Meet Joanna Zeiger, Olympian and 2008 Ironman 70.3 World Champion

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Cannabinoid use is gaining popularity with athletes and everyday fitness enthusiasts for pre-workout focus and post-workout recovery. To learn more about this trend, we sat down with Olympian and 2008 Ironman 70.3 winner Joanna Zeiger to speak about the ups and downs of her athletic journey, how cannabis has become a daily part of her routine, and about her recent work on the Athlete PEACE Survey.

Q: What sports do you participate in and how did you become an Olympian athlete?

A: “Swimming was my first sport, which I started at the age of 7. I swam throughout high school and college, and competed in the 1988 Olympic Trials. After college, I looked for a new

challenge, and found running and triathlons. I discovered I had an aptitude for triathlons, and eventually went pro in 1998. It took a few years to develop the skills and conditioning for biking and running, which is pretty normal since swimmers have difficulty transition to land sports.

I spent the first two years of my professional triathlon career honing my skills, building speed and endurance, and collecting race experience. I earned my Olympic spot by placing second at the Olympic trials event. I was fourth in the 2000 Olympics and won the 2008 Ironman 70.3 World Championship in what was a world record time.

I retired from racing in triathlons in 2010 due to lingering injuries from a bike accident. Now, I run most days and add in walks and hikes. I stretch regularly and do some light strengthening and activation work.”

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Q: How did cannabis come to be a part of your athletic lifestyle and how do you use CBD to manage your pain?

A: “In 2009, while I was defending my World Championship title, I had a bike accident due to a poor water bottle hand off at an aid station. I sustained permanent structural and nerve damage to my rib cage that resulted in a condition called intercostal neuralgia (it is horribly painful). I have had nine chest wall surgeries to correct the damage, some of them worked, others not so much.

I started using cannabis in early 2015 to help with sleep and then to manage pain and spasms. I am extremely sensitive to medicine in general, and the typical pharmaceuticals used for my condition gave me all sorts of noxious side effects. Cannabis has come to my rescue! Of course, cannabis can have its own side effects, but none of the effects compare to the terrible things traditional medicine has done to me.

I use cannabis daily for pain and sleep. I micro-dose throughout the day so I can get my most comfortable without feeling impaired. Usually, I take a large dose of CBD in the morning with a small amount of THC (1-3 mg depending on my morning pain). During the day, I use a combination of CBD and THC in ratios of 1:1 up to 10:1. My decision on what to use depends on how I am feeling and the timing of use. Generally, I use a higher CBD ratio before and/or during exercise to helps with the spasms.”

Q: Have you noticed a stigma around cannabis use for chronic pain or being paired with sports?

A: “Yes and no. Athletes are starting to embrace cannabis as a viable option for a variety of maladies. When I first starting using cannabis, I was very quiet about it because at that time there was a stigma. Now, I am much more open about it because I want to educate athletes and I am engaged in cannabis research with Canna Research Group, a research consortium for which I am the CEO.”

Q: Are you looking to target certain age groups using cannabis in sports, or a general population of athletes?

A: “The Athlete PEACE Survey aims to characterize cannabis use, knowledge, and attitudes in athletes and to examine whether there is an association between cannabis use and pain and well-being in athletes.

The term ‘athlete’ is very loosely defined as we are looking for a representative cross-section of athletes from different sports with different abilities who spend different amounts of time doing their sport of choice. The only age restriction is that participants are over 21. There is no upper limit.”

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Q: Do you think that more athletes turn to cannabis because of CBD or because of THC?

A: “My inclination is that athletes are trying CBD first, but that is purely anecdotal. CBD is the new hot thing for athletes. CBD products are being marketed to athletes and many of the athlete-centered blogs are coming out with articles about CBD.

Our study will not be able to elucidate this relationship as we do not ask about which cannabinoid they tried first.”

Q: What is something you’re excited to learn from your study?

A: “I am excited about this study because it is the first study to look at cannabis use in a community sample of athletes. At this time, it is unknown the percentage of athletes using cannabis and for those who are using it, what are the reasons. I am particularly interested in whether cannabis is helping or hindering athletes’ pain.”

To participate in the Athlete PEACE Survey visit their website here.

Missy Bradley