Let’s say you’re an athlete, or just someone who lives an active lifestyle. If someone told you ten years ago that cannabis and exercise would develop a symbiotic relationship, you'd probably laugh in their face.

But thanks to legalization efforts and society’s gradual acceptance of the magic herb, it’s now a reality. Athletes are turning to cannabis[1] for recovery purposes and for general enjoyment.

In terms of professional athletics, the rules and regulations surrounding cannabis are still fraught. Recently, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) took flak[2] after disqualifying American sprinter Sha’carri Richardson from the Olympics after testing positive for cannabis.

So what’s the deal here? Has a connection been developed between cannabis and sports? Can the former actually benefit the latter? These questions, among others, will be answered in this article. Ultimately, we intend to inform you about the potential effects of cannabis on exercise performance and recovery, the risks of combining weed and working out, and some tips to effectively boost your regime.

Cannabis and Exercise: What the Research Says

By looking at studies on the relationship between cannabis and exercise, we can better understand what the future might hold for the two.

Research from 2019[3] examined data involving 600 cannabis users residing in US states where the substance is legal. Around 80% of respondents admitted to using weed right before or after exercise.

These individuals averaged about 43 minutes of aerobic exercise per week (cardio workouts), and supplemented these workouts with 30 minutes of weekly anaerobic exercises (like weightlifting).

The study ultimately found a connection between cannabis use and higher exercise rates. One of the study’s authors points to added enjoyment as a possible reason for such results. Users concurred with this, reporting that cannabis use before and after exercise increased their feelings of pleasure and enhanced their recovery.

On the flip side, the risks are also worth noting. Some experts mention how cannabis can potentially affect a person’s reaction time and coordination, and they urge precautionary measures when using cannabis and doing extreme activities like rock climbing and lifting weights, as these pose a higher risk of injury.

Despite the risks, cannabis and exercise have a pretty established relationship in the modern world, at least in legal jurisdictions. But how exactly might the herb affect exercise performance and recovery on a physiological level?

  • Mindset

Mindset is indeed a powerful influence when it comes to working out. Once the mind opposes the idea of exercise, the body tends to follow.

But as it turns out, cannabis may have a hand in improving the mindset to urge activity. In a 2017 study[4] involving lab rats, researchers discovered a connection between low doses of THC and the potential restoration of cognitive function in test subjects. 

Then, there’s anecdotal evidence[5] from fitness experts. For some, the magic herb helps to keep them focused on a particular task, even acting as a “catalyst to achieve a meditative flow state” during workouts.

Mindset
  • Endurance

When it comes to cannabis and its possible benefits to endurance, studies remain insufficient. The anecdotal evidence, however, is everywhere.

Here’s a personal account[6] from Colorado-based journalist Josiah Hesse. Hesse claimed to have never exercised in his life until he hit his 30s. As he states, he “couldn’t run a single block”, and his lungs “burned”.

But after taking a cannabis-infused edible one day, Hesse reported an “easy, playful experience” running up a hill. He went as far as to say he felt like he “weighed 50 pounds”.

The experience led to Hesse writing a book[7] entitled Runner’s High: How a Movement of Cannabis-Fueled Athletes Is Changing the Science of Sports. Likewise, he attributes the potential connection between cannabis use and successful athletic performance to being “dialed in” and focused on the task at hand.

Endurance
  • Rest and Recovery

Rest and recovery are two equally important factors of exercise and living an active lifestyle. With proper recuperation, you get to perform at your best at the next workout session.

So, where does cannabis play into this? Some studies invoke the plant's relationship with body soothing muscles post-workout. A 2015 article[8] published in JAMA, for one, highlights cannabis’ association with tissues, among others.

Sleep is another integral component of the recovery process. And as a 2004 study[9] highlights, 15 milligrams of THC appeared to be related with sleep readiness in a sample of young adults.

Rest and Recovery

Does Smoking Weed Affect Cardio?

Given the positive claims made by cannabis-loving athletes and exercise fanatics, you might think weed has no negative impact on cardio. The studies, however, suggest otherwise.

