Are stoners lazy? Not according to a recent University of Colorado Boulder study that questions the “lazy stoner” stereotype. Overseen by Angela Bryan, a professor in CU Boulder’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, as well as the Institute for Cognitive Science, the study looked at a possible link between cannabis use and exercise behaviors.
“If we think about the typical ways you think of cannabis, it’s making you more relaxed and maybe not as motivated to get out of the house, and as an exercise researcher, that’s concerning," says Bryan. "On the other hand, there’s some really good longitudinal data that shows that long-term cannabis users have lower weight, lower risk of diabetes, better waist-to-hip ratio, and better insulin function. It’s kind of a scientific quandary, so we thought we should do investigations to see whether there really is a problem that might be happening, or if cannabis could even be a benefit to physical activity.”
Of the 600 adult marijuana users surveyed in California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, 82 percent reported using cannabis within one hour before or up to four hours after exercising; 67 percent used cannabis both before and after exercise. Of that 82 percent, 70 percent said cannabis made exercise more enjoyable, 78 percent said it helped with recovery after exercising, and 52 percent said it increased their motivation to exercise.
And not only were the cannabis users consuming cannabis in conjunction with healthy exercise behaviors, but they were exceeding the recommended amount of physical activity in comparison to those counterparts who did not consume.
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While few scientific studies have examined the effects of cannabis use on exercise, there was already a substantial amount of “anecdotal data” available, Bryan notes. “We know, just anecdotally, that some athletes say that they use cannabis," she says. "For example, ultramarathoners will say they use it for a long training run, to make it less boring and to help them complete these long training sessions.”
Flavie Dokken is one such ultramarathoner. A former bodybuilder, the Colorado-based Dokken knows firsthand how cannabis can be used for muscle recovery and pain relief. “I started using cannabis for training and recovery when I was bodybuilding," she says. "I used it for recovery, but I also consumed before a training session. Cannabis increased my focus. Then, when I was in the U.S. Army, I had a few stress fractures. When I got back, doctors were giving me opioids for the pain, but I found that cannabis was the best way to address pain and help me heal.”
Dokken has partnered with Wana Brands, an edibles producer, as a Wana Athlete brand ambassador, to raise awareness of the positive role of cannabis in athletic activity. "Wana is trying to break out of the stoner cliché," she explains. "I think that is the way to break the stigma, to show another side of people that are partaking.”
Dokken says she favors sativa-leaning capsules for long-distance runs, so she can sustain her energy without resorting to coffee or an energy drink. For lifting, she recommends any sativa variety of edibles, to increase her focus for a shorter duration of time. After a workout, she prefers the products with a 2:1 ratio of CBD to THC. Because CBD is a natural anti-inflammatory, it helps her body bounce back from a tough workout faster, she explains, and reduces the inflammation of the scar tissue around her older injuries.
Wana’s newest Wana Athlete brand ambassador, yogi Martha Triantafillides, also favors high-CBD products, but with less THC, such as a 10:1 CBD to THC ratio. “For athletes, the way I can connect with them is the recovery part," says Triantaifillides, who participated in the CU Boulder study. "For me, the combination works a lot better than just CBD; it's a great tool in recovery, to allow your heart rate to go back to normal, to allow your muscles to relax, to allow you to surrender into the healing process that the body takes. I like the CBD because it works a little faster and a little deeper into my muscles, but there are times that, if I’m doing something a little more active, I’ll probably just use THC.”
While high-CBD gummies can be great for recovery, Triantafillides prefers a more sativa-leaning, THC-dominant product for strength training or creating a new sequence. “It really sparks my creativity and makes me try new things," she says.
While the CU Boulder study and Wana’s Wana Athlete program are both helping to disprove the stereotype that cannabis use leads to decreased physical activity, many organizations that govern professional competitive sports are still against cannabis, for a very different reason. The World Anti-Doping Agency, for example, still bans THC for competitive athletes because it considers it a performance-enhancing drug.
“There doesn’t seem to be any evidence, either from people’s self-reports or from the few carefully controlled studies that have been done, that cannabis has any impact in terms of enhancing performance,” Bryan notes. WADA recently relaxed its ban on cannabis to allow CBD but not THC, she points out, adding that she believes other sports organizations will move in that direction.
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Dokken, however, thinks that the feds will have to legalize cannabis before sports organizations officially permit cannabis use.
By inspiring more research, the CU Boulder study could help pave the way. “What we hope to be able to do is to look more carefully at people using cannabis recreationally and what that does to their exercise behaviors,” says Bryan. “So does it make it better, does it make it worse, does it not matter? But then also working toward understanding more physiologically what’s happening, both in terms of the impact of cannabis on things like enjoyment and motivation, but then also on recovery. Because those were the points that people were self-reporting to us where they felt like cannabis was beneficial. So we’re doing work on inflammation and pain, and trying to understand physiologically how that recovery effect might happen. This study gives us some evidence that we probably need to start looking at cannabis specifically in the context of exercise.”
They also need to expand the research pool, Bryan suggests, because this study's participants were not only from states where recreational marijuana is legal, but where residents are more physically active in general. But the results have already gone a long way toward negating the "lazy stoner" stereotype.
While lack of enjoyment, lengthy recovery times and poor motivation are common reasons people give for avoiding exercise, the study shows that cannabis use could actually encourage exercise...or at the very least remove an excuse or two.