Thanks to decades of government propaganda, the “lazy stoner” stereotype has become a fixture in the American mind. Consequently, one of the last things people think of when they think “cannabis” is “exercise”. Yet, it turns out that many fitness buffs find the herb—in moderation, of course—enhances their workout regimens. Are they brain-damaged from devil weed, or are they onto something?

THC: surprisingly versatile

The main psychoactive molecule in cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is stored in body fat. Strangely, however, THC is also released from fat during physical exertion. Scientists say THC blood levels go up 15 percent immediately after exercise. But why?

For one thing, athletes say exercise makes a cannabis experience feel better, and vice versa. But beyond the fairly obvious subjective effects, THC offers some startling objective benefits involving the lungs.

One might assume smoking cannabis would decrease lung function, aggravate asthma, and cause lung cancer. Oddly, THC not only kills cancer cells, but it also has anti-inflammatory and antitussive (cough-suppressant) effects. Also, like its cannabinoid cousin tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), THC is a bronchodilator. It relaxes breathing tubes, improving airflow during exercise. Even smoked cannabis benefits asthma and enhances lung function.

Still, cannabis ingestion is better. It affords the beneficial effects of cannabinoids without the harmful chemicals of smoke. Athletes should start low, and go slow here: Cannabis is much more potent and long-lasting when ingested than when inhaled.

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“Runner’s high”

The so-called “runner’s high” has been assumed for decades to be related only to endorphins, opioid-like molecules released in the brain. Scientists now believe the body produces cannabinoids during exercise to fight pain, which activate the human endocannabinoid system in the same way the plant does.

Insulin impact

Researchers reported in the American Journal of Medicine that regular cannabis consumers have fasting insulin levels 16 percent  lower than abstainers. They also have 17 percent  lower insulin resistance levels and lower average waist circumferences. Insulin is the hormone that tells the body’s cells to take in glucose from the blood for energy. Excess blood sugar gets stored as fat (especially belly fat), leading directly to weight gain and diabetes. Cannabinoids facilitate more efficient sugar metabolism.

Staying “in the zone”

For many athletes, cannabis relieves monotony and boredom, making marathons and longer workouts more bearable. It also helps athletes focus better, e.g., on targeting specific muscle groups. Speaking of muscles, cannabis also relieves the discomfort and stiffness of stretching, one of the most important yet most overlooked aspects of total fitness and injury prevention.

In sum, cannabis in moderation can help keep athletes mentally and physically more fit. So, beyond the obvious pleasurable effects of a high, cannabis and exercise can go hand in hand in improving health.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Garyn AngelGaryn Angel is an inventor, award-winning financial consultant, and CEO of MagicalButter.com, maker of the botanical extractor he invented for infusing cannabis into foods. Firmly committed to needed legal reform, Angel was named to the exclusive CNBC NEXT LIST of visionary global business leaders for his work on legal marijuana. He is also founder of the Cheers to Goodness Foundation, a charity that helps “medical refugees”—mainly veterans and children—who need herbal therapy when traditional treatment options have failed.