Last year some research came out that showed the buzz experienced from exercise isn’t just down to endorphins. Sure they play their part, but that ‘high’ sensation that anyone who does sport is familiar with, is actually down to increased levels of Anandamide, the body’s ‘feel good’ chemical similar to cannabis.
They know this because in tests when mice were ‘exercising’ on a treadmill they found that raised anandamide levels produced both a painkilling and anti-anxiety effect and when they blocked mice endocannabinoid receptors, this was no longer the case.
Not only that but endorphins are too large to get through the blood brain barrier and so it’s impossible that they could elicit the euphoria experienced through intense exercise.
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Endocannabinoid system – the body’s natural regulator
So what’s so interesting about that? Basically, the discovery throws more light on one of the body’s best kept physiological secrets – The Endocannabinoid System. Named after the plant Cannabis Sativa, it was first discovered by scientists investigating how THC, the psychoactive component in cannabis, works in the body. They discovered a vast network of receptors throughout the central nervous system and periphery that interact with endocannabinoids such as neurotransmitter anandamide and its companion 2-AG, regulating all the other systems in the body and bringing about homeostasis.
It’s little surprise then in light of the purported ‘Anandamide rush’, that the endocannabinoid system is involved in producing feelings of happiness and wellbeing, pain regulation and reducing inflammation.
All this might explain why there are cases of long distance runners taking cannabis before they train, to increase stamina, avoid injury and aid post-training recovery. According to Avery Collins, an American 25-year-old ultramarathon runner and marijuana user, “I’d say 50% of the runners I meet are avid cannabis users, whether it’s at night or all day or just during or after runs.”
What about CBD?
Most reports of runners using cannabis list the use of strains containing THC, not surprising because it’s the plant mimetic of Anandamide, fitting snuggly onto the CB1 receptor and producing a high when consumed. But it’s that same high that makes THC’s consumption illegal in most parts of the world.
But what about its non law-breaking, non-psychoactive cannabinoid stablemate Cannabidiol (CBD)? Studies show that CBD has anti-inflammatory effects and also calms anxious states, so it would not be beyond the realms of possibility that it could also have an enhancing effect on running performance.
My super non-scientific CBD running experiment
So I thought I would test this theory out in a completely non-scientific study with no double blind placebo; just me, my trainers, a few drops of Endoca Raw CBDa/CBD oil and the open road.
I must first point out that I am neither a weed smoker nor a committed runner. In fact prior to this ‘experiment’, I hadn’t been out running in months. I did know that combining CBD with yogahad enhanced my practice and I was intrigued to see what I would find doing more cardiovascular exercise.
So off I trotted, with no expectation, imagining my lungs would give up by the end of the road and I’d be back home before I knew it. However the reality was quite the opposite. I’m not saying I ran an impromptu marathon, but I seemed to have a stamina and fitness level beyond anything I’d experienced before. My breath was even, hills were no problem and I felt totally in the zone.
Afterwards I also felt amazing, but I think I probably would have anyway due to the natural high caused by the ‘anandamide rush’. My anxiety levels were way down on how they were before the run and stayed that way for the next couple of days.
CBD improves endocannabinoid function
From a scientific perspective my enhanced running performance could be down to CBD’s ability to strengthen the Endocannabinoid system.
Unlike THC, CBD does not bind to either CB1 or CB2 receptors. However by suppressing the fatty acid amide hydroxylase (FAAH), the enzyme that breaks down anandamide, there is an apparent improvement in endocannabinoid signalling. In effect the less FAAH present in the body, the more anandamide there is, which could account for that increased sense of runner’s euphoria.
Scientists have also found that CBD directly interacts with the TRPV-1 receptor, known to mediate pain perception, inflammation and body temperature. It also activates the Adenosine receptor which performs a significant role in cardiovascular function and coronary blood flow, plus has anti-inflammatory effects in the body. All of which could explain how in my CBD experiment I felt so good and could run better for longer.
However, scientific data remains sketchy as few humans trials have been carried out examining the effect of cannabinoids on the body while carrying out intensive exercise, mostly due to the plant’s schedule 1 status. Taking cannabinoids in competition is prohibited by many sports’ governing bodies such as the World Anti Doping Agency and the NFL, although most test for THC levels, which could be considered a performance enhancer due to its bronchial dilatory effect.
So for the moment, most people who combine cannabis with sport, do it on the down low and keep the positive effects to themselves.
Listen to your body
I feel at this point I should add the caveat that supplementing an exercise regime with something that enhances one’s natural performance should be tried with caution. If you’ve run more than you normally would, that’s all well and good, but it’s important to always listen to the body and respect its limits.
But I am interested to hear from other runners or sports people who have combined CBD with their training regime. Was it a similar experience? Is it something you do on a regular basis? What delivery method and strength do you find works best for you?
In the end though, be it with the help of extra cannabinoids in your system or just as it comes, exercise is always a winner. So as the famous brand of sportswear say: ‘Just do it!’