located in downtown Santa Monica, California in a building rumored to be owned by actor Robert Blake. I arrived at the gym early in the afternoon anticipating a workout session with my long-time friends, Bill Grant and Harold Poole. Bill was a former Mr.World and Mr.America winner best known for his massive biceps development. I had met Harold Poole when I first joined the Mid-City Health club in Manhattan back in 1964. At the time, Harold was the youngest star in bodybuilding, having recently emigrated to the IFBB after a few questionable losses in the AAU Mr.America contest. Before he became a bodybuilder, Harold was considered one of the top national high school track stars in the United States. But today the focus was on just getting a good workout at Gold's. When I showed up at the gym, Bill Grant was already waiting for me at the front desk. But where was Harold? A brief search revealed that Harold was in the defunct Gold's Gym sauna room, and when he opened the door, his pre-workout activity was abundantly clear. The pungent odor of marijuana or pot quickly filled the room outside the sauna. Harold had been in the sauna smoking grass for over 40 minutes. I found this curious since my occasional use of pot (always smoked as a cigarette or "reefer") made me feel both extremely relaxed and very hungry--especially for junk food. We used to call that "an attack of the munchies." When I asked Harold how he could possibly feel like training after smoking pot for nearly an hour, he replied that, if anything, pot helped him to train harder. He explained that getting a bit loaded on pot seemed to decrease his sense of pain while training, thus allowing him to train more intensely. A number of other famous bodybuilders back then also often indulged in smoking pot, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, who can be seen doing so in a scene in the 1977 film, Pumping Iron.
This raises an obvious question: how does marijuana affect exercise and sports performance? Surprisingly, considering the number of people that regularly smoke pot or use it in other forms, the actual amount of published research about this is scant. On the other hand, if you consider the various established health effects of smoking pot, it isn't difficult to come up with some likely effects of pot in relation to building muscular size and strength. Indeed, the use of marijuana is more widespread than other street drugs, with an estimated 125 to 203 million users worldwide. Who can forget Bill Clinton's famous admission of how he smoked pot, but "never inhaled?" This . . .