Exercising on Cannabis: What You Need to Know About Working Out High

Tina Magrabi
Tina Magrabi - Content Writer

Nov 09 2021 - 7 min read

Bas Rutten, Ross Rebagliati, Megan Rapinoe, Lolo Jones, Bill Walton. Those are just a few of the accomplished pro athletes who have used medical marijuana for recovery, relaxation, and, most importantly, an alternative to painkillers. Martial artists and yoga practitioners, in particular, seem to have an affinity to cannabis.

The stereotypical image of a lazy stoner lying around in their underwear, snacking on junk food, and watching television seems a bit ridiculous when we consider the numerous world-class athletes. They use cannabis and cannabidiol (CBD) for boosting recovery, helping manage minor injuries and muscle soreness, and maximizing rest days.

Is it Wise to Work Out After Using Cannabis?

The benefits mentioned above are usually for post-exercise recovery, and we will say that it is generally best to avoid cannabis – and in particular THC – use immediately before exercise due to its ability to raise heart rate and cause heart arrhythmias (irregularities in heart beat). Those with hypertension or metabolic disorders in particular should keep this in mind, and come up with an exercise regime that won’t clash with your dosing plan. We do not want patients suffering from any unnecessary heart attacks!

Another factor is that THC may make some more likely to impair judgement, lose balance or awareness of their surroundings, thereby increasing the chances of injury. The combination of a psychoactive THC high and exercise may also make a person feel faint or nauseous, and may even cause vomiting.

Benefits of Weed for Athletes – Can Cannabis Boost Performance?

In American Beauty, there’s a scene where Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) uses cannabis and hits the weights. Well, that’s not just some throwaway moment from a Hollywood movie. Various triathletes use THC-laden snacks to go on long-distance runs, swims, and cycles. Even 28-time Olympic medalist Michael Phelps and a laundry list of other world-record breakers are open about their cannabis use. So, does cannabis use boost performance?

On the whole, no, THC does not boost performance, or aerobic exercise or strength. However, there are some ways in which cannabis may potentially help exercise, and in particular post-workout recovery. Here are some ways in which it might, and some studies that back up the benefits of mixing medical cannabis with exercise.

Cannabis and exercise

You Might Be More Motivated and Focused

Need some motivation for your next workout and worried that cannabis might slow you down? Cannabis users may exercise more than non-users: Researchers surveyed 600 cannabis users in California, Nevada, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington about the impacts of cannabis on athletic performance, and the results were stunning. 

Those who used some form of cannabis an hour before working out and/or within four hours after their workout reported getting 43 more minutes of exercise each week than those who didn’t. It appears that rather than hampering your performance, cannabis could enhance it by helping you laser-focus. 

With that being said, we would generally still recommend being careful about utilizing cannabis before workouts due to its initial heart-rate raising effects. Those who do wish to do so may want to wait a couple of hours before doing so, as blood pressure can lower after using cannabis as well. We advise speaking to your doctor (as well as physiotherapist and/or personal trainer) about developing and managing an exercise regime that will less likely turn negative if you’re using medical cannabis.

Easier Short-Term Recovery 

During a post-fight press conference, MMA fans may recall seeing Nate Diaz pulling on a vape pen filled with CBD oil. Nate, one of the most infamous cannabis users in the fight game, uses CBD oil to manage pain and inflammation. He’s far from the only pro athlete to turn to CBD to help manage their aches and pains, however.

Many NFL players and other high-contact sporting participants use CBD in various forms (e.g., topical creams, tinctures, etc.) for the same purpose, and it’s not hard to see why. CBD oil is a non-addictive, far less performance-impacting alternative to opioids. 

For athletes who need an effective painkiller that doesn’t cloud the mind and is natural, CBD could be the answer. Studies have shown that CBD users reported their sore muscles recover faster than without CBD and that the cannabinoid is as effective as over-the-counter inflammation-reducing medications like aspirin.

The best part is that, with CBD, athletes don’t have to worry too much about failing a drug test. Anti-doping agencies like the World Anti-Doping Agency have taken CBD off of their prohibited list, clearing the way for WADA athletes to utilize CBD for recovery. THC, though, is still a banned substance. Rare though it is, full-spectrum CBD oils may on occasion contain a little more THC than is on the label, or THC may accumulate in the body over time. This can lead to a positive result for THC.

CBD is an option for athletes when managing and reducing stress, pain, post-workout soreness, minor injuries, and even working as a sleep aid. Low to moderate doses of CBD may also be a better cannabinoid to utilize prior to a workout compared to THC, as it is not intoxicating and does not have the same physiological effects THC has.

Does THC Affect Muscle Recovery?

THC may benefit muscle recovery. In an interview with Men’s Journal,  Harvard-educated physician Dr. Jordan Tishler shared, “While cannabis is certainly an anti-inflammatory, it’s unclear if this process works at a sufficient magnitude to help heal muscle damage and get you back in the gym faster.”

However, Dr. Tishler pointed out that THC can help with delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). According to Tishler, cannabis can reduce the impact of DOMS, allowing you to feel better faster and get back to the gym quicker than you usually would. 