According to a piece of research[10] from 2005, “low or moderate doses” of THC may cause tachycardia, or increased heart rate. Ultimately, this causes a temporary increase in blood pressure.

Now, this may not be an issue for healthy individuals. But if you’re someone who suffers from a heart condition, this is something you need to consider.

How Long Does Weed Stay in the System of an Athlete?

Here’s another potential downside. While many areas of the world have either legalized or decriminalised cannabis use, athletic commissions aren’t budging.

That said, any athlete who tests positive for THC may still run into trouble. As such, individuals need to consider the amount of time cannabinoids (or their metabolites) stay in their system.

Urine tests are the go-to method used by many athletic regulatory bodies. And according to research[11], cannabis may remain in a person’s urine sample for up to 30 days. But if you’re a chronic user, it may take up to 90 days before the THC is completely out of your system.

Weed and Exercise: How To Combine Them Safely and Effectively

With regard to combining cannabis and exercise, it’s all about taking safe and proper measures.

So, with that in mind, here are some tips you can use to make the most of your workouts under the influence of the herb. We also have some handy safety tips to guide you!

Choose energising strains

You wouldn’t want to smoke a heavy Kush before going on a run. Instead, pick a strain with invigorating, energising terpenes and a medium THC content for best results. Or, forgo the high altogether and opt for a non-psychotropic CBD strain, or a mild 1:1 strain with equal levels of THC and CBD.

Save relaxing strains for after the workout

There’s a reason some specific strains are known as nighttime strains. After an arduous afternoon in the gym, a few puffs from a strain high in the terpene myrcene, for example, could be all that’s needed to softly ease you into dreamland.

Microdose to go the extra mile

When it comes to using cannabis for exercise, a little goes a long way. Often, about 5–15mg of THC should do the trick. It could be a bite off of an edible or a couple puffs from a bowl—whatever works best for you. This way, you avoid the potential lethargy that comes with large doses of THC.

Avoid extreme activities

It doesn’t matter if you can handle your high well. You’re still in a state of impairment, and it wouldn’t be wise to do anything risky. So if smoking and rock climbing are on your current agenda, you may want to forgo that plan.

If you have an underlying condition, consult a doctor

We briefly mentioned the potential health risks of cannabis use and exercise among people with heart conditions. If this is relevant to you, err on the side of caution and consult a doctor first.

Marijuana and Exercise: A Charming Duo?

When it comes to pairing your beloved herb with your workouts, knowledge is power. For your own health and safety, perform further research or consult a professional.

And if you do decide to dive in, remember to proceed with caution. Start out with low doses of THC to give you the perfect buzz and boost in motivation. Once you get to that zoned-in frame of mind, you can enjoy a fun and fulfilling workout.

External Resources:
  1. 18 of the Biggest Cannabis Advocates in Pro Sports | Men's Journal https://www.mensjournal.com
  2. Weed Shouldn't Be Banned for Elite Athletes, Some Experts Say - Scientific American https://www.scientificamerican.com
  3. Frontiers | The New Runner's High? Examining Relationships Between Cannabis Use and Exercise Behavior in States With Legalized Cannabis | Public Health https://www.frontiersin.org
  4. A chronic low dose of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) restores cognitive function in old mice | Nature Medicine https://www.nature.com
  5. 9 Ways Marijuana Effects Your Athletic Performance | Muscle & Fitness https://www.muscleandfitness.com
  6. Can Marijuana Make You a Better Athlete? https://www.nytimes.com
  7. Runner's High by Josiah Hesse: 9780593191170 | PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com
  8. Medical Marijuana | Adolescent Medicine | JAMA | JAMA Network https://jamanetwork.com
  9. Effect of Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol on nocturnal sleep and early-morning behavior in young adults - PubMed https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  10. Hereditary motor and sensor neuropathy: a cause of acute stridor https://emj.bmj.com
  11. OBJECTIVE TESTING – URINE AND OTHER DRUG TESTS https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
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This content is for educational purposes only. The information provided is derived from research gathered from external sources.

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