As cannabis legalization continues to spread, the interest in its potential benefits and risks in various aspects of life, including fitness, has grown significantly. Though cannabis and fitness may seem like an unusual combination, a growing number of physically active cannabis users advocate for its use in exercise and recovery [1]. This article aims to explore the debate about whether cannabis can enhance athletic performance, modulate discomfort, and aid in recovery.

Historical context

Cannabis has a long history of medicinal use across various cultures. For example, ancient civilizations across the globe used it for its purported pain-relieving and wellness properties [2]. More recently, in the context of sports, some athletes claim to use cannabis to manage pain and enhance their performance [1]. But is cannabis really effective in these areas? The debate continues.

Although the concept of cannabis as a performance-enhancing drug is controversial, its historical use suggests potential benefits. Let’s explore the facts about cannabis and the various perspectives on cannabis’ relationship to sports health.

Understanding cannabis

Cannabis contains numerous potentially beneficial compounds. The most commonly known are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). THC is responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis, while CBD is known for its wellness properties without the high [3]. Notably, modern cannabis consumption can take various forms, including smoking, vaping, edibles, and oils.

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Cannabis and fitness

Pre-workout benefits

Some athletes believe that consuming cannabis before exercise can enhance their focus and motivation. Indeed, many cannabis users report a heightened sense of enjoyment during physical activities, potentially due to the interaction between cannabis and naturally produced brain chemicals like endorphins. This effect sometimes feels euphoric for runners or those who undergo prolonged exercise [4].

The cannabinoids in the plant affect bodily sensations and functions via the endocannabinoid system (ECS) – let’s take a look at that next.

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What is the endocannabinoid system?

The ECS is a complex network of receptors, enzymes, and endogenous ligands that regulate various physiological processes. More specifically, these processes can modulate experiences like sensation, mood, appetite, and memory. The ECS primarily employs CB1 and CB2 receptors as the connector between cannabinoids and the body. CB1 receptors are predominantly found in the central nervous system, affecting brain functions, while CB2 receptors are more commonly associated with the peripheral tissues. These subtle interactions seem to influence responses throughout the body [5].

Cannabinoids, exercise, and recovery

Modulation of sensations with cannabis and fitness

The cannabinoids found in cannabis interact with the ECS by binding to the CB1 and CB2 receptors. This interaction can affect bodily experiences, which is particularly relevant to exercise recovery. For instance, during exercise, the body naturally increases the production of endocannabinoids – meaning produced endogenously, or internally by the body. As a result, this abundance of endocannabinoids can lead to a decrease in pain and an increase in pain threshold. Endurance athletes often experience this mechanism as the “runner’s high [6].”

Considering these natural functions, researchers postulate that medical cannabis and other cannabis products might potentially amplify these effects. In other words, cannabis may help to modulate mood and bodily sensations after intense physical activity [7]. However, more research is needed to prove this theory.

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Mood and enjoyment enhancement

The acute effects of cannabis consumption, whether through smoking or other methods of cannabis administration, often include an increase in positive mood [8]. Regarding exercise, this elevated mood can make physical exertion more enjoyable for some. Notably, recent research, including studies conducted by groups like Bryan’s Research Group, has found a positive relationship between cannabis and exercise. For example, this group found that cannabis-consuming participants reported greater enjoyment of their physical activities than non-cannabis-consuming participants [4]. Even though these results are not necessarily widely applicable, this is significant because a positive attitude towards exercise can contribute to more consistent and prolonged engagement in a physically active lifestyle, contributing to overall wellness.

Impact on recovery

The ECS’s role in stress responses also suggests that cannabinoids might aid in exercise recovery. For example, if modulating the activity of both central and peripheral receptors involved in stress is possible, cannabinoids like CBD may accelerate the recovery experience [9]. However, very little research specifically links ECS modulation with faster recovery times, and more studies are necessary to understand these relationships fully.

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Legal and health considerations

It’s important to note that despite the potential benefits, significant legal and health-related considerations with using cannabis abound, especially when it is used as a recreational drug. For instance, federal law prohibits marijuana use in states that do not sanction it. As a result, these laws may complicate access to and research on medical cannabis. Moreover, chronic use of cannabis, particularly smoking marijuana for an extended period, has been associated with various health consequences. These include lung health risks and potential motor control and cognitive function impairment [10].

Research gaps and future directions

Applied performance outcomes regarding cannabis and exercise remain under-explored, with institutions like the Gatorade Sports Science Institute yet to fully embrace cannabis research [11]. As such, most current knowledge about cannabis’ effects on human performance comes from anecdotal evidence or studies with limited scope. Thus, future research should aim to clarify the mechanisms by which ECS modulation affects exercise intensity, recovery, and overall human performance. Also, comparing the efficacy of cannabis with performance-related drugs would shed light on its efficacy.

The theory is that cannabis consumption prior to exercise may increase positive mood, which may, in turn, enhance maximal exercise performance [4]. However, given the legal status and the mixed effects associated with prolonged drug use, including THC, research is limited and individuals should approach cannabis use with caution [10]. In other words, users should be mindful of the health-related characteristics associated with its use. Indeed, more research is necessary to fully understand and apply the potential outcomes of cannabis in the context of exercise and sports health.

Performance enhancement

There is limited research on cannabis as a performance-enhancing drug. However, some studies suggest that cannabis may have ergogenic effects, which could theoretically motivate physical performance [12]. These effects vary widely among individuals, and more research is needed to confirm these potential benefits.