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Long-Term Brain Recovery

CBD may offer more than short-term recovery benefits. Research has demonstrated that CBD could provide long-term protection for the brain

How does this fact relate to your workouts? Brain damage is a massive problem in professional sports like wrestling, boxing, and American football. Unsurprisingly, taking repetitive blows on the head from hundreds of pounds of muscle exerts a toll on the brain through traumatic brain injuries, or TBI’s.

TBI’s can be caused by bumps, jolts, or blows to the head that shake the brain around, bashing it against the inside of the skull. When the brain gets injured in this way, it goes into panic mode. Even mild TBIs can cause symptoms that last weeks and more severe TBI’s can impact people for a lifetime. That’s why so many neurologists and doctors are concerned about the impact of CTE on professional athletes, especially former NFL players.

As a potential neuroprotectant, CBD might well prevent high-contact sportsmen and women from developing long-term, debilitating neurological problems like Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and CTE. A TBI is a qualifying condition for a medical cannabis recommendation in many states, illustrating that the science behind this medical research is widely accepted.

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It’ll Relax You

Some would argue that using cannabis can deplete testosterone and therefore prevent the development of muscle mass. In reality, however, that’s not entirely accurate, and some studies have shown that cannabis users have increased testosterone. Studies linking cannabis use to lower testosterone levels have been inconclusive at best, with some users seeing their levels dip while others stay the same.

Plus, for most people who train consistently, the testosterone-depleting side effects of cannabis can be mitigated by a balanced diet. Exercise can also increase testosterone levels, so any testosterone-depleting effects that may be caused by cannabinoids can be minimized simply by going to the gym and getting a good workout.

You May Go the Extra Mile

Your brain is urging you to run one more mile on the treadmill, but your body is screaming for a rest. While you should always know and honor your boundaries, cannabis use may help you achieve a little more than you ordinarily would.

Our endocannabinoid systems are equipped with receptors that influence how we feel pain. Sprinkle a little marijuana magic into the mix, and your cannabinoid receptors may help you respond better to any muscle pain by perceiving less discomfort. These effects can last into the next day, so you don’t necessarily need to consume cannabis before your workout to get such effects, either.

Strike a balance between forging ahead with your workout and knowing when to take a break as well in order to prevent overexertion and overtraining. 

You Don’t Have to Smoke It

For people who are hyper-focused on overall health and longevity, smoking cannabis might be a tough sell regardless of the potential benefits. After all, fully functioning and undamaged lungs are crucial for anyone, especially people living active lifestyles.

However, there are many different ways to consume cannabis products without rolling paper and a lighter. Using high-quality THC or CBD-infused oils, using sublingual tinctures, ingesting edibles, or applying transdermal creams will not affect lung capacity in any known way.

Weed Might Make Exercise More Enjoyable

Runner’s high is a coveted sensation among athletes. That feeling of euphoria is unlike any other and motivates people to be consistent with their workouts.  

Cannabis use offers a similar euphoric high, so combining the two may actually motivate you to work out even more. The anti-inflammatory effects may also help with this, as you are in less pain the next day, and DOMS is less prominent. Your dull stair climber workout could be instantly transformed into exhilaration with a runner’s high and a post-exercise cannabis high intersecting. 

Cannabis can help you exercise Dr Frank

Things to Consider Before Working Out High

Using cannabis before exercise has many benefits, but there are some important things to consider first. Put these tips into action before integrating cannabis into your next workout. 

Skip Weed If You Have Health Concerns – Especially Your Heart

Working out high is not for everyone, and in fact we would generally recommend avoiding it. If you have any health concerns, especially cardiovascular issues (e.g., heart disease, hypertension, heart arrhythmia), then refrain from using weed for your workout. Check with your doctor to see if there is a safe way to integrate cannabis use into your gym routine. CBD with little-to-no THC may also be useful (see below).

What About CBD Before Workouts?

CBD is not intoxicating and, compared to a THC-laden product, may be a better choice of pre-workout cannabinoid. This may especially be the case for those with heart problems like hypertension, where an animal study showed that a dose of CBD helped lower heart rate and blood pressure. Human trials showed similar effects in healthy volunteers.

Make Marijuana Part of a Healthy Lifestyle

Marijuana may not necessarily enhance your athletic performance directly, but nutritious foods and adequate sleep can. Be diligent about the building blocks of health and maintain good habits about food, sleep, alcohol use, stress relief, and fresh air.

The physicians at Leafwell can help you incorporate medical marijuana into your healthy lifestyle. Book an online appointment and get started on the application process for a medical marijuana card. 

Written by
Tina Magrabi
Tina Magrabi

Tina Magrabi is a writer and editor specializing in holistic health. She has written hundreds of articles for Weedmaps where she spearheaded the Ailments series on cannabis medicine. In addition, she has written extensively for the women's health blog, SafeBirthProject, as well as print publications including Destinations Magazine and Vero's Voice. Tina is a Yale University alumna and certified yoga instructor with a passion for the outdoors.

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