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Josiah Hesse: writer, author, and cannabis athlete

I’ve known Josiah Hesse basically since I entered the cannabis industry in Denver in 2014. He wrote one of the first articles about Puff, Pass & Paint for Colorado Public Radio, where he worked at the time, and chronicled his first class in which we all got way too high in my kitchen while attempting to paint horses, which looked more like insects (this was in the early days of PP&P, when I held class of 6 people in my own house). We also worked with him later to do a cannabis-infused writing class called Lit on Lit. Josiah is an incredible writer and has always been a huge cannabis advocate, and in recent years his attention has turned to a focus on cannabis as an accompaniment to athletics. As someone who had never really worked out in his life (his words), and slowly but surely became a long distance runner, he started to use cannabis to help him in his pursuit of becoming healthier and more active, and even just finished a book about his process.

Hi Josiah, we’ve known each other for a long time, and I love watching what you’re up to from afar! Anything I missed in your intro?

It’s all wonderful and very flattering. It’s true that I’d never (voluntarily) worked out before discovering cannabis edibles, and that they were entirely the impetus for me becoming an ultramarathon runner. Though it was never to get healthy or look good (while those are nice side effects) it was simply the euphoric pleasure, the childlike playfulness that cannabis provided the experience that made me want to do it every day.

It’s rarely anything I have to discipline myself to do. It’s what I treat myself with at the end of a hard work day. It’s my carrot, never a stick.

You aren’t really in the cannabis industry per say, but you’ve always been a cannabis advocate, writer, and user. Can you tell me about your relationship with the plant?

Escaping the psychological horror of growing up an evangelical Christian left me a frozen shell of a human: I’d flunked out of high school, couldn’t keep a job, and had severe emotional disorders. Discovering cannabis at 19 was a total game changer for me. It gave me a safe space in my head to both play and strategize.

Ironically, I fit all the stereotypes of the lazy stoner before I’d ever gotten high (lethargy, lack of ambition, withdrawing from society) and when I began using it, I was suddenly excited to be alive, I was bursting with curiosity and ambition. I devoted my life to reading and writing every day, and slowly built a journalism career despite never setting foot in a college classroom (until I started getting invites to be a guest speaker).

Also, without Denver becoming the center of cannabis legalization in the 2010s—just as I was building my journalism career—I’m not sure I’d have had the opportunities to write for bigger and bigger publications. Most mainstream journalists were afraid to be associated with this topic, but I was a working class dropout with no reputation to protect, which weirdly turned out to be an advantage when it came to my career.

Tell me about how cannabis has changed your relationship to exercise, and how you decided to write a book about it.

Like most people, I thought of exercise as something to be endured. It was often used as a form of punishment (“get down and gimme twenty!”) and not doing it was a source of shame and unworthiness. Cannabis helped establish a mind-body connection for me that made each slap of my foot on those dusty mountain trails as pleasurable as sex or a gourmet meal.

What I hear so often from athletes who use cannabis is that they get “dialed in” to the experience. Everything else in the world disappears, and they become exclusively focused on skiing down that hill, sinking that basketball, pressing those weights, or, in my case, tap-tap-tapping my shoes along the trail. It’s a very meditative state. And there’s evidence that it facilitates neuroplasticity, allowing the brain to communicate with itself in ways that are endlessly beneficial in life. For most of us, our brains and bodies are totally divorced from each other, cannabis has the ability to bring them into harmony, making exercise more fun and rewarding.

What do you have to say to those who think cannabis makes you a lazy and unproductive “stoner”?

I’d say that the data doesn’t support that. Statistically, those who use cannabis are more likely to exercise, have lower rates of obesity, cancer and diabetes. There is no shortage of wildly ambitious people—from Carl Sagan to Seth Rogan—who regularly consume cannabis, and attribute some of their most revelatory ideas to it.

Though cannabis does have a biphasic effect, in that small doses can provide euphoria, energy and focus, while excessive doses can provide the opposite, with anxiety, lethargy and disorientation. Where that line is drawn is different for everyone, and that’s what’s so exciting about legalized marijuana: you have products with (more or less) reliable dose measurements, particularly with edibles. For me, a 10-20mg edible is perfect for a long run; though I know people that need 100 or 200 mg of THC to reach that same state.

What is your favorite way to consume?

Edibles for running, definitely. I love to smoke weed socially, or before a movie, or sex, going out to dinner, whatever. But it just doesn’t jive as well with running as edibles. For me, there’s more of a body high with edibles. They make me feel somewhat weightless when I’m pushing up a big hill, and everything’s just perfect.

Dabs are wonderful, but only on rare occasions for me. And, for whatever reason, pen vaporizers give me a sore throat.

What is the best way for people to purchase your book and follow your journey?

I’m not allowed to play favorites when it comes to book sellers, but I will say I am a big fan of independent bookstores. If you have one in your hometown, I encourage anyone reading this to go there. Not just because they deserve support, but the experience of casually browsing shelves on a rainy Sunday afternoon is pure bliss.

I can be followed on instagram at @jojodancer3000 or on Twitter at @josiahmhesse. I’ve also been spending more time on Goodreads lately, which I resisted for a long time (not another account to manage!) but has turned out to be a lot of fun.

Anything else you’d like to include that I may have missed?

Nope. This was perfect, and so much fun!

Josiah’s book is called Runner’s High: How a Movement of Cannabis-Fueled Athletes is Changing the Science of Sports. It comes out on September 14th of this year, and I highly encourage a read.

The Cannabis Cactus Magazine has more great interviews.

Heidi Keyes is the Founder of Puff, Pass & Paint, and Co-Founder & President of Cannabis Tours. Heidi writes about her experiences, sharing her advice, travel tips, and wisdom in Puff, Pass Ponder.


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