Is cannabis a performance-enhancing drug? Will it help you stay focused for a workout or during a long-distance run? Or does it completely zap your energy? Here’s the thing, the jury is still out on whether cannabis is generally good or bad for exercise. Sorry, but like with many of the questions that currently surround cannabis, the science isn’t all there yet.
The stigma that surrounds marijuana is not exactly that of a performance-enhancing drug, but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to support the pro-pot argument when it comes to fitness and sport. Remember Olympic gold-medalist snowboarder Ross Rebagliati? Or how about NBA great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? Or Clifford Drusinsky, an elite triathlete who trains with cannabis? They all used marijuana and were able to compete at the highest level within their sports, so their stories sound pretty promising to weekend warriors like ourselves. Still, the scientific studies are fewer and farther between than these tales of cannabis-consuming star athletes. There are, however, a few articles and studies that shine some light on the relationship between cannabis and exercise.
Here are a few things we know so far:
Exercise activates the body’s endocannabinoid system
The endocannabinoid system is your body’s regulator of things like appetite, pain, memory and mood. The cannabinoids in cannabis can trigger this system, reducing pain, increasing appetite and diversely affecting memory. And according to multiple studies, including this one, the system is similarly activated during moderate exercise, possibly as a way of helping the body during a time of perceived stress.
And the body can store THC and release it when you exercise
According to this 2013 study published in the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence, the THC that our body stores in fat can be released during moderate exercise, resulting in a blood THC level increase of up to 15 per cent. So, this means that regular cannabis users may experience similar effects to taking a small dose while exercising. And those with a higher BMI were more likely to have a higher THC release than those with a low BMI.
But don’t kid yourself, cannabis’ potential performance-decreasing effects have also been duly noted
An article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine cites cannabis’ physiological effects as “mild intoxication, sedative effect on behaviour, slower reaction times, memory problems and a tendency towards drowsiness,” none of which sounds like something you’d want to experience while exercising. So, there’s that. The best advice for anyone curious about consuming cannabis before getting their sweat on: monitor how you feel. Start a journal or jot down some quick notes before, during and after your workout, and alter your dose accordingly, because keeping your heart healthy and happy is arguably just as important as taking your medicine, and you should be able to do both.
Featured image by Christopher Campbell via Unsplash