For years we’ve been told a great way to boost our mood is to exercise. But contrary to what most of us think, that runner’s high after a workout is not in fact down to endorphins, but actually the body’s own endocannabinoid system. In other words by doing exercise your body releases its own natural form of cannabis and you feel great as a result.
The endocannabinoid system, a vast network of endocannabinoids and receptors throughout the body, acts to promote homeostasis, regulating everything from the immune system to the body’s inflammation response.
“When volunteers exercise for 30 minutes, the level of the endocannabinoid anandamide in their bloodstream goes up,” says Gregory Gerdeman, assistant professor of biology at Eckerd College who has studied the effect of exercise on mood and brain chemistry. “In one study, we found that the increase of feelings of wellbeing in patients was tightly correlated to levels of anandamide in their bloodstream. So we started talking about anandamide as a neurobiological reward for running. It makes you feel good … And anandamide acts like THC in many ways. It gets its name from ananda, which means bliss in sanskrit.”
Ok, so that explains why we feel so good after running. But did you know that many ultra-runners actually take cannabis in order to train for competitions? With natural anti-inflammatory properties and even studies that show that THC consumption can increase levels of pregnenolone, a precursor to the natural steroids produced by the body, it’s little wonder that cannabis consumption while doing sport is on the rise.
According to Avery Collins, a 25-year-old ultramarathon runner and marijuana user, who’s completed 30 ultramarathons in the last three years, “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.”
The most famous being Chris Barnicle, the self-titled “World’s Fastest Stoner“. “I know a lot of long-distance runners that are in the closet about their cannabis use,” he says. “There is an ignorant stereotype about people who use marijuana not being athletic, but that’s because they aren’t often represented”.
That’s just the stereotype that the 420 Games https://420games.org/ in San Francisco, the first ever athletic event organised for regular cannabis users, intends to challenge. “Cannabis users are not lazy, unmotivated or stoners” say the organisers promising to “de-stigmatize the millions who use cannabis in a healthy and responsible lifestyle”.
That’s not to say that everyone should take cannabis before doing exercise. If you’re new to training, taking THC rich cannabis can elevate the heart rate, potentially causing dizziness in anyone with a low level of fitness.
And of course, most people live in a country where cannabis cannot be legally consumed. In these instances, a safe and legal option is CBD oil, which like THC is a phyto-cannabinoid. Scientific research shows that CBD has anti-inflammatory effects and a study is currently being carried out by John Hopkins University following American Football Players tracking their injuries, recoveries and use of CBD, plus other pain relievers.
But be it CBD or THC – you never know, the next time you see someone pounding the streets training for a marathon, they might just have smoked a joint beforehand.