Does Cannabis and Your Workout Go Together?

Does working out and cannabis go together?

Image Credit: Charlotte Karlsen on Shutterstock

You may consider marijuana and working out together a bad combination but prepare to be surprised. Read about the research that says it is okay to mix the two. With all the buzz about the health benefits of both marijuana and working out, you may have wondered if the two make a good combination. While research is fairly new, many athletes and fitness devotees are turning to marijuana to enhance both performance and recovery.

There may also be more to the cannabis-workout picture. As it turns out, a runner’s high and a stoner’s high may not be all that different. If you’re wondering how cannabis may affect your workouts, muscle gains, and recovery, read on.

Marijuana and Working Out: Is It a Good Idea?

For many, marijuana and working out may seem to belong in two entirely different worlds. You may picture a fitness fanatic covered in sweat, running an intense extra mile when you think of workouts, while the thought of an avid cannabis user might conjure images of a couch full of open chip bags.

These two activities may not be so far apart on the spectrum, however. Those who train intensely, whether independently or for a sport, are always searching for something that will aid their efforts. If it provides that extra energy burst, they’re in. If it can offer faster recovery and pain relief, it’s a hit.

Cannabis may offer all of this and more. How can something that has been considered unsafe and a productivity killer be beneficial for workouts? The answer lies in the complex interaction of cannabis and the body’s endocannabinoid system.

The Endocannabinoid System

Our bodies have what is called an endogenous cannabinoid system, also known as the endocannabinoid system. This system was named after cannabis because it was the plant that enabled the endocannabinoid system’s discovery. All vertebrates have an endocannabinoid system. This intricate biological system is made up of endocannabinoids, cannabinoid receptors, and various metabolic enzymes.

Cannabinoid receptors are found all throughout the human body. The most well-understood receptors are known as CB1 and CB2.

CB1 Receptors

CB1 receptors are found mainly in the:

  • Brain and nervous system
  • Connective tissue
  • Glands
  • Ovaries and Testicles
  • Tissues of most organs

The analgesic effects of cannabis come from the interaction of cannabinoids with these CB1 receptors in the dorsal horn. The dorsal horn is the area of the spinal cord that processes pain signals.

CB2 Receptors

CB2 receptors are mainly found in the immune system. This includes:

  • White blood cells
  • Tonsil tissue
  • The spleen
  • Within certain bones
  • In the liver, kidneys, and heart

CB2 receptors aren’t entirely understood, but it’s believed they play a role in the regulation of cytokine release. Cytokines are chemical signals in the immune system that are used by immune cells to communicate with one another.

The Role of the Endocannabinoid System Within the Body

The endocannabinoid system is nothing trivial. It may be the most critical physiologic system in our bodies for maintaining health. This system performs different actions within each body tissue. Though each action is different, everyone is meant to maintain a stable internal environment regardless of changes in the external environment. This is known as maintaining homeostasis.

The cannabinoids produced by our bodies support homeostasis in all aspects of life. Because CB1 and CB2 receptors and their corresponding cannabinoids regulate internal conditions, ingestion of phytocannabinoids made by the cannabis plant can greatly influence certain processes.
Phytocannabinoids can affect:

  • Pain perception and response
  • Blood pressure
  • Appetite
  • Energy levels
  • Inflammatory responses
  • Mood

These are only some of the many body processes that can be influenced by the cannabinoids of the marijuana plant.

The main phytocannabinoids of cannabis, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol), work directly with the endocannabinoid system to help regulate many biological processes, reduce the inflammatory response, and change the body’s perception of pain.

In addition to the receptor-cannabinoid interaction, studies suggest that CBD and other cannabinoids may interact with cell structures to reduce and prevent inflammation.

Endocannabinoids and Workouts: The Runner’s High

Working out can give you a rush of pleasant, positive feelings during the activity and especially after. These feelings often referred to as runner’s high, have long been attributed to endorphins. Endorphins are neurotransmitters secreted within the nervous system and brain. These peptides activate opiate receptors, relieving pain and causing feelings of pleasure and euphoria.

More recent studies suggest that these endorphins may not be the only reason for the runner’s high.

