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Working out with cannabis: How does medical cannabis affect sports and exercise?

by | Apr 19, 2021

Regular exercise is an important part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle.

Whether it’s working out at the gym, playing sports, taking a yoga class, or walking around the neighbourhood, most people make space for physical activity.

But how does medicinal cannabis fit in with your exercise regimen?

Medicinal cannabis is experiencing a resurgence in modern healthcare and as it becomes more accessible, more people will start using it.

It’s only natural that some of these people will have concerns about how cannabis affects physical performance.

Let’s face it… the stereotype of a cannabis user in popular culture isn’t exactly the picture of health.

But no matter what your health and fitness goals are, medical cannabis should be compatible with them.

You might even find that medicinal cannabis helps to enhance your motivation and performance.

You might also like: Getting ‘high’ on exercise: The surprising link between physical activity and cannabis


Medical cannabis and exercise: What you need to consider

In New Zealand and Australia, you currently need a prescription from a doctor to use medicinal cannabis.

CBD can be prescribed for any condition, but there are more restrictions around medicines containing THC.

If you think medicinal cannabis might help with your health condition, don’t let your exercise routine stop you.

However, you do need to consider which medical cannabis product you’re using and how it affects you.


What’s the dose?

CBD should be fine to use before, during and after exercise and may even improve your performance and recovery.

However, products with high-dose THC, which produces the “high” feeling, may impair your motor skills, decision-making ability, and concentration.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use THC. You may just need to take it a few hours before you exercise.


What type of exercise are you doing?

Again, CBD should be safe to use in all types of exercise. People who are familiar with the effects of THC may also be able to do most exercises safely.

The effects of THC can range from a pleasant buzz, which could make exercise more enjoyable, to dizzying confusion.

Until you know how THC affects you (and it will vary with the dosage), you should take it easy.

You wouldn’t want to be halfway through a run and suddenly feel dizzy and disorientated.

And you wouldn’t want to attempt a heavy bench press if you’re feeling drowsy.

Whereas you may be fine with a yoga class or a light workout where you’re not at risk of hurting yourself if you start to feel impaired.

The key message here is to know how your medicine affects you and don’t overdo it.

Make sure to talk to your doctor about the exercises you’d like to do and they’ll be able to tell you if they’re safe or not.


Are you competing in sports?

Working out with cannabis: How medical cannabis affects exercise

If you’re playing competitive sports, you may be interested in exploring the potential benefits of medical cannabis (see below).

However, even amateur athletes can be randomly selected for drug testing.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed CBD from its list of prohibited substances in 2018, but all other cannabinoids, including THC, are still banned.

That doesn’t mean it’s safe to use any CBD product as many can contain trace amounts of other cannabinoids, including THC, which may show up in a drug test.

If you’re a professional athlete and you want to use CBD products, you will need to make sure it’s 100% pure CBD.

If you’re playing sports as an amateur, you probably don’t need to be so cautious as you have a lower chance of being tested and the stakes aren’t as high.

Either way, it’s an important consideration for any sportsperson.

Drug Free Sport New Zealand has been petitioning WADA to remove cannabis from the prohibited substance list, saying it’s found “no evidence that cannabis is performance-enhancing”.


The benefits of medicinal cannabis for sports and exercise

Working out with cannabis: How medical cannabis affects exercise

Cannabinoids have been used in sports for millennia. Greek athletes used a herbal concoction containing cannabinoids in the ancient Olympic Games.

As cannabis reemerges in modern medicine, athletes of all shapes, sizes and abilities are starting to explore its potential benefits.

Research in the United States, where cannabis is widely legalised, found that 80% of cannabis users use it before or after exercise.

There is limited research into cannabis and exercise specifically, but the studied benefits of cannabis for pain, inflammation, sleep, and mood may indirectly help to improve physical performance.


Motivation and enjoyment

Cannabinoids have been linked to “runner’s high” which is the feeling of euphoria experienced during and after exercise.

The research mentioned above found that 52% of cannabis users said it heightened their motivation to exercise and 70% said it made exercise more enjoyable.

A 2016 study found that CBD may be a highly effective treatment for motivational dysfunction.

The potential for cannabis to reduce stress and improve mood may also make exercise more enjoyable, especially for people who find working out a burden.

There’s not enough research in this space to draw definitive conclusions, but it’s enough to start questioning the cannabis user “couch potato” myth.


Recovery and rehabilitation

Recovery and rehabilitation are probably where medicinal cannabis has the most potential in sports and exercise.

CBD has been found to be an effective anti-inflammatory, which can help with muscle soreness and recovery and joint stiffness.

Applying a CBD-based ointment before or after a workout may aid recovery in a similar way to conventional muscle creams.


Physical performance

There’s no reliable research to suggest that medicinal cannabis is a performance enhancer in terms of making you fitter, faster, or stronger.

However, its wide-ranging effects on the body may have crossover benefits in sports and exercise.

Medicinal cannabis may help with sports performance anxiety, pain relief, inflammation, and sleep, all of which could indirectly enhance performance.

Anecdotally, cannabis has been said to help people enter a “flow state”, which is the mental state in which you become fully immersed in and focussed on what you’re doing.


Mixing medical cannabis and exercise

If you’re thinking about using medicinal cannabis, you should feel confident that you’ll be able to continue exercising as normal.

Everyone from infrequent gym-goers to professional athletes should find that medical cannabis is compatible with their exercise regimens.

You may even experience some surprising benefits.

The key points to note are:

  • In most cases, you can still continue exercising as normal when using medicinal cannabis
  • There are some important considerations to take into account, such as dosage, types of exercise, and whether you’re competing in sports
  • Medical cannabis may have benefits in sports and exercise, but more research is needed

In the years to come, it’s likely that cannabis will emerge as a popular natural alternative to conventional painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs.

As always, it’s important to talk to your doctor and seek professional medical advice before introducing new medications.

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