Using marijuana can help folks better enjoy a good workout, but it’s not going to boost their athletic performance, a new study has found.
A small group of runners reported greater enjoyment and a more intense “runner’s high” when they exercised after using marijuana, according to new findings published recently in the journal Sports Medicine.
But runners also reported that exercise felt significantly more difficult if they were high on THC, the chemical in weed that produces intoxication.
“The bottom-line finding is that cannabis before exercise seems to increase positive mood and enjoyment during exercise, whether you use THC or CBD, but THC products specifically may make exercise feel more effortful,” said lead researcher Laurel Gibson, a research fellow with the University of Colorado Boulder’s Center for Health and Addiction: Neuroscience, Genes and Environment (CU Change).
The findings defy the long-held stereotype of the couch-bound stoner, the researchers noted.
“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 senior study author Angela Bryan, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Colorado and co-director of CU Change.
“If cannabis is one of those tools, we need to explore it, keeping in mind both the harms and the benefits,” Bryan added in a university news release.
For the study, researchers recruited 42 Boulder-area people who had previously tried running after using cannabis.
A previous survey had found that four in five weed users have taken marijuana before or just after exercise, researchers said.
Researchers asked the runners to go to a dispensary and buy weed products rich in either cannabidiol (CBD) or THC. CBD is an active ingredient that does not produce intoxication.
The volunteers ran on a treadmill at a moderate pace for 30 minutes in two sessions, one sober and one after using weed. During the run, they answered questions about their workout.
Across the board, participants said they enjoyed their run more when exercising after using cannabis, researchers said.
Participants told researchers that weed:
Increases enjoyment (91%)
Decreases pain (69%)
Increases focus (60%)
Increases motivation (57%)
Makes time go by faster (45%)
However, only 29% felt that weed improved their performance.
This heightened mood was even greater in the group that used CBD-heavy weed products, suggesting that marijuana’s exercise benefits don’t necessarily come from intoxication associated with THC, researchers said.
In fact, participants in the THC group found running significantly harder when stoned, possibly because THC increases heart rate, results show.
This jibes with previous studies which found that athletes run 31 seconds per mile slower when stoned on weed than when sober, said Bryan.
“It is pretty clear from our research that cannabis is not a performance-enhancing drug,” Bryan said.
It is likely that weed produces a different kind of “runner’s high” by tweaking the same receptors as naturally produced brain chemicals called endogenous cannabinoids, which the body produces after an extended period of exercise, researchers said.
The CBD or THC in weed might allow athletes to tap into that natural high with a shorter workout or enhance it during a longer run, Gibson said.
The researchers warned that using marijuana can make athletes more prone to experience dizziness or lose their balance.
However, they are interested in learning whether weed could help couch potatoes adopt a regular exercise regimen.
“Is there a world where taking a low-dose gummie before they go for that walk might help? It’s too early to make broad recommendations, but it’s worth exploring,” Bryan said.
The Gatorade Sports Science Institute has more on weed and exercise performance.
SOURCE: University of Colorado at Boulder, news release, Jan. 5, 2023
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