Here’s where I get to tell you what I think of all the drugs.
This is based on current research and my own experience with official and unofficial pharmacology.
As a rule, try to avoid prescription and pain medications unless you REALLY need them.
Caffeine is fine if used strategically in moderate doses.
Cannabis is also generally fine if used responsibly. Hallucinogens can be as well, but the risks and potential benefits are higher than with cannabis (also they’re illegal for most folks).
Tobacco is a bad idea, along with any recreational drug that can easily kill you with an overdose – cocaine, amphetamines, opiates, alcohol, etc.
So what is a drug anyway?!
We’ll define it as a non-nutritive pharmacological compound, which may be ingested/inhaled/injected/absorbed for a specific purpose. The more refined it is, the higher the risk of negative side effects.
There are three main categories of drugs:
Let’s go into each category, and how they may impact your health and fitness.
The main issue with any type of drug is whether or not it impacts your body’s recuperation processes – particularly with regard to protein synthesis and inflammation response – or causes outright damage.
If a drug helps with mental health (including sleep) and doesn’t cause damage or impede recovery, it becomes a net positive.
These must be obtained from a doctor and are generally stronger and/or easier to abuse than anything available over the counter. They may include pain medication, anti-inflammatories, chemotherapy, psychotherapy, hormone replacement therapy, antibiotics…the list goes on.
Many common prescription drugs interfere with the body’s recovery processes – particularly analgesics and anti-inflammatories. The sole exception to that would be hormone replacement therapy; these restore the body’s natural endocrine balance and may even enhance recoverability beyond natural levels (e.g. anabolic steroids).
As far as anabolic steroids go: I don’t personally use or advocate them, but if you feel like you need to…just make sure you do your research and know exactly what you’re getting into. That’s all I have to say about that.
If you have no practical choice but to take prescription medication, do it and deal with any side effects as they come. I’m not a medical doctor and will not contradict what one tells you.
These are taken for non-medical enjoyment, and while they may or may not be available by prescription, a doctor will not officially prescribe a drug for recreation since that’s not their job.
This includes stimulants (caffeine, amphetamines), depressants (alcohol, opiates), and psychedelics (LSD, psilocybin, mescaline).
These have varying effects on health and fitness. In general, mild stimulants have a positive effect on physical performance (particularly caffeine) while depressants cause moderate to severe detriment. Potent stimulants (cocaine, amphetamines) and depressants (barbiturates, opiates) can straight kill you, so steer clear of the hard stuff if you intend to continue breathing. Also, alcohol is toxic in any quantity so keep intake to a minimum.
Cannabis tends to have a neutral to positive effect on recovery, especially by attenuating inflammation and/or increasing appetite. Given its murky legality, I would put it in a gray area between a prescription and a recreational drug. It also isn’t really a stimulant or depressant, and generally doesn’t act like a true psychedelic. Provided you’re going with minimally-processed cannabis it’s basically impossible to overdose, and even with concentrated THC it’d be extremely difficult to hit true toxicity. Don’t get me wrong; if you go overboard you could trip balls for awhile and think “OMG I’m totally gonna die this is it for me I’m leaving everything to the cat he’s so FLUFFY” but you’d be fine after a few hours and have a good story to tell.
Tobacco, on the other hand, is highly addictive and poisons everything it touches (lungs, throat, teeth, gums, etc) with a bevy of carcinogens. Don’t do it, at least not regularly or in large quantity.
[Side note: A good rule to live by is to do everything possible to maximize your body’s fertility, since that tends to be a corollary for overall health and fitness.
You’ve probably heard of “whiskey dick,” right? Y’know, diminished sexual sensation and performance induced by consuming lots of alcohol? Well…assuming you don’t crush the bong to the point of becoming one with the sofa, marijuana has the opposite effect. Alcohol bad, cannabis better. (I can’t really say “good” until more research is done.)
The fact that basically-harmless-with-some-benefits marijuana is not only federally illegal but STILL classified as a schedule I substance, while definitely-toxic-with-no-medical-upside alcohol and tobacco are easily available throughout the country, is an asinine travesty as far as I’m concerned.]
Psychedelics need much more research, but preliminary evidence suggests they can have tremendously positive effects on mental health disorders like PTSD when combined with therapy. Steve Jobs and other titans of industry have credited LSD with facilitating major idea breakthroughs, and Dock Ellis managed to throw a no-hitter while out of his friggin’ mind. That said, I’ve never done it and am unsure if I ever will.
If you want to try psychedelics do be careful and use them VERY sparingly. Also pretty much all of the good ones are illegal, so there’s that.
Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs
You can buy these at your local pharmacy with nothing more than cash.
NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories – acetominophen, ibuprofen, naproxen) interfere with recovery and should be avoided whenever possible.
Topical ointments (Bengay, Neosporin) don’t have an effect either way, so use them as needed.
Beyond that, avoid OTC’s when you can. When in doubt just Google it. You have the technology.
Here’s what I’ve found works for me, personally.
I take ibuprofen or acetominophen ONLY if I have nagging, throbbing soreness going on that won’t let me sleep. Getting a decent night’s sleep takes priority over whatever recovery impediments pain meds may cause.
Caffeine is a constant part of my blood plasma, generally from coffee that I brew with cinnamon powder and mix with coconut oil, although I am a sucker for a good latte made with coconut milk. I try to time my coffee consumption to be about an hour before I train, along with a pre-workout snack.
Since I live in a state with legal medical and recreational marijuana, I use cannabis most nights to help me relax and sleep (and sometimes on weekends for funsies). As alluded to earlier, I am a strong advocate of legalization for adults – in 7 years of off-and-on usage, I have noticed literally no adverse effects on cognitive function or physical performance that can’t be chalked up to aging. I also have not experienced any physiological or psychological dependency effects, meaning the sum total of “withdrawal” symptoms amounts to “ah nuts, oh well” even for extended periods of abstention. To be fair, my usage has always been pretty mild; constant self-medication seems to work for certain individuals with specific physical or mental ailments, but I am not one of those people.
For the most part, I don’t drink alcohol. I very much enjoy good wine & beer, but the negative effects hit me almost immediately and mess with my training. It’s not worth it. Weed is a lot more fun anyway, and doesn’t make you hungover. If I’m at a party or something, I’ll periodically hit sativa concentrate from a vape pen – same level of relaxation and loosening-up as a couple beers, but without the mental or physical impairment.
Now obviously, I’m not recommending that you do anything that’s illegal in your area, or disallowed by your occupation or recreational activities. I’m just stating what’s worked for me. And for me, keeping pharmacological intervention to a bare minimum while making exceptions for modest amounts of caffeine and (legal) cannabis seems to work pretty darn well. Since I have very ordinary physiology, I reckon that what works for me would likely work for a large number of people. So there you have it.
Be responsible, be safe, and always be willing to question what you’re putting into your body.