Medical cannabis and exercise


A recent case study conducted by the University of Colorado Boulder highlights how cannabis may promote physical activity, specifically boosting motivation, enjoyment and easing post-workout pain.

Debunking Cannabis User Stereotypes

Typically when the general public thinks of cannabis, they don’t equate it with fitness or exercise. Decades of misinformation and leftover stigma have given people the wrong impression of cannabis and the context in which it’s used. We don’t automatically think of cannabis as something that motivates or promotes exercise. But some recent case studies are indicating otherwise. Many of the general public are actively using medical cannabis to help boost motivation, increase fitness enjoyment as well as aid in recovery and pain management.

Physical Activity is Vital to Staying Healthy

Our greatest wealth is our health. Physical activity is crucial in maintaining one’s good health and overall quality of life. The World Health Organization recommends adults aged 18 to 65 to engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity each week. Physical activity does not necessarily mean exercise. It can be anything from running, walking, climbing up the stairs, doing household chores, and commuting. The fact is, any physical activity will result in health benefits.

1 in 4 people are not active enough. The lack of physical activity is the biggest contributor to death.”

– World Health Organization

Most Common Barriers to Exercise 

Even though the lack of physical activity is the most significant cause of death, it’s still difficult for people to set aside the time and prioritize exercise. Before discussing how medical cannabis may help with training, let’s deconstruct why people aren’t exercising as much as they should. Here are some of the top reasons why people don’t exercise as much as they should.

  1. Lack of motivation
  2. Low level of enjoyment
  3. Improper recovery after exercise
  4. Physical discomfort
  5. Inadequate time
  6. Lack of knowledge and access to resources

Life responsibilities such as school, work, and children understandably don’t leave us much in the way of spare time. But the reasons that have to do with our mindsets such as finding motivation and enjoyment from exercise can potentially be improved by cannabis. Let’s take a closer look.

How Medical Cannabis May Help With Exercise

A large study conducted by psychology and neuroscience professor, Angela Bryan and her researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder inquired 605 participants about cannabis use and physical activity. The data collection method used was a mass survey posted on various social media outlets.

All participants were current cannabis users who were polled from U.S states Colorado, Washington, Nevada, California, and Oregon. The survey questions sought to discover if users took cannabis before or after exercise and their personal motivations and reasons for doing so.

Here is a summary of the primary data points found from the CU Boulder study: 

  • 82% responded that they did use cannabis either before or after exercise. 18.3% said they did not.
  • 67% reported using cannabis both before and after fitness
  • Survey participants who used cannabis with exercise tended to be younger (average of 36 years old) and more likely to be male.
  • Participants using cannabis with exercise also had a lower body mass index (BMI) scores at 25.6. Participants who did not use cannabis with physical activity had an average BMI of 27

Angela Bryan and her colleagues were “stunned” to learn that rates of cannabis use concurrent with exercise were so high.

“There is a stereotype that cannabis use leads people to be lazy and couch-locked and not physically active, but these data suggest that this is not the case.”

-Angela Bryan, a professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience

Cannabis and Motivation to Exercise

The participants who reported using cannabis along with exercise were asked follow-up questions to determine the rationale behind their decision. Here are the key findings:

  • 70% said that cannabis use increased the enjoyment of exercising
  • 78% reported that cannabis use helped with recovery
  • 52% reported that cannabis use aided in boosting motivation

The group who supplemented their fitness sessions with cannabis exercised 43 minutes longer per week than the group who did not use cannabis during their workouts.

Bryan and her colleagues speculated that cannabis might exert analgesic qualities that aid in pain reduction and perception. Co-author of the CU Boulder study, Arielle Gillman compared the effects of cannabis while exercising to the “runner’s high” – the feeling of euphoria and reduced pain perception after prolonged periods of aerobic exercise.

“There is evidence to suggest that certain cannabinoids dampen pain perception, and we also know that the receptors cannabis binds to in the brain are very similar to the receptors that are activated naturally during the runners high…Theoretically, you could imagine that if it could dampen pain and induce an artificial ‘runner’s high,’ it could keep people motivated.””

– Arielle Gillman, a doctorate student at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Although results for this study were promising, the authors were quick to note that their survey study was somewhat biased as it only focused on avid cannabis users and U.S states in which cannabis had already been legalized. The University of Colorado Boulder is in the process of carrying out additional research that will observe physical activity levels of cannabis users as well as non-cannabis users.

Precautions With Using Cannabis During Exercise  

While medical cannabis may produce stimulating and energizing effects that can aid with fitness-related activities, simple precautions must be taken to ensure safety, especially for new users. Side effects of cannabis at moderate to high doses can range from disorientation, drowsiness to motor function impairment. Here are some guidelines to follow:

  1. Listen to your body. If you’re using medical cannabis to help with muscle pain relief, remember to give yourself plenty of rest for adequate recovery.
  2. If using cannabis while exercising, refrain from driving for at least 6 hours
  3. Dose carefully. With cannabis and exercise, less is more.
  4. Always stay hydrated.