Working Out High - A New Trend?

As cannabis laws relax across the US, more and more people are using the drug to boost their exercise regimen and supercharge their workouts. While working out with cannabis might be a new trend, is it really safe? And, is it effective?

Key takeaways:
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    A recent study showed a positive relationship between cannabis use and increase physical activity.
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    The interest of the medical and scientific community in medical cannabis is changing the perception of the drug.
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    Overall rates of exercise are higher in states where cannabis use is legalized.
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    Much of the evidence relating to cannabis and physical fitness optimization is anecdotal.
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    More long term studies are needed to establish firm conclusions on the effectiveness of cannabis on physical activity.

Shaking off the ‘lazy stoner’ stereotype

There is an assumption that anyone who "gets high" is lazy and eats a lot of junk food. We are all familiar with the picture of a lazy stoner. A red eyed and hazy figure who practically melts into the sofa surrounded by pizza boxes.

However, research shows that a number of young adults are adding weed to their workout sessions. A recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health examined data from over 600 marijuana users from states where the use of cannabis had been legalized.

Not only does it turn the image of the "lazy stoner" on its head, but the data suggests that weed use could actually result in an increase of physical activity.

A new type of working out high?

More than 80 percent of the study subjects reported getting high directly before or after a workout. They also engaged in almost 45 more minutes of aerobic exercise and 30 more minutes of anaerobic exercise than non-users.

Angela Bryan, PhD, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at UC-Boulder noted that the weed users in their study were actually working out significantly more than the average American.

Far from a bunch of stereotypical couch potatoes, these users were combining cannabis products and working out high at surprisingly high rates. The study data suggests that the image of cannabis users needs an overhaul given the assumptions about the drug’s effect on motivation.

Relaxing cannabis laws

The strict laws surrounding weed use may have prevented people from being as honest and open about how and when they used the drug in the past. However, legalization in many states has not only relaxed the penalties, but also the attitudes surrounding both medical and recreational cannabis use.

Additionally, the increasing interest from the medical community has provided validation and beneficial insight into the drug’s potential. Medical marijuana is currently being extensively studied by the scientific community for its effect on myriad issues such as anxiety, chronic pain, and sleep problems.

Is there proof that weed makes you workout more?

Establishing whether the study cited above can actually prove a causal relationship between weed cannabis use and increased physical activity is difficult.

The data was collected through self-reporting which presents issues with authentication and validity.

It could be argued that the results are more indicative of the fact that working out while high or smoking weed after working out plays a significant part in the lives of the respondents.

Users reported a higher sense of gratification working out high or using cannabis for the recovery process. This could be the motivating force behind their increased physical activity - they simply enjoyed it more.

We are always more likely to engage in activities we find enjoyable. If getting high and working out is inextricably linked in the lives of the respondents, providing a more enjoyable workout - it stands to reason that they would be motivated to do it more.

Interestingly the study points out that the rates of exercise are higher in the states where cannabis is legal.

Smoking cannabis before working out

There are blogs that support exercising while high. There are even some advocates who say it can improve athletic performance. This could be because working out while experiencing the effects of cannabis can make a person more focused and in the moment. When we refrain from distractions, our movements and concentration can be directed solely to the task at hand.

There are some advocates that swear by smoking weed after working out. The hours of post-hardcore workouts are critical to muscle recovery. One of the most obvious benefits of cannabis use is its ability to help some users relax. Smoking weed after working out might help to give your body that much-needed relaxing recovery time.

Are there risks to working out while using cannabis?

The cannabinoids in marijuana affect cardiovascular health, which has implications for working out high. These chemical compounds raise resting heart rates, dilate blood vessels and make the heart pump harder. If you are already suffering from a heart condition, you may put a greater strain on your body if you work out while high.

According to Harvard Health Publishing, the effect of cannabinoids should raise a red flag for anyone with a history of heart disease.

Does cannabis affect muscle growth?

The studies on both animals and humans are inconclusive. There is no real definitive evidence that cannabis does or doesn't affect muscle growth. It seems to come down to personal preference. If getting high helps you stay focused and train for longer, then using cannabis and working out may help you increase muscle mass.

However, if you are someone who feels that the effects of cannabis hinder your workout performance, avoid smoking weed before or after a workout.

There is some interesting research on the wound-healing capabilities of cannabis. While some healthcare professionals suggest that cannabis use slows down the wound healing process, there are those that think using a cannabis salve could help with cuts and scrapes. More research is needed to make any definitive conclusions.

How long does weed stay in the system of an athlete?

THC (delta-9-THC) is the compound in weed that causes the short-term high. It's found in both recreational and medical marijuana. While the effects of being high might diminish in a few hours, the THC can be present for a long time after the initial high. The length of time cannabinoids like THC stay in your system depends on a few key factors:

  • Duration of use. Research shows that THC builds up in the system of chronic cannabis users far more than someone who takes the occasional puff. THC builds up in fatty tissues faster than it can be eliminated, so a heavy user might still test positive many days after they last got high.
  • Dosage. The more potent the cannabis product, the longer it takes your body to break down the THC.
  • Gender. Women tend to have a slightly higher body fat percentage than men, therefore the THC may remain in their system for longer.
  • Exercise and athletic ability. Traces of THC will leave your body faster the more you exercise. So if you work out hard, building up a good sweat and speeding up blood flow, you'll likely eliminate the THC quicker. However, it's worth noting that the levels might show higher in your bloodstream directly after a workout as the stored THC is released from fat cells.

Long term health considerations and safety concerns

Some studies indicate that long-term cannabis use can lower IQ, impair short-term memory and reduce concentration. However not all research comes to the same conclusions. There are other factors such as THC levels, use of other drugs, and education levels that need to be taken into consideration.

The short-term benefits of using cannabis while exercising may not be sustainable over a long period of time. Co-users report that the drug helps them to feel more connected to the activity, with an improved ability to focus on the movements. However, this raises questions surrounding the sustainability of substance-dependent fitness, and its long-term health implications.

Final thoughts

Finding ways to optimize performance and concentration is at the top of many fitness proponents agenda. Anecdotal evidence suggests a positive relationship between physical activity and weed use.

However, the jury is out on whether working out high is just a trend or a long-term lifestyle hack. More research is needed to draw definitive conclusions. Longitudinal control studies that measure different types of cannabis use alongside users' previous athletic ability and motivation would be especially helpful.

Each body is different. What works for one person may not have the same effect for another. It’s important to focus on your own personal fitness goals rather than following trends. If you want to try working out while high and using weed to optimize your workouts, make sure you speak to a healthcare professional, and ensure that cannabis use is legal in your state.

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