Benefits of medical marijuana, which include improving mood, alleviating pain and reducing nausea, are well documented. Turns out, there may be more to cannabis, as increasing numbers of medical marijuana users, including professional athletes, swear by the beneficial effects it has on their exercise regimen. And, medical science may just have the explanation behind the favourable relationship between cannabis and exercise.
What Exactly is Runner’s High?
Runner's high, a neurobiological response following aerobic exercise that's been described as general feelings of wellbeing, is a common beneficial effect of exercise. Many theories abound as to what causes this response. One common theory holds that the release of endorphins, a brain chemical that reduces pain and triggers euphoric feelings, could be responsible. However, there have been no definitive studies to prove this theory.
A study done in 2004 by Dr. Dietrich from the American University of Beirut and Dr. McDaniel from Georgia State College and University sheds some light on this phenomenon. This review, which was published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine, described the biochemical states of male college students after they had exercised on a treadmill or stationary bike for 50 minutes.
Findings of the study show that exercise increases the amount of endocannabinoids circulating in the body, which possibly could induce the runner's high effect. As the body's natural cannabinoid chemicals, these compounds bind to cannabinoid receptors in the central nervous system to produce the neuropsychological changes consistent with runner's high. Similarly, when you ingest cannabis, its cannabinoid ingredients bind to cannabinoid receptors of your body, which in turn generate the same feelings of wellbeing. These receptors also regulate mood, appetite, pain and memory, boosting your capacity to push through an intense workout.
Marijuana Shown to Produce a Longer Runner’s High
Runner's high is often touted as the short-term benefit of exercise. However, a study conducted by Alexander Wong et al. from the University of Sydney and published in 2013 by the Drug and Dependence Journal may just provide some insight into how marijuana could create a longer-term runner's high effect.
The study demonstrated that exercise can significantly increase plasma tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels in the blood of 14 cannabis users who completed 35 minutes of exercise on a stationary bike. This is due to the fact that THC, a major psychoactive cannabinoid compound found in marijuana, is stored in fat tissues of your body. Thus, when you're subjected to conditions that compels the body to utilize fats, THC is also diffused slowly back into the blood. Furthermore, the same study found that there's a positive correlation between the increase in plasma THC levels and body mass index (BMI). This means that the greater your BMI, the greater the level of THC diffused to the blood.
Cannabis Can Help You Lose Weight
In addition, findings from a study conducted from 2005–2010 by Elizabeth Penner et al. and published by the American Journal of Medicine may just bring some good news if you want to lose weight. The study, which investigated the metabolic effect of marijuana on 4,657 participants from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), reports that current cannabis users exhibit levels of fasting insulin (body insulin level before eating) that are 16% lower than non-users. Since insulin is a hormone that converts sugar to energy, results of this study suggest that cannabis promotes proper metabolic function in your body, resulting in weight loss. Further, cannabis use is also associated with smaller waistlines, according to the same study.
Due to these effects, marijuana is often used as a training tool by professional athletes like triathlete Clifford Drusinsky, mixed martial artist Nick Diaz and snowboarder Ross Rebagliati. And with further studies, cannabis could be definitively established as something that many professional athletes have known for a while—a useful part of a holistic exercise regimen.
Photo Credit: Nathan Rupert