Mixing weed with workouts is a surprisingly popular thing

Man running through misty forest
© Sander van der Werf

Eight out of 10 marijuana users in states where cannabis is legal say they use the drug right before or after exercise.

Marijuana is now legal for fun (AKA recreational use) in 10 states and for medicinal use in dozens more – with more legalization in the works, it is expected that more adults will start partaking and that the products will become increasingly potent.

Upon first consideration, the logical conclusion might be that more stoned grown-ups may lead to higher rates of sedentary behavior and more eating of Doritos and Girl Scout cookies. But as it turns out, we may have a plot twist (pot twist?) on our hands.

According to new research from the University of Colorado Boulder, eight out of 10 marijuana users in states where cannabis is legal say they partake in the drug shortly before or after exercise, and most report that it motivates them to work out, helps them enjoy exercise more, and improves their recovery.

Which actually kind of makes perfect sense ... is this what we've needed all along?

"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," says senior author Angela Bryan, a professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience and the Institute for Cognitive Science.

She emphasizes that she does not recommend cannabis as an exercise add-on since the evidence is not there yet. "But I am also not convinced it is harmful," she says.

Physical activity is one of the most important lifestyle habits required for good health, but many Americans fail to meet the minimum exercise recommendations (fewer than 50 percent, in fact). Among other things, common hindrances for exercise include a lack of enjoyment of and motivation to exercise, and poor recovery afterwards.

Since there has been so little research done on the relationship between cannabis and exercise, Bryan and her colleagues started out by surveying 600 adult marijuana users in California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington,. One of the questions was if they ever used cannabis within an hour before or four hours after exercise. Eighty-two percent said "yes."

"We were stunned it was that high," says Bryan.

Follow-up questions among the "co-users" (those using cannabis with exercise) revealed that 70 percent said it increased enjoyment of exercise, 78 percent said it boosted recovery, and 52 percent said it heightened motivation.

"Given that these are all recognized barriers to exercise, it is possible that cannabis might actually serve as a benefit to exercise engagement," the authors write.

They also found that those who co-used exercised about 43 minutes more per week than those who did not.

Co-author Arielle Gillman notes that there are physiological similarities between "runner's high" and how cannabis works. "Theoretically, you could imagine that if it could dampen pain and induce an artificial 'runner's high,' it could keep people motivated."

Spurred on by the results and hoping to fill in more of the research void, the University is already starting more research on the topic – this time looking at activity levels of older adults who use cannabis with those who do not. And guess what preliminary results are finding? "After embarking on a 16-week exercise program, the cannabis users exercised more than the non-users."

"As we get older, exercise starts to hurt, and that is one reason older adults don't exercise as much," Bryan says. "If cannabis could ease pain and inflammation, helping older adults to be more active that could be another benefit."

But before we go and start telling young adults and boomers alike to smoke some pot and go for a run, the authors reiterate that, "since the present study did not query potential negative consequences of co-use, any recommendations are premature." Do with that what you will...

The research was published in in the journal Frontiers in Public Health.

Mixing weed with workouts is a surprisingly popular thing
Eight out of 10 marijuana users in states where cannabis is legal say they use the drug right before or after exercise.

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