A vast number of cannabis enthusiasts made up of all ages have discovered the perks of exercising high—often with pleasant results.
While decades of propaganda and a handful of less-than-conclusive studies promote the amotivational syndrome theory surrounding cannabis, a growing body of empirical evidence defies the concept that cannabis slows down the physical human body and hinders psychomotor ability.
The findings were published in the July 2020 issue of American Journal of Health Behavior and are published online via Ingenta. The data suggests that Americans pot smokers ages 60 and older exercise frequently and have a lower body mass index than older Americans who do not consume. The team arrived at the conclusion that cannabis did not negatively impact exercise routines among Americans who fall within that age group.
The study was conducted by a team from the Department of Neuroscience and Psychology at University of Colorado, Boulder. “Although studies have suggested that cannabis may impair psychomotor performance and lung function, cannabis may actually enhance performance in some athletic domains,” researchers wrote. “It is important to note that the few empirical studies directly testing this association lack external validity, as they have utilized forms of cannabis that are not widely available in modern medical and recreational cannabis dispensaries.”
Researchers noted that past studies on the subject involved lower quality cannabis—cannabis which is nearly impossible to find nowadays, with legal top shelf flower readily available at dispensaries in dozens of states.
Using the Stanford 7-Day Physical Activity Recall Scale (PAR), the team was able to accurately measure the frequency of exercise among participants. The benefits of PAR include that it allows researchers to distinguish between work-related and non work-related physical activity, and it also measures levels of intensity of exercise and other factors.
All participants were 60 years of age or older and defined as sedentary, having reported exercising less than 80 minutes of “moderate physical activity” per week. Participants were monitored for body mass index, cardiovascular activity, and exercise frequency at the beginning of the study, then after eight weeks, and then after 16 weeks. At the eight-week mark, 164 participants completed the study, and 153 participants made it to the 16-week mark.
“Results of this analysis indicated that compared to older adult nonusers, older adult cannabis users had lower [body mass index] at the beginning of an exercise intervention study, engaged in more weekly exercise days during the intervention, and were engaging in more exercise-related activities at the conclusion of the intervention,” the team wrote.
Why Does Cannabis Improve Exercise?
When looking at cannabis and exercise, you must consider the whole picture: Cannabis has the power, for instance, to induce a mental state during walks, jogs, and runs that makes exercise seem like less work. When used safely, cannabis can inject the fun into exercise, thus making people more likely to exercise more often. There are plenty of other mental factors that directly affect our desire to exercise.
A similar study published in 2019, also conducted by a team of researchers at University of Colorado, Boulder, found that people who combine cannabis and exercise tend to exercise more often. Six-hundred people ages 21 and older were observed for the study, and lived in California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. The majority of cannabis-related studies rely on self-reporting.
This team found that 81.7 percent of participants said that they consume cannabis before or after exercise, and another 67.2 percent of participants said that they consume cannabis before and after exercise.
Most importantly, the participants who consume cannabis reported getting 43 more minutes of exercise every week compared to the cannabis consumers who didn’t—quite a significant number.
Most people are aware of the “runner’s high,” or the natural release of anandamide that bonds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain. That would explain why some runners report the feeling of being stoned after a long run, and also why athletes are frequently drawn to cannabis in the first place. By combining cannabis with exercise, one could assume that it enhances the effects of anandamide.
The findings are especially relevant given the push to promote active lifestyles amid widespread shutdowns. Perhaps its best takeaway is the way the study defies the concept that stoners are lazy and inactive—a long-held belief that persists to this day.