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Today more than half the states in the US tolerate marijuana use in some form. We surveyed a panel of pro climbers to get their take on its place in training and our sport.
Note: All opinions are presented here under the condition of anonymity, as it’s not the most sponsor-friendly topic . The responses skew more towards climbers that have used marijuana, because they were more likely to return survey answers of this nature. We did also receive a handful of polite responses simply stating “Thanks for reaching out, but I do not, and have never used marijuana.” The climber in purple’s responses have been paraphrased, by request.
Do you, or have you ever used marijuana while climbing?
“I actually smoked marijuana three to 10 times a day throughout much of my climbing career. Then in my thirties I realized that getting high was played out and it was time to quit. I don’t regret my days as a stoner, but I’m glad that I am living life a little clearer now. I actually had a honey bear bong with a tie off loop that I brought up most of my first ascents.”
“Yes. It’s been a positive part of my climbing life for over 20 years.”
“Short answer: no—not in the act of climbing. Shit is dangerous enough without adding another factor. I have however used it as a recovery tool.”
How do you think marijuana affects your climbing performance?
“I’d say it was a wash, except perhaps when I was bouldering. For bouldering, sometimes the ritual of smoking gave me the rest and creativity to look at the problem in a different light. At some point I think it began to make me lazy, so I do sometimes wonder if I would have accomplished more if I hadn’t smoked so much weed, but maybe I wouldn’t have been as comfortable living in my truck and diving in dumpsters either!”
“If you’re smoking regularly, you won’t see much difference in the way of performance. However, to specify: If I have been smoking regularly, it helps me quiet my mind and get on with trying. If I have not been smoking regularly, I can find myself a little short of the go-for-it, killer instinct. I feel a little ‘meh, that hold is too far, sharp, whatever.’ It’s a little more of a good-times feel, without so much focus to get something done.
“Performance will also be affected by the strain of grass you choose. This is important. A sativa-dominant strain will get you racing. Sometimes a little too much. It gives you great power and go, but sometimes you feel like you’re about to have a heart attack before you finish tying in. A strain too dominant in indica traits will put you to sleep, or maybe make the 140th crushing fingerlock bearable. The key is: know thyself, know thy grass, know thy day. If you’re just hanging with friends, no big deal. The stuff is psychoactive: it affects your perception. So, you gotta know how your mind operates, and the parameters of the grass you’re smoking.”
“I’ve had some of my hardest onsights in Yosemite while using marijuana, but I no longer mix it with climbing.”
“For recovery, it seems to help a lot. It relaxes the muscles and I recover quicker.”
How do you think marijuana affects your ability to climb safely?
“I’ve managed to stay safe and injury free while setting speed records on El Cap and putting up first ascents around the valley, but… I think smoking can make you forgetful. “Smoke pot, check your knot,” was a saying I lived by. Marijuana can also give you wicked cotton mouth—not a plus. A lot of the big names in climbing smoke weed recreationally.”
“I become overly cautious to the point where it almost becomes a hinderance. It’s a built-in feature. That’s why we don’t have a million car wrecks a year from stoned drivers. I imagine you could google up the study that illustrated this—it’s only about three years old.”
“There’s no room for error on first ascents on major expeditions, so I don’t do it while climbing. If something happens, you have an extra variable to deal with. I’m a big supporter of marijuana use in general, but when you have someone’s life in your hands that’s a different responsibility.
“I have to say that it would make me climb less safely. I don’t even drink beer at the crag.”
Do you regularly use marijuana while climbing?
“I used to pretty much do everything high… I think at some point being high becomes the new normal.”
“Yes-ish. I’ve smoked very regularly for over twenty years. It was two years after I first got stoned that I started climbing. So, we’ve grown up together. I do take breaks though. Sometimes I just dont feel like smoking for a couple months at a time. And some places it’s super difficult to find grass. France, for instance.”
“I used to, when I lived in Yosemite.”
Do you ever use marijuana while training?
“I used to.”
“When I do train, yes, absolutely.”
“Only as a recovery tool.”
How do you think marijuana affects your training sessions?
“It is a remarkable pain killer.”
“It makes that boring shit bearable, even exciting.”
“It positively affects everything. It’s amazing. In general, it’s been something very positive for me since high school, both mentally and physically. It just works for me. I suffer from headaches and it’s the only thing that gives me relief. While training, I push harder and it’s very positive. I really can’t explain it beyond that. I love it when I’m training, the mentality it puts me in. It really helps me focus.”
“It’s detrimental. When I smoke weed I want to sleep and can’t focus on much. This creates bad form and real injury, as well as not being able to stop when you should.”
What are your overall thoughts on marijuana use at the crag?
“I’m cool with it. Climbing has alway been a countercultural activity. Where I learned to climb in Yosemite, it was big part of the communal nature of the scene. We’d all head out to the tree at the back of El Cap meadow and smoke weed, and I still look back on those days as pretty fucking awesome. That being said, I’m glad that I quit. At some point it was more of a crutch than an enhancer in my life.”
“Be respectful. Be aware of laws. Some people just don’t like the smell, or the smoke. Find the middle ground if engaged; it’s a delicate subject for many people. Some folks think you’re a puff away from buggery and murderous arson. Some of these folks can’t or won’t be educated. And be extra-careful. If you fuck up, YOU are THAT STONER who blew it, of course.”
“I don’t think kids should be exposed to it in public. The crag is public. And some people have different opinions on it, so even if there are no kids at the crag it should be concealed. It’s a tough one. When you’re using it during a climb, you have someone else’s life in your hands. Your partner has to be OK with it. For me, it affects me in a way that is very positive. But I think you need permission from partners and everyone else around, because not everyone feels the same. I wouldn’t appreciate it at all if I was climbing with my child at the crag and people were doing that. It’s a bad example. And that’s not just marijuana. That’s anything that’s out of the ordinary. Even dogs at the crag. It’s a tough one unless your dog is perfectly behaved.”
“I have to be honest here. It is a complex issue. I have had the spectrum of friends that smoke weed at the crag. Some are fully capable of handling the effects of marijuana and are actually more productive and safe. However, there are others that are completely incapable of dealing with the effects, making it really unsafe. I have seen folks forget to tie in or finish their knots because they were high. Also, some have dropped their climber while high and killed them. Take the accident in the Red River Gorge a few years back that killed someone. That being said, maybe they were unsafe crappy partners and being high wasn’t the problem. We can debate semantics all day long, but the overall thought is:
“I would be more pissed off if I were dropped by someone high than someone sober for one reason. They are introducing another factor into a numbers game. We have to compete with sharp draws that permeate crags now (which is nice if they don’t shred your rope), loose rock, failing bolts, gear that pulls, lunatics that choose button heads and star drives over bolts, and just overall dumbasses that think hip-belays are ‘coming back into style.’ Why add another one? Everything has a time and place… I wouldn’t climb with a person that is blitzed drunk so why risk it when someone is high. I think an appropriate way to address this at a crag is to tell your partner that you are uncomfortable if they are high while they climb with you, if they are not OK with not smoking find someone else to climb with. On ropes anyway, bouldering… who cares?”