The intense physical activity of exercise activates the body’s endocannabinoid system just like using marijuana does. This may be a coping mechanism the body uses for the pain, fatigue, and discomfort caused by workouts. When you work out, your body produces its own cannabinoids, which makes you feel a mild “high.” One of the most well-known endocannabinoids is anandamide.

Animal Experiments Suggest Cannabinoids Play Role in Runner’s High

Experiments performed on mice suggest that the endocannabinoid system may be almost entirely responsible for a runner’s high. In one study, scientists trained mice to run on running wheels. After running, the mice were less anxious and calmer, just like humans with a runner’s high.

When the endocannabinoid systems of the mice were blocked, the mice remained anxious after running. This supports the idea that endorphins alone are not responsible for runner’s high and that endocannabinoids are a significant factor in the body’s response to exercise. So what does this have to do with using marijuana and working out? To understand how marijuana can be a beneficial supplement to exercise, it’s helpful to understand how our own endocannabinoids get us through those tough workouts.

Marijuana and Performance

Performance is a major concern for those who train. Naturally, people concerned about their health and striving to reach their personal goals will want to know if marijuana and working out are a beneficial combination. Marijuana can affect the body in several ways that can influence performance. Pushing yourself leads to workout gains, but it’s often an uncomfortable process. Marijuana can take the edge off of pain and discomfort so you can better tolerate exercise.

Small doses of marijuana may help you get in “the zone” faster while working out. This is especially helpful for activities like repetitive exercises such as running and weightlifting. It may improve your focus, helping you maintain good form and mind-to-muscle connection while lifting or running.

Some strains can also give you an energetic lift. This can be a beneficial effect of using marijuana and working out, as it can motivate you to work harder and keep you from dragging through your routine.

THC Release During Workouts

The body stores THC, the main psychoactive component in cannabis, in its extra fat. As your body burns fat during exercise, very small amounts of THC release into the bloodstream. The result of this release is a mild effect that is similar to what you would feel if you consumed a small dose of cannabis. This storage process can give you a boost during your workouts up to 28 days after you’ve used marijuana.

Finding the Sweet Spot

The key to enjoying marijuana’s benefits before, during, and after workouts is knowing how much to use and how your body reacts to the drug. Small doses of marijuana can make you feel more energetic, focused, and intense while exercising. Moderate amounts can also alleviate the discomfort that might otherwise hold you back.

Large doses of marijuana can affect your response time, coordination, and decision-making ability. This can make you feel lethargic and can take the intensity out of your workout. It can even put you at risk of serious injury.

Get to Know Marijuana First

Each individual will respond to cannabis in a unique way. Also, various marijuana strains have different levels of THC and CBD, so their effects will vary.

If you plan on using marijuana and working out, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the plant so you have a good idea of how you respond to it mentally and physically. Moderation is always best. Working out with a mild, functional high is very different from trying to work out completely stoned. As with any medicine or supplement, you should always consult with your doctor before adding cannabis to your fitness program.

Marijuana and Recovery

CBD is the non-psychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana that’s becoming widely recognized for its therapeutic effects. Its ability to decrease inflammation, ease joint pain, enhance the function of the immune system, ease muscle spasms, speed healing, and boost recovery make it a powerful workout recovery aid.

Reducing inflammation is crucial to making progress with workouts. Inflammation prevents proper muscle and connective tissue recovery. When inflammation is decreased, your body can rebuild and become stronger. CBD facilitates tissue recovery and inflammation reduction.

Using Marijuana and Working Out: Dosing Methods

Marijuana’s benefits during exercise are worth considering. But what about consumption methods and proper dosing? There are many ways to consume cannabis. These include smoking, vaping, consuming edibles, and using oils and sublingual tinctures.

Smoking isn’t the best choice when using marijuana and working out, as it introduces lung irritants that can be avoided with other consumption methods. Edibles can be difficult to use because they can take 30 minutes to an hour to take effect. It’s also hard to gauge correct doses and the effects from edibles can differ from day to day.
Sublingual tinctures and herbal vaporizers are the best choices for using small, effective doses for workout enhancement. These options are easier to accurately dose and are more fast-acting.

When used carefully, marijuana has much to offer athletes and those devoted to improving their physical fitness. Cannabis may help enhance performance, sharpen focus, and speed recovery for better, safer training.

Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff
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