Cannabis and exercise is a dynamic duo that some professional athletes have known about anecdotally for a long time. Still, it may appear counterintuitive to those who stereotypically picture “lazy stoners” when they think of cannabis. However, it’s now public knowledge that many exceptionally gifted and hardworking athletes use cannabis to enhance their workouts and recover quicker.
From Michael Phelps to the Diaz brothers of the UFC, a variety of pro athletes use cannabis to help with recovery and training. Substantial research backs up the belief of cannabis’ benefits that professional athletes have been espousing based on theory and personal experience, so let’s dive into some of the existing science!
Cannabis and Inflammation: CBD’s Anti-Inflammatory Properties
A lot of research has been done on the two most well-known cannabinoids in the cannabis Sativa plant, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), and their analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. Due to these properties, cannabis can be an excellent tool to incorporate into your workouts. Let’s look at the research behind cannabis, inflammation, and pain management.
When your body suffers an injury or comes into contact with a virus, it activates your immune system. In response, your immune system sends out inflammatory cells and cytokines (substances that stimulate more inflammatory cells). Since we damage or injure our muscles when we work out, it triggers this immune response and causes inflammation.
Current research suggests that cannabinoids can help reduce inflammation, potentially aiding the post-workout recovery process. Follow-up systematic reviews on CBD as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant continue to be published with new findings, such as CBD being a more potent antioxidant than vitamin C or E.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to consume cannabis via smoking or vaping. Although this is one of the fastest and most direct avenues to feel the effects of cannabis, there are ways to consume that do not damage your lungs. For example, consider incorporating edibles, tinctures, topicals, or even infused bath bombs into your post-workout recovery.
Cannabis and Pain Management: How Can It Help With DOMS?
The muscle soreness experienced after working out is known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), and it is familiar to most of us. You won’t always experience DOMS after a workout, but it can present itself when you try new or intense exercises that your body isn’t used to.
For example, you might take a new calisthenics class and feel sore from head to toe the next day.
There is substantial evidence to suggest that cannabis can help with pain management. Although this is an area that could benefit from further research, the existing data reinforces the claims of many athletes that consuming cannabis helps make DOMS less unpleasant and relieves aches and pains associated with working out and an active lifestyle.
Pain relief offered by cannabis consumption would be comparable to taking an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever such as Tylenol or ibuprofen. However, cannabis could prove to be a safer pain reliever than the habitual use of OTC pain relievers or other prescribed painkillers such as opiates.
Simply put, long-term use of these NSAIDs—nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs—paired with dehydration can damage the kidneys and contribute to ulcers.
Furthermore, both short-term and chronic use of prescription opioids has been associated with increased morbidity and mortality. Cannabis use poses none of these risks. Moreover, access to medical cannabis has been connected with a decrease in opioid prescriptions as well as dose reductions.
For more information on CBD oil and pain management, check out this article on how long it takes CBD oil to work for pain.
Cannabis and Motivation: Making Workouts More Enjoyable
If cannabis is legal in your state, you also have access to products containing THC. When it comes to THC and working out, it is important to be mindful of the psychoactive effects THC produces.
Everyone will have different tolerance and reactions to THC based on a variety of factors, including dosage, metabolism rate, sex, etc.
As long as you are comfortable using cannabis products that contain THC, these products should be safe for long and repetitive workouts. However, it might be a good idea to skip THC for complicated or intense workouts that involve heavy weights, for example.
In those cases, CBD may be a more fitting choice.
A 2019 study found that 80% of cannabis users mix cannabis and working out. Of that 80%, 70% say it increases enjoyment, 78% say it boosts recovery, and 52% say it motivates them. It’s also interesting to note that older adults who consumed cannabis were more likely to be active than those who didn’t.
A possible reason for this is that as our bodies age, exercise can become more painful, which is why older adults tend to exercise less. Cannabis use may help reduce pain and inflammation associated with working out, which could provide a reason why elderly cannabis consumers are more likely to be active.
Another study published in 2015 found an intriguing link between cannabinoids and exercise. Using mice, researchers found that it is not endorphins that are responsible for the famous runner’s high, but rather endogenous cannabinoids, naturally produced chemicals that kick in after a period of exercise, binding to receptors in the brain to make us euphoric and alert.
By ingesting CBD or THC, which bind to those same receptors, athletes might enhance or get a head start on that good feeling.
While there has not yet been a human study regarding the effects of cannabis on exercise, a team of researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder is on a mission to change that. The Study on Physical Activity and Cannabis Effects, or SPACE, will evaluate and compare the physical performance of volunteers both with and without the influence of cannabis.
Concluding Thought – Cannabinoids and Working Out
In short, don’t sleep on cannabis. The cannabis plant has been used for thousands of years as an analgesic and anti-inflammatory drug, and research is starting to catch up and provide the data to back up this anecdotal evidence many professional athletes have long been aware of.
It could be just what you need to motivate you to hit the gym or bring that extra ounce of joy to your daily yoga practice. If you’re struggling with arthritic pain or just general muscle soreness from exercise, it could offer symptomatic relief and get you back in the gym faster.
So, draw yourself an Epsom salt bath and add a CBD bath bomb to soak in after a workout. Or, invest funds into a professional massage with CBD oil after a particularly intense workout.
It could be as simple as adding a few drops of CBD oil sublingually before a long run. Experiment with using cannabis before or after your workout to garner the anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving benefits that this plant has to offer.
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