Films and TV have taught us that after using cannabis, heading to the gym is probably the last thing on your mind. However recent research has suggested that the opposite might actually be true, suggesting a positive relationship between cannabis and exercise, and even possibly increasing motivation.1
These studies were conducted in US states where cannabis is legal, and of course here in the UK this kind of “pre-workout” is not an option. However, there have also been interesting studies into the effects of CBD on exercise, which is legal in the UK. So what did these studies actually find?
In 2019 researchers looked at 600 cannabis users in American states where the drug has been legalised and surveyed whether or not they endorsed cannabis usage before and/or after a workout.1
What was found was quite the opposite to the stereotype of the lazy smoker. The study found that over 80% of cannabis users endorsed smoking before and/or after a workout.1
The researchers controlled for any demographic differences in the participants like age and gender, and “use of cannabis with exercise was still associated with 43 more minutes of weekly aerobic exercise on average”1.
On top of this, it was also found that 40% of respondents who endorse using cannabis alongside a workout “met or exceeded American College of Sports Medicine’s recommendations of a minimum of 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week” compared to less than 30% of cannabis users who don’t endorse it.1
Researchers also found that respondents who endorsed using cannabis before and/or after a workout said that doing so “enhances their enjoyment of and recovery from exercise, and approximately half reported that it increases their motivation to exercise”1.
But wait...there’s more
The 2019 study sparked more research. So, this year a new study was conducted and its conclusions seem to consolidate what was found back in 2019.
This 2021 study aimed to learn more about the relationship between cannabis and exercise in US states where the drug has been legalised with the hope to inform discussions on legalisation.
The study used data from the fourth and fifth waves of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health to inform their findings (a study that has administered questionnaires on health behaviours to the same representative group since 1994)3.
The results showed that cannabis usage didn’t have any significant relationship to exercise and “the only significant estimates suggest a positive relationship, even among heavier users during the past 30 days”2. So, no negative effects were found and any relationship that was suggested was a positive one.
What does this mean?
In the US these studies are valuable to inform debates as legalisation continues.
Of course, here in the UK cannabis is illegal – but cannabidiol, or CBD, isn’t. CBD is an active compound of the cannabis plant, but it does not have the psychoactive properties as it doesn’t include THC.4
There have been a few studies into the relationship between CBD and exercise that have found a positive relationship between the two.
A study in 2020 found that “CBD has been reported to exert a number of physiological, biochemical and psychological effects, that have the potential to benefit athletes”4 In particular, the anti-inflammatory properties could be incredibly beneficial to an athlete's post-workout recovery.4
Having said this, the researchers stress that the conclusions of this study are preliminary, and a lot more research needs to be done in this area.
Take Home Message
As cannabis is legalised in more states, it’s likely that we will get many more learnings and studies into its effects on health and exercise. Although much more research needs to be done across this area, there have definitely been some interesting developments that sit at odds with what we once thought cannabis did to our bodies.
Here in the UK cannabis is not legal, however CBD may pose some benefits particularly to your recovery, however, more research is needed and is likely on its way in this area too. And of course, there's still always our trusty pre-workout to turn to...
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- “The New Runner’s High? Examining Relationships Between Cannabis Use and Exercise Behavior in States With Legalized Cannabis”, University of Colorado Boulder, 2019, https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2019.00099
- “The relationships between marijuana use and exercise among young and middle-aged adults”, Michael T. French, Karoline Mortensen, Manuel Alcalá Kovalski, Preventive Medicine, Volume 147, 2021, ISSN 0091-7435, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ypmed.2021.106518.
- National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health), 1994-2008 [Public Use]. Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill [distributor], Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2018-08-06. https://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR21600.v21
- Cannabidiol and Sports Performance: a Narrative Review of Relevant Evidence and Recommendations for Future Research. McCartney, D., Benson, M. J., Desbrow, B., Irwin, C., Suraev, A., & McGregor, I. S. (2020). Sports medicine – open, 6(1), 27. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40798-020-00251-0