US researchers hope to discover whether cannabis enhances or hinders sporting performance. 

The SPACE study (Study on Physical Activity and Cannabis Effects) will enlist more than 50 paid adult volunteers aged 21-40 (men) and 21-50 (women) who already mix cannabis and exercise for a study involving three sessions. 

In the first, the team will measure heart rate, take baseline fitness measurements and ask subjects to complete a questionnaire. The participants will then go to a local dispensary and pick up either a specific CBD or THC-dominant strain of cannabis.

On one follow-up visit, they will run on the treadmill for 30 minutes having had no cannabis, answering questions every 10 minutes to assess their perception of the passage of time, how hard the workout feels, what they’re thinking about, and how much pain they’re in. On another visit, they will do the same having used cannabis beforehand.

Principal investigator Laurel Gibson (left) and ultramarathon runner Heather Mashhoodi

Principal investigator Laurel Gibson, a PhD student at the University of Colorado Boulder, said: “To date, there are no human studies on the effects of legal market cannabis on the experience of exercise. That’s where we come in.”

“Cannabis is often associated with a decrease in motivation — that stereotype of couch-lock and laziness. But at the same time, we are seeing an increasing number of anecdotal reports of people using it in combination with everything from golfing and yoga to snowboarding and running.”

One University of Colorado Boulder study found 80% of cannabis users mix weed and working out, with 70% saying it increases enjoyment, 78% saying it boosts recovery and 52% saying it helps with motivation. Another study of older adults found those who used cannabis exercised more than those who didn’t.

Professor of psychology and neuroscience and faculty advisor on the SPACE study Angela Bryan said: “As we get older, exercise starts to hurt, and that is one reason older adults don’t exercise as much,” adding cannabinoids have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. 

High performance? US researchers are testing whether cannabis can fast-track the so-called ‘runner’s high’.

“If cannabis could ease pain and inflammation, helping older adults to be more active, that could be a real benefit.”

The project comes after researchers in the UK found exercise increases the body’s endocannabinoid levels, helping to reduce pain and inflammation.

The researchers aim to test whether ingesting CBD or THC might accelerate the so-called ‘runner’s high’ experienced after a period of exercise.

“It is possible that exogenous cannabinoids like THC or CBD might activate the endocannabinoid system in a way that mimics the runner’s high,” said Gibson.

Ultramarathon runner Heather Mashhoodi, one of the first to sign up for the study, said she doubted whether cannabis would provide any performance benefit, but acknowledged she feels less joint pain when using cannabis and is eager to see what the study reveals.

“To me it’s just exciting to participate,” she added. “We know so little and there is so much we need to learn.”

Prior to launching Cannabiz, Martin was co-founder and CEO of Asia-Pac’s leading B2B media and marketing information brand Mumbrella, overseeing its sale to Diversified Communications in 2017. A journalist...

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