While it may seem odd that a drug known to cause dizziness and coughing could actually be beneficial as part of a workout plan, many patients claim that the psychotropic effects of cannabis actually help them compete in sports and overcome physical challenges while exercising. This probably sounds like nonsense to most readers, because it goes against the stereotype of a sluggish dope-smoker wasting away in front of the television. But many cannabis patients use the plant as part of a health-conscious lifestyle that involves exercise and healthy eating habits.
With what we know about the links between obesity and severity of COVID-19 symptoms (people with obesity are more likely to belong to a number of at-danger populations like those with pre-existing respiratory and cardiac disease and those with compromised immune systems), it’s more important than ever that we get active and get healthy. And if smoking cannabis helps to contribute to an active and healthy lifestyle, then by God, we’ll just have to pack a bowl and muscle through it.
For weed smokers, the stats are already on your side. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that cannabis users have a lower prevalence of obesity when compared with non-users. Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder surveyed marijuana users about their exercise habits last year. Four out of five participants reported using cannabis immediately before or after exercising. According to the report, cannabis users also spent more minutes exercising per week than non-users. And 70 percent of those who used the drug before exercising said it made the task more pleasurable.
Social psychologist Angela Bryan—a researcher on the team behind the survey—says specific chemical reactions happen in athletes’ brains that trigger the endocannabinoid system. A study completed in 2003 and published in the journal NeuroReport found that participants who ran on a treadmill or cycled on a stationary bike for 50 minutes had elevated levels of the endocannabinoid anandamide in their blood. It’s believed that this is what leads to the legendary “runner’s high” you’ve probably heard joggers talk about. Bryan says using cannabis might kick-start the “runner’s high” process early during an exercise session.
Cannabis has also been known anecdotally to help increase focus—again, despite the stereotype. Not all strains exhibit this effect, and it’s usually associated with sativas. There is even a small but vocal group of cannabis patients who suffer from ADD and ADHD and claim that the drug does wonders for treating the ailments. Conventional wisdom says weed can never directly help you focus, however, and there’s little science that sides with the assertion. But then there’s little science on the subject at all.
Users who take the drug within four hours after exercising claim that it also helps in the recovery process—77 percent of them, according to the UC survey. This could be attributed to marijuana’s well-known anti-inflammatory properties or its common use as an analgesic.
But not much is actually known about cannabis’ effects on the body during exercise. Bryan told reporters that there’s still plenty of research needed to be done before scientists can make any recommendations. So far there’s no solid evidence to believe there’s any causal relationship between weed and more productive workouts.
Bryan speculates that much of the perceived effects have to do with marijuana’s ability to alter mood and make everything more enjoyable. In an interview with Time, she said, “One of the barriers to physical activity is that people say, ‘I don’t like it. It’s boring. It feels bad. I don’t want to do it.' ” Cannabis might give some patients a little extra help getting around that barrier.
She also make sure to warn that elevated heart rates and decreased motor functions have been associated with marijuana use in the past and could be dangerous in the context of high-intensity workouts. So take it easy the first few times you try it out, and only use it before taking part in low-impact workouts.