Researchers have discovered a complicated intersection between cannabis use and physical activity. A new study says consumers reported that the use the drug before and after exercise increases enjoyment enhances recovery and heightens motivation.
According to the study published in the Journal of Frontiers in Public Health, eight out of 10 marijuana users in states where cannabis is legal say they partake of the drug shortly before or after exercise and most report that it motivates them to work out, helps them enjoy exercise more and improves their recovery.
“There is a stereotype that cannabis use leads people to be lazy and couch-locked and not physically active, but these data suggest that this is not the case,” said senior author Angela Bryan.
Bryan, however, said that she is in no way recommending using cannabis as an adjunct to exercise.
“The evidence is not there yet. But I am also not convinced it is harmful,” she added.
Marijuana is now legal for recreational use in 10 states and medicinal use in dozens more. Yet, little is known about how rising acceptance could impact public health measures like physical activity and obesity.
Some have speculated that increased use could worsen the obesity epidemic by fueling a sedentary lifestyle. On the other hand, the author prohibits cannabis use in sporting competitions due to its potential to improve performance.
“There are a lot of interesting data points and hypotheses out there but not a lot of them have been tested,” said Bryan.
Researchers surveyed 600 adult marijuana users in California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, asking questions, if they ever used cannabis within one hour before or four hours after exercise.
Eighty-two percent said ‘yes.’
“We were stunned it was that high,” Bryan reported.
A follow-up question of 345 “co-users” (people who use cannabis with exercise) found they were more likely to use it after than before. But 67% said they did both.
Among those who co-used, 70% said it increased the enjoyment of exercise, 78% said it boosted recovery and 52% said it heightened motivation.
“Given that these are all recognized barriers to exercise, it is possible that cannabis might actually serve as a benefit to exercise engagement,” the authors wrote in the study.
Only 38% said it boosted performance, and in fact, some small previous studies have suggested it may harm it.
Notably, those who co-used also got about 43 minutes more exercise per week than those who didn’t.
How might cannabis, physiologically, impact physical activity?
“There is evidence to suggest that certain cannabinoids dampen pain perception, and we also know that the receptors cannabis binds to in the brain are very similar to the receptors that are activated naturally during the runners high. Theoretically, you could imagine that if it could dampen pain and induce an artificial ‘runner’s high,’ it could keep people motivated,” said co-author Arielle Gillman.
Cannabis is also anti-inflammatory, which could aid recovery.
The study did not look at which kind of cannabis (edibles, smoked flower, etc.) people use alongside exercise.
“As we get older, exercise starts to hurt and that is one reason older adults don’t exercise as much. If cannabis could ease pain and inflammation, helping older adults to be more active that could be another benefit,” Bryan said.