Cannabis for recovery

  • Bodily comfort

One of the most well-documented benefits of cannabis is its effectiveness in relaxation. In particular, CBD and THC may have wellness properties that affect sensations and mood. Notably, some hemp or marijuana-smoking athletes report fewer side effects compared to traditional recovery methods [13].

  • Muscle recovery

Cannabis, especially CBD, may aid some individuals in muscle recovery by promoting mood boost and relaxation. Improved sleep quality can also play a crucial role in muscle recovery and overall athletic performance [14].

Risks and considerations

  • Legal aspects

The legality of cannabis varies by region. In other words, some states have legalized both marijuana and hemp for recreational and wellness use. In contrast, other states prohibit marijuana, but allow hemp cannabis. Several states have adopted laws restricting both plant varieties and their derivatives [15]. Thus, athletes should be aware of their local laws in addition to the regulations of sports organizations.

  • Potential risks

Heavy cannabis use can have several health consequences. For example, respiratory issues may develop when smoking cannabis over time. Additionally, dependency and tolerance may arise, diminishing potential benefits. Chronic cannabis use can impact motor control and autonomic nervous mechanisms, potentially affecting exercise performance and increasing the risk of injury [10]. Hence, it’s crucial for athletes to weigh the risks and benefits of cannabis consumption.

  • Dependency and tolerance considerations

Chronic cannabis consumption can lead to dependence and tolerance, requiring higher doses to achieve the same effects. Unfortunately, this experience can be particularly concerning for athletes who rely on cannabis for mood boosts or other needs [16]. Thus, it’s crucial for athletes to consult with healthcare professionals if they feel that they are becoming dependent on cannabis.

  • Personal experiences and anecdotes

Many athletes have shared their experiences with cannabis and exercise on social media and elsewhere. While some report enhanced enjoyment and an improved recovery experience, others highlight challenges, such as impaired motor control or increased heart rate. A previous survey of French sport students revealed that participants reported mixed experiences with cannabis use in their fitness routines [17]. Ultimately, it’s important to consider the various experiences of different athletes to make informed decisions.

Scientific studies and research

Current research

The body of research on cannabis is growing, but it remains limited. Even so, some studies, like those conducted by Bryan’s Research Group, suggest potential benefits of combining cannabis use with fitness [4]. In contrast, other researchers highlight the potential risks. A systematic review of existing literature indicates that more rigorous studies are needed to draw definitive conclusions about cannabis and fitness.

Key findings

Research has shown that cannabis can influence exercise modalities differently among individuals For instance, some users may experience enhanced exercise performance while others may find it hinders exercise [18].

Practical advice for cannabis users and athletes

For those considering cannabis as part of their fitness routine, it is essential to approach it cautiously. Choosing the right strain and method of consumption is crucial. Also, THC products specifically may be more beneficial for pre-workout motivation, while CBD might be better suited for post-workout recovery [19]. Yet some people may enjoy it the other way around. Additionally, dosage and timing are critical factors [4].

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Key takeaway: proceed with caution when considering cannabis and fitness goals

Cannabis and fitness is a complex and evolving topic. While there are potential benefits, such as enhanced enjoyment of exercise and happier recovery experiences, there are risks, including health consequences and legal issues. As newer research suggests various outcomes, it is essential for individuals to make informed decisions and consult healthcare professionals. The role of cannabis in exercise and recovery continues to be a subject of interest, and future studies will hopefully provide clearer insights into its potential benefits.

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Medical Disclaimer / Legal Disclaimer – Information is provided for educational purposes. It does not and is not intended to constitute legal advice or medical advice. We attempt to be accurate and up-to-date, but the legality of cannabinoids and the science of cannabis are evolving. The author is neither a legal professional nor a medical expert. Before buying or using any products, you should check with your local authorities and medical providers.


  1. Cannabis Use for Exercise Recovery in Trained Individuals
  2. History of Medical Cannabis
  3. CBD versus THC: What’s the Difference?
  4. Cannabis Can Make Workouts More Fun
  5. Everything You Need to Know About the Endocannabinoid System
  6. The Endocannabinoid System and Physical Exercise
  7. New Take on Runner’s High: Study Explores How Marijuana Affects Workouts
  8. Cannabis Use as a Predictor of Mood
  9. The Endocannabinoid System: A Key Player in Exercise
  10. Marijuana (Cannabis, Weed): What It Is, Side Effects & Risks
  11. Cannabis and Athletic Performance
  12. Study Finds Cannabis Can Motivate Users to Exercise
  13. Marijuana As Pain Medicine
  14. Can Weed Help You Recover From Workouts?
  15. A State-By-State Guide to Cannabis Legality
  16. Cannabis in Sport
  17. Cannabis Use to Enhance Sportive and Non-sportive Performances Among French Sport Students
  18. Association Between Cannabis Use and Blood Pressure
  19. CBD for Workouts

Frequently Asked Questions

Some users report that cannabis consumption prior to exercising can increase their motivation and make the activity more enjoyable. This could be due to the mood-enhancing effects of certain cannabinoids, which might make workouts feel less strenuous and more pleasurable [11]. These anecdotal results are not backed by research and effects may vary between users.

Individual experiences may vary, and there is not conclusive science that shows cannabis will help recovery. Cannabis effectiveness can depend on the type of exercise and the specific cannabis product used [14].

The legality of using cannabis, including for fitness purposes, varies by location. Thus, in regions where cannabis is legal, individuals can legally use it as a part of a fitness regimen. If it is illegal it cannot be legally used. Related to using cannabis in organized sports or athletics training, users should be aware of their local cannabis laws and consider the rules set by specific sports organizations [15].