Using cannabis before a run increased the enjoyment experienced by runners, but did not help them perform to higher standards, a study published in the journal Sports Medicine has found.
Scientists from the University of Colorado studied 42 runners who were all current cannabis users, assessing their experiences of running after they had used cannabis products that were either THC or CBD dominant, and compared the results to their experiences of running without cannabis.
The motivation behind the study was to examine the stereotype that cannabis causes sedentary behaviour, as well as to shed more light on the effect cannabis can have on exercise, specifically the phenomenon known as ‘runner’s high’.
“Given the stereotype that cannabis is associated with extreme sedentary behaviour, there are concerns that cannabis legalization may exacerbate the US physical inactivity epidemic. However, despite these concerns, recent years have seen considerable public interest in the use of cannabis concurrently with exercise (e.g., running)”, researchers wrote.
During the study, the team of researchers observed CBD had a stronger effect than THC on mood and the enjoyment experienced by 42 runners who participated. This is surprising because THC and not CBD is the cannabinoid people most relate to increased mood and enjoyment of experiences.
It was previously thought that the high experienced by people who exercised, known as the ‘runner’s high’ was due to chemicals inside the body known as endorphins, however, this is now believed to be caused by cannabinoids produced inside the body called endocannabinoids, specifically anandamide.
Researchers suggest that some will only experience the sensation of a ‘runner’s high’ after exercising for a certain amount of time, but by using cannabis they may be able to hack into the feeling and benefit from the results earlier than they may do naturally.
“The reality is, some people will never experience the runner’s high,” said author Laurel Gibson, from the University of Colorado Boulder’s Center for Health and Addiction: Neuroscience, Genes and Environment (CU Change).
The notable downside of using cannabis before exercise discovered by this study, specifically the THC-dominant cannabis supplied by researchers, was the increased heart rate of participants during their runs.
Not only can an increased heart rate be dangerous to athletes but it also means the body is having to work harder, thus making exercise a more strenuous activity for those who use THC than for those who don’t.
“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,” Gibson notes.
These results could help healthcare providers and those involved in the health and wellness industries with a tool to encourage people to exercise who may be prevented from doing so because they live with pain or low moods.
Psychology and neuroscience professor Angela Bryan said “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.”
“Is there a world where taking a low-dose gummy before they go for that walk might help? It’s too early to make broad recommendations but it’s worth exploring.”
The researchers conclude that more research is needed to clarify results and that cannabis use before exercise can have both positive and negative results for the user.
“To our knowledge, this is the first study to investigate the acute effects of commercially available cannabis on subjective responses to exercise in a laboratory environment. Our findings suggest that, among regular cannabis users who use cannabis in combination with exercise, cannabis use prior to exercise may lead to increases in both positive and negative aspects of the subjective exercise experience. Research using diverse samples, exercise modalities, and methodologies (e.g., placebo-controlled trials) is needed to establish the generalizability of these findings.”