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Cannabis makes exercise more fun

Researchers have unveiled insights into an unexpected relationship between cannabis use and exercise. The study suggests that marijuana can boost motivation and make exercise more fun, but does not enhance performance.

The study was led by Laurel Gibson and Angela Bryan from the University of Colorado Boulder’s Center for Health and Addiction: Neuroscience, Genes and Environment (CU Change).

The team examined the effects of legal, commercially available cannabis on exercise, particularly focusing on runners’ experiences.

Studying cannabis and exercise

The research comes a decade after Colorado initiated legal recreational marijuana sales, aligning with an increasing trend of cannabis users integrating it into their exercise routines. 

“Given the stereotype that cannabis is associated with extreme sedentary behavior, there are concerns that cannabis legalization may exacerbate the US physical inactivity epidemic,” wrote the team.

“However, despite these concerns, recent years have seen considerable public interest in the use of cannabis concurrently with exercise.”

The study’s primary objective was to understand how cannabis influences the perception and enjoyment of exercise.

How the study was conducted 

The researchers recruited 42 Boulder-area runners who were already combining cannabis with their running routines. The participants were assigned to use either a CBD-dominant or a THC-dominant strain. 

The volunteers performed separate treadmill runs, with and without the influence of cannabis, and their experiences were meticulously documented.

The study revealed that using cannabis before exercise boosts positive mood and enjoyment, regardless of whether THC or CBD is used. However, THC, known for its more intoxicating effects, made exercise feel more demanding.

Contrary to enhancing performance, participants in the THC group reported that their running felt harder. This aligns with previous findings that cannabis use can slow down runners, making it clear that cannabis is not a performance enhancer.

Sedentary lifestyle epidemic

Natural endorphins have long been credited with inducing “runner’s high,” a state of euphoria and alertness that kicks in after an extended period of exercise. However, newer studies have linked runner’s high to brain chemicals known as endogenous cannabinoids.

By consuming CBD or THC, cannabinoids which bind to the same receptors as the cannabinoids our brain makes naturally, athletes might be able to tap into that high with a shorter workout or enhance it during a long one, said Gibson.

Study senior author Professor Angela Bryan emphasized the potential of cannabis as a tool to combat the sedentary lifestyle epidemic. The research is particularly intriguing for its implications for people who struggle with motivation or enjoyment in exercise.

“We have an epidemic of sedentary lifestyle in this country, and we need new tools to try to get people to move their bodies in ways that are enjoyable,” said Professor Bryan. “If cannabis is one of those tools, we need to explore it, keeping in mind both the harms and the benefits.”

Implications of cannabis and exercise

While the findings are promising, the researchers caution against indiscriminate use of cannabis for exercise. Risks such as dizziness and loss of balance, especially in high-performance sports, cannot be overlooked.

“To our knowledge, this is the first study to investigate the acute effects of commercially available cannabis on subjective responses to exercise in a laboratory environment,” wrote the study authors. 

“Our findings suggest that, among regular cannabis users who use cannabis in combination with exercise, cannabis use prior to exercise may lead to increases in both positive and negative aspects of the subjective exercise experience.”

The research is published in the journal Sports Medicine.


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