What does lighting up a joint do to your brain? Take a scientific look at the effects of marijuana
A new study released this week challenges the stereotype of frequent marijuana users as listless, vegetating stoners — at least if weed users themselves are to be believed.
Researchers at the University of Colorado in Boulder surveyed more than 600 cannabis users in states where recreational use of the drug is legal, and more than half said marijuana actually motivates them to exercise, according to a university news release on the findings.
“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,” senior author Angela Bryan, a psychology and neuroscience professor at the school, said in a statement.
Roughly 80 percent of the survey participants said they use cannabis right before or after they do a workout, the study said.
“We were stunned it was that high,” Bryan said.
Follow-up questions asked the so-called “co-users” if they usually smoked before or after, with most saying after but about two-thirds saying both before and after, researchers said. And about 70 percent who reported exercising an hour before smoking or four hours after said it increased how much they enjoy exercise, while 78 percent said it helped their recovery, the study said.
Cannabis can act as an anti-inflammatory, researchers said, which may help exercisers recuperate.
“As we get older, exercise starts to hurt, and that is one reason older adults don’t exercise as much,” Bryan said. “If cannabis could ease pain and inflammation, helping older adults to be more active that could be another benefit.”
Those who answered the survey, which was promoted on Facebook, were all over 21 and lived in California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. The research paper — “The New Runner’s High? Examining Relationships Between Cannabis Use and Exercise Behavior in States With Legalized Cannabis” — was published Tuesday in “Frontiers in Public Health.”
The study also found that those who exercised and used cannabis were more likely to be young and male.
But marijuana isn’t a wonder drug for everything, those surveyed said: Only 38 percent said it improved athletic performance, according to the researchers, who said previous scholarship suggests marijuana use might actually hurt performance.
The study didn’t analyze how respondents got high around the time they exercised — whether by smoking, taking edibles or beyond.
Authors also pointed to some possible explanations for the connection between marijuana and motivation.
“There is evidence to suggest that certain cannabinoids dampen pain perception, and we also know that the receptors cannabis binds to in the brain are very similar to the receptors that are activated naturally during the runners high,” co-author Arielle Gillman, a former PhD student who worked with Bryan, said in a statement. “Theoretically, you could imagine that if it could dampen pain and induce an artificial ‘runner’s high,’ it could keep people motivated.”
The study was limited by the fact that it only surveyed regular cannabis users in states where it’s legal today, researchers said.
But the new study helps fill a hole in existing research, according to the authors, who wrote that “scientific literature examining cannabis use in the context of health behaviors, such as exercise engagement, is extremely sparse and has yielded inconsistent findings.”
Researchers concluded that “using cannabis with exercise may play a beneficial role in the health of cannabis users.”