MAY 01, 2019 4:46 PM PDT

Runner's High? Cannabis Use Before Exercise

WRITTEN BY: Amy Loriaux

It turns out that pot smokers are not just a bunch of lazy couch potatoes as once thought. A recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health by Dr. Angela Bryan and colleagues from the University of Colorado at Boulder found that about 80% of marijuana users consume the drug shortly before or after exercising. Users who practiced this habit claimed that it made them feel better during workouts and aided in recovery afterward. 

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As Dr. Bryan describes in the article, "...many Americans do not meet minimum exercise recommendations for healthy living. Common issues surrounding low exercise rates include inadequate enjoyment of and motivation to exercise and poor recovery from exercise." Indeed, fewer than 50% of adults meet the minimum recommendation of the American College of Sports Medicine of at least 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity exercise each week. 

This is a great public health concern given that physical activity is one of the most important factors in determining overall health. Dr. Bryan and colleagues set out to answer the question: will the increase in cannabis consumption (due to legalization) have positive or negative effects on exercise? To answer this question the authors used an online survey to ask participants questions about their health, exercise, and substance use.

Contrary to what one might expect, 52% of respondents who used cannabis before exercising said that it increased their motivation to work out. Furthermore, 70% said it increased the level of enjoyment while exercising, and 78% claimed it sped up recovery time. What is more interesting is the fact that cannabis use was associated with more time exercising. On average, those who consumed marijuana before working out added 43 more minutes of exercise per week than those who did not.

The authors suggest that “given that [lack of enjoyment, motivation, and/or recovery] are all recognized barriers to exercise, it is possible that cannabis might actually serve as a benefit to exercise engagement”. How would cannabis achieve this effect? According to Gillman and colleagues in a 2015 review paper, cannabis could increase exercise rates due to its effects on the human endocannabinoid system (ECS).

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Take a look at the famed "runner's high", experienced by some endurance athletes. This "high", which causes decreases in pain, euphoria, and decreases in anxiety, shows similarities to cannabis-induced highs. In fact, the brain's reward system is enriched in cannabinoid receptors, which, when activated by phytocannabinoids, could explain why regular exercise can become highly rewarding.   

Thirty-four-year-old Tyler Browne of California (a legal state) described to MarketWatch the effect of pre-workout pot on cardio workouts. “It makes cardio seem more like a fun childhood activity, with your mind wandering versus focusing on the strenuous portion of it”. That is a pretty big endorsement, considering how many people feel about cardio workouts (ugh!).

See the video below for more information about the effects of marijuana on exercise:

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SourcesFrontiers in Public Health, Vital and Health Statistics: Series 10, Data From the National Health Survey, Sports Medicine, Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, MarketWatch

About the Author
Doctorate (PhD)
I currently work at a small CRO involved in clinical trial management.
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