Can Using Marijuana Motivate You to Exercise More?
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Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
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Cannabis-inspired exercise motivation might seem like a conflicting phrase. But a recent study shows that physical activity and marijuana are intimately tied. Contrary to the stereotype of lazy stoners, many people indicate marijuana use enhances the exercise experience and increases exercise engagement. For many people, utilizing cannabis or specific cannabinoids — naturally occurring chemical compounds of the cannabis plant — like CBD before, after, or during a workout is the secret to better exercise habits and sustaining their routine.
Given the new research, it’s worth exploring cannabis exercise motivation further, including how THC and CBD affect exercise performance and pain management and how cannabis consumption may increase physical activity participation by making exercise more fun.
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The Link Between Cannabis and Exercise Motivation
Cannabis-driven exercise motivation could help combat the most common reasons people fail to adhere to regular exercise regimens:
- Lack of motivation
- Low exercise enjoyment
- Difficulty recovering after exercise
- Chronic pain and insomnia
While there are no current studies that show that cannabis increases athletic performance, a new study from the University of Colorado at Boulder revealed that cannabis might motivate people to exercise more.
The Boulder study examined 600 cannabis users in states with medical marijuana programs or legal recreational use. 80% of participants said they regularly mix cannabis and exercise. In addition:
- 78% said cannabis boosted recovery post-exercise.
- 52% said cannabis motivated them to work out.
- 70% said cannabis increased exercise enjoyment.
“Furthermore, participants who use cannabis before and/or after exercise reported that they exercised more and had positive attitudes about co-use on exercise, which implies cannabis may be a useful tool for exercise among some users,” said the University of Colorado at Boulder researchers.
Cannabis Mimics the “Runner’s High”
The “runner’s high” refers to the energy, pain relief, and euphoria many experience during or immediately after a workout. It’s not exclusive to running. In fact, any physical activity that ramps up the heart rate for at least 30 minutes can trigger the sensation. Interestingly, the “runner’s high” chemically resembles THC’s effects on the brain.
THC is the primary psychoactive cannabinoid in the cannabis plant and is responsible for the “high” experienced by its consumers. When ingested, THC stimulates endocannabinoid receptors located mainly in the brain and central nervous system. These receptors are similar to the ones the body naturally activates during exercise.
For example, THC has a similar chemical structure to anandamide, a naturally occurring endocannabinoid called the “bliss molecule” that boosts mood, energy, and motivation, relieves pain, and is said to contribute to the much-beloved post-run “high.”
THC also increases dopamine levels, a chemical that boosts happiness and attention, triggers a sense of pleasure and reward, and has a motivating effect. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that, like anandamide, has been shown to contribute to the “runner’s high.”
The UC Boulder study reinforces these claims, with 40% of cannabis users meeting or exceeding the American College of Sports Medicine’s recommended 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week. The study also supports anecdotal reports from professional athletes, who say THC motivates them to train and enhances pleasure from the experience. The World Anti-Doping Agency even banned cannabis during training due partly to its potential to improve athletic performance.
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Cannabis Eases Workout Pain
Many aerobic exercises, such as long-distance running and intense sports, trigger pain and inflammation in connective tissues, especially as people age. Many people utilize cannabis to ease pain during and after workouts. Other health problems that may reduce willingness to commit to exercise, like arthritis or depression, may also be relieved by cannabis.
Studies show that THC and CBD are powerful agents to alleviate pain and inflammation. The terpene beta-caryophyllene that can be found in certain varieties of the cannabis plant also displays significant anti-inflammatory effects. Cannabis can provide relief from symptoms like pain and fatigue while working out, which may help increase endurance. Further research shows that cannabis use post-workout can also ease side effects like muscle stiffness.
Best Strains for Motivation
Sativa-style strains (chemovars) with terpenes like limonene, pinene, and beta-caryophyllene prove best for energy and motivation. Low doses of THC and CBD may also exert more stimulating effects. Here are five cannabis flower stains ideal for energy boosts. Some varieties may contain high levels of THC, which can be sedative in high doses.
A potent sativa, Durban Poison delivers an intense energy boost, stimulating mental clarity and euphoria. Many people say it’s the most energizing strain they’ve tried.
Super Lemon Haze
A Cannabis Cup winner, Super Lemon Haze reviewers report intense euphoria and an uplifting cerebral high that makes them feel highly productive.
This energizing strain is high in THC and ranks highly in the medical marijuana community for its ability to relieve depression, stress, anxiety, migraines, and pain. Some users say this works well before a run or helps you “zone in” at the gym.
Sativa strains don’t always need higher THC levels to be stimulating. The high-CBD Harlequin cultivar has clear-headed effects that users report keep them focused during workouts and can tune out pain.
Chocolope is a favorite for staying active, with fiercely cerebral, uplifting effects that motivate users to tackle any task, such as taking a long hike or hitting the gym.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Does getting high before a workout help?
Medical experts don’t recommend smoking anything before a cardio workout because healthy lungs are essential to cardio fitness. However, cannabis edibles, beverages, and tinctures can help boost mood and manage pain before a workout.
Additionally, people with existing heart issues should avoid smoking before workouts. The American Heart Association links marijuana use to an increased risk of heart attacks, particularly in the first hour after smoking cannabis.
This tends to apply to THC-rich types of cannabis and cannabis utilized via inhalation (particularly smoking). Some may benefit from CBD-rich tinctures or topicals before their workouts since CBD does not have psychoactive effects. This assures that they are not overly intoxicated while also taking advantage of CBD’s anti-inflammatory effects.
Is it smart to work out while high?
Cannabis users say working out while high makes the experience more enjoyable, helping exercise go by faster and feel less tedious. However, like any intoxicant, marijuana use can impair motor skills and affect an athlete’s perception (e.g., reaction time, stability, and coordination).
Are sativas or indicas better for exercise?
Sativas generally provide a stimulating head high, while indicas unleash an intense body high. Indicas are more likely to cause heaviness and sedation that could demotivate people. On the other hand, sativas may be best for exercise because they invigorate the mind, provide pain relief, and increase pleasure. At least, this is a common perception.
In reality, there is little difference between sativas and indicas, as they are similar on a genetic level. The dominant terpenes and cannabinoids are actually far more important when selecting a product for a desired effect. Most associate low-myrcene, limonene- and terpinolene-rich cannabis varieties with sativas and myrcene-, humulene-, and linalool-rich varieties with indicas.
It is entirely possible for an indica to be low in sedative terpenes like myrcene and high in uplifting terpenes like limonene, for example. In short, pay attention to the terpene and cannabinoid profile, and experiment with different products to discover what works best for you and your workout.