Medically Reviewed by
Jason Crawford

Article Last Updated on December 27, 2022

Marijuana use has been growing more common among recreational and professional athletes in recent years. As high-profile athletes like gold medalist Michael Phelps and NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar have both admitted to using marijuana, scientists are becoming more interested in researching how this plant affects athletic performance. And while there’s no specific research that links smoking weed as a pre-workout with having better gym-gains, more and more sports aficionados are giving it a go.

We all know that working out is good for us for a whole array of reasons so whether we choose cardio like running or weight lifting, we must make sure that we’re leading a healthy lifestyle. 

As scientists have found, exercise activates the cannabinoid receptors in our body which regulate our mood, appetite, pain, and memory. But these same receptors are activated when we consume THC from weed. So what is the appeal of exercising when you’re high?

Why Are People Smoking Weed and Working Out?

Since a lot of people don’t associate cannabis with exercise and leading a healthy lifestyle, let’s dive further into why some professional athletes use cannabis products in addition to their exercise routine.

The researchers at the University of Colorado found out that 8 in 10 marijuana users consumed marijuana before or after exercise in states where cannabis is legal. The article was published in 2019 in the journal Frontiers in Public Health, and it explored the intersection between cannabis use and physical activity. 

A participant in the study reported that vaping cannabis before the workout helps him feel more motivated to do physical exercise and gives him a feeling similar to a runner’s high as well as makes the workout more tolerable. He also uses it post-workout in order to reduce the inflammation in the body and minimize the pain from muscle soreness the next day.

Marijuana And Dopamine

As marijuana use and its effects are researched even more, scientific evidence shows that the chemical compounds in cannabis (THC and CBD cannabinoids) can reduce inflammation, pain, and activate receptors that mimic feel-good endorphins and increase dopamine. (Russo, 2008, Manzanares et al, 2006)

That happens as a result of cannabinoids having the ability to heighten the conditions that are happening inside the body. For example, exercise releases endorphins and gives people the natural runner’s high, but when people mix exercise with mood-enhancing THC, users report their body releasing even more endorphins.

Smoking Marijuana and Pain Relief

Cannabis and especially the main chemical compound in weed – Cannabidiol (CBD) is known to have antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties, and is used to treat chronic pain in countries where it’s legal for medical use. As a result of its muscle-relaxing and pain-relieving properties, a lot of athletes have been experimenting with weed as their pre-workout or post-workout for recovery benefits. 

Unlike THC, CBD doesn’t have psychoactive effects – gym-goers use it to treat muscle soreness after a hard session at the gym. Professional UFC fighter Nate Diaz reported that he vaped CBD in order to help with the healing process, inflammation, and sore muscles after his fights. 

Cannabis and Metabolism

Although it’s common knowledge that cannabis users consume more calories daily compared to non-users, since THC increases appetite in people, this plant may provide even more benefits other than pain relief.

A 2013 study published in the American Journal of Medicine reported that regular marijuana users have lower levels of fasting insulin and insulin resistance compared to people that don’t consume marijuana. Marijuana users aren’t as obese as non-consumers and have a better carbohydrate metabolism. 

As this plant is being researched more and more each day, researchers may even find new ways that it can be used to boost metabolism and promote the loss of fat from the body.

Cannabis, Pre-Workout, and Focus

Anecdotal evidence from users on platforms such as Reddit say that cannabis may help relieve anxiety before going to the gym, increase the motivation to go and work out, and make it more enjoyable. Although this hasn’t been proven scientifically, more and more people claim that the high they get makes them more eager to exercise since they feel a rush of positive emotions as well as an increase in dopamine. Some people even say that using cannabis helps them with their meditation and yoga practice. 

But you should be aware that THC can decrease reaction time and impair your motor skills, and you shouldn’t take it lightly. For sports that require quick reflexes like driving, cannabis should be avoided at all costs so you can be completely clear-headed and focused.

Runner’s High vs Cannabis High

Avid runners have become dependent on the runner’s high they get from running long distances and the endorphins running helps to release. This is a high which a lot of people who run half marathons, full marathons, and ultramarathons experience after crossing the finish line. The rush of euphoria and satisfaction they get can be compared to the high people get when smoking weed.

According to researchers, the endocannabinoid system plays a key role in producing this effect. A study done by the University of Heidelberg showed that when running, the body produces chemicals called cannabinoids which are similar to those found in marijuana. The endocannabinoids bind to the CB1 and CB2 receptors as do the cannabinoids found in marijuana. 

So, if you have been thinking about why a lot of people love running, that is the reason. The runner’s high may provide the effects of marijuana without getting high from THC.

Side Effects to Consuming Cannabis and Exercising

If you’re thinking about trying out cannabis while performing a physical activity you should be aware that there may be some side effects which you should be aware of if you want to be working out safely. Even in healthy individuals, marijuana use can result in dizziness, falling, and fainting, and users should therefore be mindful when consuming it.

Marijuana is known to cause an increased heart rate or tachycardia, along with other problems like heart arrhythmias, increased blood pressure, and more serious heart complications and diseases. Moreover, when you’re doing cardio and other strenuous physical activity your heart rate is elevated as a result of the physical activity, and marijuana can increase it even more. So the higher the dose of marijuana used, the greater the effects on the cardiovascular system.

Smoking marijuana may be especially risky for people who have a high risk for heart disease and heart attack, people who have diabetes, high blood pressure, as well as older people. So make your cardiovascular health a priority and be careful when consuming marijuana and exercising.

One thing to remember though is that professional athletes aren’t allowed to use THC and all THC products, which are prohibited to use by the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA). The only cannabis product which is allowed for use is CBD, and the regulations about the use of it have been changed since 2018.

Exercising and Smoking Pot Summary

Cannabis use paired with extensive training schedules may pose a big health risk for individuals who already have health problems, and as such it should be consumed only with a prescription by a licensed physician. So, the most important thing to remember is that you should always put your safety first.

But apart from that, a number of athletes have been using cannabis as well as other cannabis products for performance-enhancing purposes like reducing pain and inflammation after exercising, as well as increasing motivation and focus before working out.

Remember that professional athletes are only allowed to use CBD by the WADA agency (THC and other cannabis products are prohibited). And as far as recreational athletes go, you should always make sure that you are well-informed about the possible consequences before you smoke weed and work out.

A passionate advocate for the benefits of cannabis. Fraser Horton, who has a background in botany and a strong love of nature, has spent years researching how cannabis affects the body and mind. He established Leaf Nation in 2020, where he has devoted himself to educating people about the legalisation of marijuana and its safe and responsible use. Fraser is committed to highlighting cannabis’ potential for improving wellness and working to dispel the stigma associated with its use.


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