What Effect Does Cannabis Have on Exercise? The Science, the Benefits, and a Few Precautions

We all know physical activity is good for you. A good dose of exercise can complement the treatment of many physical or mental conditions, all while reducing stress levels and staving off risks of heart disease, diabetes, and other serious illnesses. It just so happens that medical cannabis is one such form of treatment that lends exercise a new meaning.

Many athletes and gym-goers alike swear by using cannabis before or after a workout. For some, cannabis helps trigger the right state of mind. Others say the substance eases anxiety and increases pain threshold so they can push themselves further. In addition, the healing qualities of cannabis can speed up muscle recovery following a workout. But how does the drug manage to produce all these exercise-enhancing benefits at once? Here’s what you should know before combining the two.

1.) Cannabis Boosts “Runner’s High”

When we exercise, our bodies produce their own natural endocannabinoids (the cell receptors to which cannabinoids like THC and CBD bind) as well as releasing endorphins. According to one study, the body’s natural activation of its cannabinoid system helps to ease pain, control appetite, influence mood and memory, and even induces a little “high” just as cannabinoids do.

Even better, THC gives this process a little boost. Research shows that our bodies can store THC in fact for up to 28 days after consumption. As the body burns off fat during exercise, small amounts of THC are released back into the bloodstream and produce effects similar to mild cannabis use. In fact, moderate exercise can increase THC blood levels for up to two hours by about 15 percent.

2.) Cannabis Helps Prevent Weight Gain

As well as recycling THC, moderate exercise also, of course, helps us lose weight. And so does cannabis.

Another study looked at the impact of cannabis on levels of insulin, the hormone responsible for moving glucose (sugar) from our blood to cells, where they’ll convert to energy. If this metabolic process doesn’t function properly, the cells get more glucose than they need, leaving behind excess glucose that leads to weight gain. Chronically elevated blood glucose also leads to insulin resistance, diabetes, and heart disease.

The study found that cannabis actually raises metabolism. Regular cannabis consumers had 16 percent lower levels of fasting insulin (insulin in the body before eating, which is lower in healthier people), 17 percent lower insulin resistance, and smaller waist circumferences.

3.) Cannabis Keeps You Motivated and Focused

For many, because cannabis improves one’s ability to tolerate pain and discomfort – both physical and mental – finishing those last few reps or pushing yourself an extra mile could suddenly seem a lot less intense.

Cannabis can also push your mind into a more energized state. Cannabis isn’t usually known to stimulate and is popular for helping patients “zone out,” but strangely enough, certain strains of cannabis can also put you in the zone for exercising. Added to its ability to reduce anxiety, yoga experts suggest that consuming cannabis before exercise aligns mind and body so you can maintain controlled, meditational focus on the task at hand.

For improved physical health and pain relief, cannabis and exercise can go hand-in-hand. Just a few things to bear in mind before toking up pre-workout:

  • Go easy. Don’t over medicate before using gym equipment or doing exercise that requires deliberate movement, for example, can lead to injuries.
  • In general, stick to a smaller dose of cannabis than usual, or a “micro-dose.” This provides medicinal benefits without fatigue or lethargy.
  • Go slow at first, to make sure your body is comfortable with the effects of cannabis combined with the natural stress of the workout. Cannabis does lower blood pressure, making the heart pump faster to compensate, so cannabis and vigorous exercise does not make a good match for those with heart issues.
  • To err on the side of caution, consult your doctor before starting an exercise program or adding cannabis to your routine.
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