In most people’s minds, cannabis and exercise don’t really go hand in hand. Marijuana use is (often deservingly) associated with a lack of motivation and the propensity to lounge on a couch, which is why it seems common sense to stay away from it if a person wants to shift away from a sedentary lifestyle. At the same time, most people who try to exercise fail miserably because they find it unenjoyable. But, according to a new study, many cannabis users say they use the drug as a workout enhancer, citing that it makes exercising more enjoyable and helps recovery.
The authors from the University of Colorado were the first to collect empirical data on attitudes and behaviors regarding cannabis use and exercise among current cannabis users. Angela Bryan and colleagues surveyed 605 cannabis users living in states where marijuana is legal and found that 81.7% of the respondents used marijuana before and after a workout.
The researchers asked the participants who endorsed cannabis use concurrent with exercising to rate how much they agreed with a series of statements on a 7-point scale (1 means strongly disagree and 7 means strongly agree).
According to the findings reported in Frontiers in Public Health, “the majority (70.7%) agreed or agreed strongly that cannabis increases enjoyment of exercise, 19.3% were neutral, and 10.0% disagreed or disagreed strongly. The majority (77.6%) also agreed or agreed strongly that cannabis enhances recovery from exercise, while 16.3% were neutral and 6.1% disagreed or disagreed strongly.”
“In contrast, just over half (51.8%) agreed or agreed strongly that cannabis increases motivation to exercise, 26.5% were neutral, and 21.6% disagreed or disagreed strongly. Finally, a minority (37.5%) agreed or strongly agreed that cannabis enhances exercise performance, while almost half (46.0%) were neutral and 16.5% disagreed or disagreed strongly.”
Fewer than 50% of US adults meet the minimum recommendations set out by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) which advise at least 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity exercise each week. However, people who combined marijuana and exercise fair far better, achieving 159.7 minutes per week on average. Among those who didn’t combine the exercise and marijuana, the average amount of physical activity was only 103.5 minutes.
But whether or not marijuana actually enhances performance is still debatable. This was simply an observational study based on self-reported data, suggesting that co-users perceive these benefits. A systematic review of 15 published studies that investigated the effects of THC in association with exercise protocols found that none showed any improvement in aerobic performance. On the other hand, cannabis use is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency because of its potential to improve sports performance.
“We found that the majority of participants who endorsed using cannabis concurrently with exercise reported that doing so at least somewhat enhances recovery from and enjoyment of exercise, while approximately half reported that it at least somewhat increases motivation, and a minority reported that it enhances performance. These findings supported our hypothesis that co-users may be co-using because they believe it contributes to recovery after exercise. The findings also suggest that co-use may facilitate enjoyment of exercise, and (for a subset of co-users) motivation to exercise,” the authors wrote.