Cannabis and physical exercise seem like an unlikely pairing. But a well-timed toke can break up the monotony of a long, grueling workout so effectively that the unlikely pairing has taken hold in some niche endurance running communities. A new survey published in Frontiers in Public Health suggests that using marijuana as a workout enhancer isn’t as niche of an idea as it once was, though.
This recent study, led by University of Colorado’s Angela Bryan, Ph.D., showed that 81.7 percent of 605 survey respondents in states where weed was legal reported using marijuana directly before or after exercise.
“We were stunned it was that high,” Bryan, a professor of psychology and neuroscience, said on Tuesday.
Her data helps fill a crucial gap in the understanding of cannabis-related workouts. Her results suggest that people don’t actually smoke because they think it makes them better at their chosen sport. Rather, they believe it makes the experience more enjoyable and helps with recovery afterward. As far as recovery goes, there is research pointing to the use of cannabis products for muscle recovery — in fact, the World Anti-Doping Agency actually allows cannabidiol (CBD), a minimally psychoactive component of marijuana, to be used during competition.
But from a public health standpoint, arguably the most important finding of this paper is that increased enjoyment leads to more exercise. Overall, people who combined exercise and marijuana (co-users) exercised an average of 159.7 minutes per week — far more than the 103.5 minutes per week typical of those who didn’t combine the two.
In addition, some research suggests that people who use marijuana actually tend to have lower body mass indexes and risks for obesity than people who don’t use it, and a 2015 review article from Bryan’s lab found that cannabis is linked to greater feelings of motivation and enjoyment about exercise, potentially by activating brain pathways involved in feelings of reward and pain response.
In addition to increasing the enjoyment of exercise and possibly reducing tendencies towards obesity, here are five areas regarding exercise where research is revealing the potential benefits of combing cannabis and exercise:
- Reducing Inflammation – Reducing muscle and joint inflammation is one of the most promising areas of cannabis research. Many studies have found that CBD, the nonpsychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana, helps ease inflammation.
- Easing Soreness and Pain – Going hand-in-hand with its anti-inflammatory properties, cannabis has also been found to alleviate pain. This is one area of cannabis research that has shown many positive results. Marijuana can alleviate pain caused by everything from chronic pain to acute pain from muscle spasms, studies have found—and that’s good news for anyone looking for alternatives to dangerous, habit-forming opiates.
- Treating Muscle Spasms – Cannabis has shown positive results in treating muscle spasms associated with diseases like multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s, and its benefits could extend to athletes suffering from spasms as well. “There have been studies in rodents showing some beneficial effect in muscle recovery and reduction of muscle spasm, presumably due to the anti-inflammatory properties the compound possesses,” explains Erich Anderer, M.D., chief of neurosurgery at NYU Langone Hospital – Brooklyn.
- Improving Sleep – THC induces sleep, but studies have also found that it can help people with sleep apnea and even suppress dreams, which is beneficial for those suffering from PTSD. Meanwhile, CBD can ease REM sleep disorder (where people “act out” their dreams) and daytime fatigue. Everyone knows how important sleep is to overall fitness, so this can be extremely beneficial to your athletic performance.
- Improve Mental Acuity – Contrary to popular thinking, marijuana may not have detrimental effects on brain function. In fact, it could be the opposite. Regular, low doses of THC actually restored cognitive function in old mice, according to a June 2017 study published in Nature Medicine. Anecdotally, many of the fitness experts who spoke with us said weed helped them get in the “zone” with their workouts.
If you’re interested in finding out more about medical marijuana use in Louisiana, please contact The Healing Clinics and we will be happy to help.