Marijuana and Exercise Performance

Marijuana and Exercise PerformanceHow Marijuana Impacts Your Fitness

You might not consider cannabis an asset to your workout routine, but it’s high time you let mary jane help with your gains.

Given the amount of stigma associated with medical marijuana throughout history, antiquated “studies” exploring the intersection between fitness and cannabis largely concluded that the substance does nothing in the way of improving exercise performance.

New studies, however are finding more links between cannabis and exercise efficacy than ever before.

For decades, cannabis was speculated to interrupt growth hormones, but these findings have ultimately been ruled as inconclusive and biased.

Now, as legal cannabis continues to infiltrate popular culture and receive more coverage from websites like,, and others, fitness experts are re-evaluating how cannabis can improve your workout routine.

Marijuana Effects on the Body

Smoking or consuming cannabis with significant levels of the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) releases the neurotransmitter, dopamine in the human brain. Dopamine is found in the nucleus accumbens part of the brain, which is often referred to as the “reward center.” The reward center makes people feel good and helps to stimulate pleasure, movement and focus.

Marijuana Exercise Benefits

Everyone’s heard of the runner’s high, but what does it really mean? Interesting enough, runner’s high is not only real, it releases dopamine as a similar response to smoking cannabis. Now, try combing runner’s high and cannabis and you can really see how great it feels to be physically active.

A recent study found that individuals who consumed cannabis, followed by exercise had 15% higher THC levels than individuals who consumed without working out. explains that this is because as fat metabolizes, the THC stored in fat cells is released back into the bloodstream and increases the high.

Working Out While Stoned

Before going into detail on how cannabis affects the body before, during, and after exercise, let’s get some facts straight. The American Journal of Medicine recently published a study concurring that regular marijuana users have 16% lower fast acting metabolism levels and 17% lower insulin resistance levels than non-smokers. Additionally, cannabis is said to encourage healthy metabolic functioning, rather than hindering it as some of the uninformed have historically believed.

There are many reasons individuals may choose to get stoned before exercising. One of the oft-mentioned arguments is that it helps to stimulate and encourage their desire to work out. After a long day at work or an argument with a friend or family member can be enough to squash your exercise plans for the day.

Cannabis, however, acts as a great source of inspiration for getting off the couch and into your sneakers. It has also been shown to help people dial in their exercise routine, blocking out any intrusive thoughts or worries they might experience without cannabis.

Marijuana and Athletic Performance

Since there have been few studies of the effects of cannabis use on professional athletes, it’s hard to tell exactly how or if cannabis boosts athletic performance. On the one hand, cannabis has shown to adversely affect coordination in certain subjects, yet it also helps athletes with the jitters of performance anxiety and helps to put them “in the zone.”

One thing is for sure when combining cannabis and athletics: don’t get too high. While a nice buzz can help inspire your athletic endeavors, consuming too much cannabis can make you paranoid or increase your chance of injury by losing sight of your bodily limitations.

Looking at the range of professional athletes who’ve admitted to using cannabis, there is certainly anecdotal evidence that suggests the substance won’t destroy your chances of reaching your potential as an athlete. Just ask the winningest olympian in history or Carmelo Anthony. With that said, I wouldn’t suggest toking up if it has the potential to disqualify you from an event.

Smoking After Working Out

One of the most effective ways cannabis interacts with exercise routines is in the recovery process. We all know how it feels the first (and second) day after a long run or a tough workout; well, as it turns out, cannabis can be your best friend in helping your achy muscles recover. Medical cannabis has been used to treat many individuals who experience chronic pain and can be equally beneficial for athletes and fitness lovers.

As a lifelong runner, I have intermittently relied on cannabis as a major recovery technique after marathons and weeks of intense training. There’s nothing like a great cannabis edible to take your mind off the months and years you’ve spent literally pounding your feet against the pavement, or tripping on roots in the forest.

The Science of Strains in Exercise

Science of marijuana Strains in ExerciseThe basics of cannabis strains can be broken down into three general classifications: sativa, indica and hybrid. These three strains produce different effects and facilitate different results depending on what kind of physical activity you are engaging in.

Sativa Strains

Sativa strains most often produce a stimulating effect in subjects that leaves them energized, cerebral and motivated. This strain is especially good for long distance running and other cardiovascular activities that require consistent aerobic movements. The one “drawback” of sativas while exercising is the heady, cerebral effect it engenders.

While perfect for doing creative projects or having conversation, these effects aren’t always the best for focusing on a workout. For this reason, I recommend sativa strains like Sour Diesel and Amnesia Haze, which have long lasting effects and won’t keep you too much in your head.

Hybrid Strains

I’d also recommend using a sativa dominant hybrid. Hybrid strains are crosses between indica and sativa strains and produce effects associated with each strain. Hybrids are great for exercise, as they are uplifting, without being overwhelming. A perfect example of an “active” hybrid is OG Dogwalker, which provides the perfect amount of energy for a long hike.

Indica Strains

Indica strains are known to produce significant body highs and put you more in touch with how you feel physically. Unlike sativas, indicas are less cerebral and allow your mind to focus with more clarity. Indicas are excellent for slower yoga flows and sustained postures. Once again, hybrids are your friend here. An indica dominant hybrid like Girl Scout Cookies works great for workouts like Pilates, which have aerobic and anaerobic elements.

In terms of finding out which strain works best for your exercise routine, the best thing you can do is try out several different options! Consider keeping a journal to compile how each strains makes you feel pre and post workout, as well as during. This can help you narrow down what process works best for you when combining cannabis and physical activity.

Final Word: Demand For More Studies

From what we know to be true about cannabis and exercise, the hallucinogenic plant shows no evidence of adversely affecting exercise gains or harming an individual’s hormone response to working out. On the contrary, cannabis can help to stimulate healthy fitness habits, increase focus during workouts and help athletes to recover.

An Uphill Battle

Admittedly, there are still a lot of unanswered questions concerning cannabis and exercise performance, encouraging a demand for more funding and government-supported research in cannabis science. The legal marijuana industry still has an uphill battle as a result of outrageous Schedule I drug classification by the DEA since 1970’s Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act under Richard Nixon, that positions cannabis as more addictive and less medically beneficial than cocaine, meth and Adderall.

To find out more information regarding cannabis and exercise, conduct some research of your own by reading peer-reviewed articles from unbiased publications and medical journals that lay the facts out, rather than try to push an agenda. Cannabis might just be the key to keeping this next year’s New Year resolution.

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Author Profile: Mike Behnken

Mike Behnken is a personal trainer who holds multiple NASM certifications and a MS in Exercise Science. Mike loves fitness, travel, and photography among many other interests.

Disclaimer: The views of the author are his or her own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Ask The Trainer.
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