It should come as no surprise that exercise is good for our health. Regular exercise reduces the risks of serious chronic diseases, improves sleep, and improves mental health outcomes. In the United States, this is particularly important given that half of adults live with chronic disease. It is estimated that 117 billion dollars per year can be linked to low levels of physical activity. Therefore, it is essential within the evolving landscape of cannabis legalization that we study the relationship between cannabis use and sedentary behavior. The classic adage is that cannabis use is linked to low levels of physical activity and athletic performance. What can we learn from the latest research exploring cannabis use and exercise?
A systematic review from October 2020 evaluated the effects of cannabis use on athletic performance. The study revealed no observed difference in multiple parameters used to measure work capacity, fitness, strength, and endurance in cannabis users vs. non-users. The authors themselves, however, highlight the need for further research in this area, mainly longitudinal or interventional studies. Given that only four studies were included and presumably may have included cross-sectional studies, higher levels of evidence are most certainly needed. In April 2021, a cross-sectional analysis was performed on 15,822 participants. The researchers used multivariable regression to determine the association between physical activity and cannabis use. Paradoxically, cannabis use was found to be linked to higher levels of activity and sitting time. As this was a cross-sectional analysis, it is also important to interpret these results with extreme caution and not draw causal inferences.
Interestingly, the use of cannabis by athletes to improve performance is being reported more frequently. In September 2021, a detailed review covering a large body of available literature on how cannabis use affects athletic performance cites no differences in markers of stress or anaerobic power in physically active cannabis users.
The tenuous regulatory status of cannabis and cannabis products makes well-controlled in-vivo studies hard to come by. Many researchers consistently mention this throughout their published work. There are wide gaps in our understanding of cannabis and its relation to many important public health topics such as exercise. We now know that there are various mechanisms through which cannabis can impact the cardiovascular system and subsequently impact exercise performance. Indeed, more well-conducted Randomized Controlled Trials (RTCs) are needed in this space to reduce bias and thoroughly examine cause-and-effect relationships. Moreover, this may become possible as increased legalization allows access to more data obtained in a controlled setting.