These cannabis users are more likely to hit the gym than sit on the couch.
Eight in 10 marijuana users in states where cannabis is legal told University of Colorado-Boulder researchers that they ingest the drug shortly before or after exercise. In fact, two-thirds (67%) said they used it both before and after their workouts, according to the new paper published in Frontiers in Public Health.
Researchers surveyed about 600 cannabis users aged 21 and up living in California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington about their marijuana and exercise habits. And those who used the drug an hour before working out and/or within four hours after breaking a sweat reported getting 43 more minutes of exercise each week than the cannabis users who didn’t.
“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,” wrote senior author Angela Bryan, a professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience and the Institute for Cognitive Science, in a statement.
What’s more, 52% of those who worked cannabis into their exercise regimens said it made them more motivated to work out. And 70% said it boosted how much they enjoyed the activity, while 78% claimed it helped their recovery.
Daniel Winer, 31, lives in British Columbia, where recreational marijuana is legal. He told MarketWatch that he has been vaping cannabis before his workouts, and recovering with an edible afterward, for the past year after hearing positive feedback from friends who were doing the same. “I found it helped with my motivation on days when I didn’t want to go (work out.) When lifting, it helps me focus on slowing down on my reps, focus on form and really engage my muscles. (And) cannabis makes running more tolerable — like a runner’s high, but you start with it,” he said. “I also use it post workout, as I hope that it plays a part in reducing the body’s inflammatory responses, meaning less pain the next day.”
Tyler Browne, 34, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area (where weed is legal), often inhales pot via a Volcano Vaporizer after weight-lifting to relax and get anti-inflammatory benefits. “The body hurts a tad more” in 2019 than it did when he was in the Marines, he said. And it keeps his endurance exercises from getting monotonous. “It makes cardio seem more like a fun childhood activity, with your mind wandering versus focusing on the strenuous portion of it,” he said.
And a Bronx runner who asked to remain anonymous told MarketWatch that she ran a personal best at the Brooklyn Half Marathon years ago after noshing a pot brownie before the race. “I felt no pain and I felt great,” she said, conceding that there were a number of other factors that led to her faster finishing time, such as being well-trained, knowing the course and enjoying good weather. “I don’t know if it was just coincidence … or if it was that special brownie,” she said. “I felt good.”
So considering less than half of U.S. adults aren’t getting the American College of Sports Medicine-recommended 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity each week, the report noted that “it is possible that cannabis might actually serve as a benefit to exercise engagement.” After all, the researchers noted that common excuses to skip hitting the gym or going for a run include not being motivated, not enjoying the exercise and suffering pain and injury from not recovering properly — and people in this survey claimed that cannabis use addressed all of these excuses.
Dr. Dayna McCarthy, who specializes in sports and regenerative medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at New York’s Mount Sinai hospital, told MarketWatch that there’s scientific evidence that the chemical compounds (aka cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD) in cannabis can reduce pain and inflammation, as well as activate receptors in the brain that mimic feel-good endorphins and dopamine receptors. In other words, a THC-high could mimic a natural runner’s high. “Cannabinoids have the propensity to heighten what is already happening in the body; exercise releases endorphins, and patients may feel even better or more positive after exercising when they ingest cannabis substances,” she said.
“It’s counterintuitive, but there have been some studies to show that [cannabis] can help motivate you,” she added. “And there have been some studies that show cannabinoids can be beneficial in reducing anxiety,” which can improve athletic performance. And as for recovery, “CBD (cannabidiol) has properties that can decrease inflammation, and some studies have shown that it can decrease delayed onset muscle soreness,” she added, “which can ease pain, stiffness and inflammation.”
Recreational marijuana use is now legal in 10 states, and medicinal use is allowed in 21 more. And cannabis use has become more acceptable in society: Barclays estimates the U.S. cannabis market would be $28 billion if it was legalized today, hitting $41 billion by 2028, while the CBD market is expected to hit $2.1 billion in consumer sales by next year. But medical experts note that more studies are needed to fill the research gap on the effects of marijuana on sports and exercise; indeed, most studies are on animals, not humans.
And this new report didn’t analyze exactly how much cannabis these exercisers were taking, or what form they ingested it in (ie., smoking it, vaping it or consuming edibles). Cannabis users weren’t compared to non-users, so while marijuana may have spurred them to exercise more, it’s unclear whether they actually performed better or worked out more often than exercisers who don’t use the drug. Only 38% of those who used cannabis shortly before workouts in this study said it improved their performance, after all. Still, the World Anti-Doping Agency has banned athletes from using the substance because of its potential to improve performance.
What’s more, the new study didn’t ask about any downsides to working out on weed, such as getting injured from exercising while under the influence. There’s a reason it’s illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana, even in states where it is legal: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration notes that, “the more difficult and unpredictable the task, the more likely marijuana will impair [mental and motor] performance.”
So both Bryan and McCarthy stopped short of advising people to start supplementing their exercise routine with cannabis products. “I am not recommending the use of this for individuals that exercise as part of their regimen, unless of course they are being seen by a physician,” McCarthy said. “This is a mind-altering substance, and everyone’s brain is different … so [different doses of different strains on different people] can affect each person very differently. And we don’t know if this can interact with other medications.”