The effects of cannabis on exercise are a bit confusing because people have different opinions. Some think it helps in sports, while others see it as something lazy people use. But new information shows that in places where cannabis is legal in the US, people who use it tend to be more active than those who don’t.

Even though there’s no clear evidence that using cannabis makes you perform better in sports right away, experts at the University of Colorado Boulder believe it might make exercising more fun.

In a recent test, 42 healthy adults who were regular cannabis users and runners in Colorado took part. They ran on a treadmill at a medium pace for 30 minutes while scientists observed how they felt physically and mentally before, during, and after the run. In another round, participants could choose to use either THC or CBD products before a similar 30-minute run.

THC, the compound in cannabis that makes you feel high, and CBD, another compound without the mind-altering effects, were the options. Laurel Gibson, a psychologist from the University of Colorado Boulder, explains that using cannabis before exercise, whether it’s THC or CBD, seems to boost a positive mood and enjoyment during exercise. However, THC products might make exercise feel more challenging.

Until recently, only a few studies explored how cannabis immediately affects exercise, and most of them were done a long time ago.

Now that some states, like Colorado, have legalized cannabis, researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder are finally able to conduct real-life experiments. They are particularly interested in people who claim to enjoy running while using cannabis.

Heather Masshoudi, an ultrarunner, took part in the study. She mentioned that the natural high she experiences during a long run of about 30 kilometers (almost 20 miles) is quite similar to the feeling of being high on cannabis, even if the run is much shorter. 

Interestingly, other studies have connected intense exercise to the endocannabinoid system in the brain, the same system that cannabis affects.

In 2023, scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder discovered that when regular cannabis users consumed cannabis before running, they tended to run at a slower pace. However, they reported that the exercise was more enjoyable.

The latest study from psychologist Laurel Gibson and her team backs up these findings. Participants reported that running while high was more enjoyable compared to running sober, even though the inclusion of THC made the exercise feel a bit harder.

On the other hand, participants who only took CBD still found the run more enjoyable than running without it, and they didn’t feel like the exercise required more effort.

However, it’s essential to note that this doesn’t mean scientists are suggesting people use THC or CBD products before exercising, as there could be potential risks. In the recent experiments, those who took THC experienced an increased heart rate while high before running. Even though this effect didn’t get worse during the run, it’s important to be cautious about potential consequences for cardiovascular health.

Neuroscientist Angela Bryan, part of the UCB research team, cautions that it’s too early to give widespread recommendations based on their findings but believes further exploration is worthwhile.

The study had some limitations due to ethical considerations. It was not double-blinded or randomized, and the dosage among participants wasn’t controlled. Additionally, the participants were limited to regular cannabis users who were also avid runners, potentially creating a bias towards those with positive experiences with cannabis during exercise.

More rigorous studies with better methodologies are now necessary to confirm these initial findings. However, Bryan emphasizes that “it is pretty clear from our research that cannabis is not a performance-enhancing drug.” The question of whether cannabis aids in recovery after exercise remains a topic for discussion.