Does Taking Cannabis Before a Workout Affect Performance?

Does Taking Cannabis Before a Workout Affect Performance?
Does Taking Cannabis Before a Workout Affect Performance?
  • New research examines the effects of taking cannabis before a run, and found that it may improve mood and enjoyment, but it also may make the workout feel harder.
  • Researchers are still looking into the overall effects of cannabis on health and performance.

According to new research published in the journal Sports Medicine, cannabis is likely not a significant booster for running speed. In fact, marijuana may cause your run to feel more difficult, even if it also enhances your enjoyment of the workout.

To find this, researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder recruited 42 runners between the ages of 21 and 39 who were regular cannabis users. They were split into two groups, with one using a cannabis product with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the component of cannabis plants that can make you feel “high,” and the other using a cannabidiol (CBD), a component in cannabis plants that does not have a psychoactive effect.

Both groups did a non-cannabis-fueled run on a treadmill for 30 minutes and answered questions about their motivation and enjoyment levels, as well as how hard the workout felt. On a separate visit, they did another 30-minute run after using either a THC or CBD product.

The CBD group experienced heightened mood, but the THC runners also reported more intense moments of a “runner’s high” compared to the non-cannabis session. A surprising finding, the researchers noted, was that the CBD group didn’t feel heightened effort for their second run, but those in the THC group did.

Summarizing the findings in a news release, first author Laurel Gibson, Ph.D., a research fellow at the university’s Center for Health and Addiction noted that the bottom-line finding is that cannabis before exercise seems to increase positive mood and enjoyment during exercise, whether you use THC or CBD. However, THC products may make exercise feel like more of an effort.

One mechanism behind the benefits of cannabis may be its cannabinoid compounds. According to research in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, cannabis contains numerous components, including more than 60 compounds classified as cannabinoids.

The body has cannabinoid receptors—which are part of a larger endocannabinoid system, responsible for regulating numerous functions including the nervous system and immune response—and when cannabinoid compounds come into the body through cannabis products, they can optimize the way those receptors operate. For runners (and everyone else, too), that can bring on benefits like better mood and potentially reduced inflammation.

This new research on cannabis and athletic performance adds to other recent studies centered around how cannabis products might play a role in exercise.

For example, a survey of 333 sports medicine physicians in the journal Translational Sports Medicine found that only 9 percent of respondents believe CBD is detrimental to performance, while 39 percent don’t support the use of cannabis by athletes. That said, the majority of respondents believe marijuana should be removed from the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of prohibited substances. Researchers of that survey wrote that this is an advancing cultural shift that should spur ongoing research and education for sports medicine providers.

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Another question about cannabis use that’s likely to prompt more investigation in the near future: Do athletes need less of it to get the same effect as those who don’t exercise, considering exercise may optimize how it works in the body?

That possibility comes from research in the journal Gut Microbes, which suggests that exercise increases cannabis-like substances in the body that can reduce inflammation and lower pain sensitivity.

In that study, researchers looked at 78 participants with arthritis; about half did muscle-strengthening exercises daily while the other half didn’t exercise. After six weeks, those in the training group had higher levels of endocannabinoids—neurotransmitters that help regulate several body functions like sleep, appetite, body temperature, immune system efficacy, and mood—and more anti-inflammatory substances, which played a role in lowering pain response.

Those researchers noted that this reduction in inflammation could have short-term effects like better pain management, but also longer-term benefits like lowering the risk of some inflammation-related conditions like arthritis, heart disease, and cancer.

Taken together, studies like these are a nod toward changing usage, opinions, and understanding of how cannabis works in the body in specific situations, such as exercise, according to Jordan Tishler, M.D., specialist in internal medicine with a particular focus on endocannabinoid medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

“We’re just at the beginning with understanding the benefits that come with improvements to the endocannabinoid system,” he told Runner’s World. “We have a great deal of research ahead, but I think we’ll discover some significant advantages to cannabis and CBD along the way.”

Elizabeth Millard

Elizabeth Millard is a freelance writer focusing on health, wellness, fitness, and food. 



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