Does Smoking Cannabis Before The Gym Enhance Your Workout?

Some people say getting high helps them exercise. Image: charnsitr/Shutterstock.com

Getting stoned before hitting the gym may not sound like the most sensible idea, although a number of recent surveys have revealed that many people actually prefer to work out while high. Among the supposed benefits are improved focus, greater enjoyment, and enhanced recovery – although, with no major studies on the subject, it’s hard to say with any certainty how smoking weed influences exercise.

What we can say for sure, however, is that it’s a good idea to be cautious when mixing cannabis with gym equipment. A number of studies have revealed that getting high impairs coordination and decision-making while also increasing reaction times, and it goes without saying that lifting heavy weights while intoxicated can be highly dangerous.

Plus, research has indicated that cannabis influences the cardiovascular system, for example dilating blood vessels and increasing heart rate. While these effects are usually harmless, they can pose problems to those who have heart conditions – especially if weed is mixed with exercise.

Nevertheless, it appears that getting stoned while getting toned is gaining popularity. A survey of over 600 people in US states where recreational cannabis is legal revealed that 81.7 percent endorsed using cannabis while working out, with young men being particularly fond of this combination.

“The majority of participants who endorsed using cannabis shortly before/after exercise reported that doing so enhances their enjoyment of and recovery from exercise, and approximately half reported that it increases their motivation to exercise,” wrote the study authors. They also noted that those who worked out while stoned tend to engage in more minutes of both aerobic and anaerobic exercise per week than those who prefer not to use cannabis at the gym.

Another recent survey involving 231 online respondents found that 45 percent of participants smoke weed before working out for psychological reasons, while only 14 percent claimed to gain a physical boost from cannabis. Of those who prefer to spark up after the gym, 36 percent said that doing so provided psychological benefits, with 28 percent saying it aided their recovery.

While observational studies like these provide food for thought, a lack of proper trials makes it difficult to say whether cannabis really does enhance exercise, and what mechanisms may underly this effect. It is possible to speculate, however, that cannabinoids like CBD and THC may aid with recovery from exercise due to their ability to reduce inflammation and dampen pain, although such a theory would need to be studied in depth before any firm conclusions can be drawn.

It has also been noted that the endocannabinoid system plays a central role in generating positive emotions following exercise – a phenomenon known as "runner’s high". For decades, scientists have equivocated over whether this effect is produced by endorphins or the body’s own cannabinoids, although a study published earlier this year strongly points towards the latter.

The study authors found that blocking endorphin receptors in the brain did not stop people from experiencing a high after exercise, and that running for 45 minutes generated a spike in endocannabinoids in blood plasma. This increase in the production of the body’s own cannabinoids correlated with elevations in mood and decreased anxiety, indicating that these compounds may indeed play a central role in mediating the psychological benefits of exercise.

From this, one might be tempted to deduce that plant-based cannabinoids like THC could generate similar effects and that getting stoned may therefore help to enhance a workout. However, such an assumption should not be taken as fact until proper research has been conducted on the matter.

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