Runner’s High: THC and Exercise

We all need a little extra motivation to get to the gym sometimes, but if you’re a regular cannabis user, there may actually be a little extra incentive to pump some iron or clock a few miles. There might be some performance-enhancing — though perhaps of a different sort — for some athletes. David S. of Eugene, Ore., is a recreational cyclist who likes to take a toke before a ride “It calms me down, makes me a better biker… more considerate,” he said. While marijuana is not typically known as a “performance-enhancing” drug — though it is included on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) banned substances list and one American athlete at the London Olympics was expelled for testing positive for marijuana in 2012 — it may have an effect similar to a runner’s high following a sweat session.

A runner’s high is caused by a “flood” of endorphin’s to the brain and will make the runner feel euphoric after a run, according to a German study reported by the New York Times in 2008. For the casual user, cannabis may also provide an extra “high” when hitting the gym. The psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, called tetrahydrocannabinol or THC for short, is stored in fat cells, and burning that fat during a workout session will re-release the THC into your system, creating a small high while you’re sweating it out. But the jury is out on whether or not cannabis can really be considered “performance enhancing.” “Not a lot of research has been done in this area,” said Christian Roberts, the director of the Exercise and Metabolic Disease Research Lab at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Roberts recently co-authored a brief article that summarized existing research on the relationship between exercise and marijuana, which concluded that marijuana “does not have an ergogenic effect” on athletic performance. Roberts said that very few studies have been done and nearly all have used smoked forms, and other routes of administration have not been tested. One study, “The effects of smoking marihuana on physical performance,” performed in 1975 by Steadward and Singh, had subjects complete a control treadmill test before and after smoking a joint. “If they smoke marijuana and then they go try to exercise, performance will decrease,” Roberts said. He indicated that the decrease in performance may or may not be due to the THC, and could be related to the inhalation of smoke prior to exercise. His research stated that some athletes may use cannabis as a sleep or relaxation aid, which could indirectly enhance athletic performance. “This would be done so far in advance that it probably wouldn’t have a negative effect,” Roberts said. “If that helps them relax, it could conceivably lead to a better performance.”

Marvin C., a former college football player, said the relaxation effects did improve his performance on the field. “It was difficult to do so at first, with learning the systems and plays, but once those things became more second nature, I’d smoke before and after games,” he told Edibles List via Reddit. “I’d have to make sure not to overdo it, or I’d be completely lost, but just the right amount helped me clear my head of any anxiety [and/or] nervousness, provide a calming effect, and also really just helped me absorb the pain of each play a lot better.” But warming up with a hit of your favorite strain does make working out a little more difficult in some ways. “I end up becoming forgetful about how many sets I’ve done, or how long I’ve done a portion of my [high intensity interval training],” Marvin said.


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