Exercising while high might not seem like the smartest option for a productive workout considering some of the well-known side effects of marijuana, including loss of coordination and dizziness. Still, some pro athletes and people who regularly hit the gym swear by the practice, claiming the high increases their focus and can help them work out or perform for longer periods of time.
These athletes and exercise aficionados haven’t had much scientific evidence to back up their claims — the literature around exercise behaviors and getting high is sparse and inconsistent, according to a 2019 survey published in Frontiers in Public Health, which looked at relationships between getting high and exercise.
The study has been generating plenty of buzz online as more states move to legalize cannabis. Lawmakers and public health experts acknowledge a lack of exercise is a pressing national concern; in fact, physical inactivity is an important cause of most chronic diseases.
Could a substance that gets people off the couch and on the road be the answer to our physical inactivity problems? Just because people who exercise while high report liking it, doesn’t mean it’s actually good for you, so let’s take a closer look at some of the pros and cons of getting high and hitting the gym.
Why Cannabis May Boost Workouts
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each week, but fewer than half of U.S. adults exercise that much, meaning we’ve got a lot of room to improve here. Exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of chronic disease and improve quality of life markers, including energy level and ability to perform daily tasks, such as walking and doing chores.
If the goal of your exercise regimen is to work out more often and for longer periods of time, getting high could help in both areas, according to the Frontiers in Public Health study, which surveyed users living in states with full legal access to marijuana. The results showed that a majority of participants endorsed using cannabis with exercise.
The majority of participants who endorsed using cannabis shortly before and after exercise said that doing so helped them enjoy and recover from the exercise, while about half said cannabis increased their motivation to exercise.
The study does have some limitations — researchers didn’t include a non-using comparison sample such as a control group, and they also didn’t ask participants about any negative side effects so they couldn’t draw any conclusions about potential harm. They also noted that people shouldn’t take their results as evidence to use cannabis for better workouts.
Two of the cannabinoids in marijuana, THC and CBD, are well-known for relieving pain and reducing inflammation, which could explain why cannabis users report quicker recovery from exercise. It’s also possible users are reporting a perceived reduction in pain and quicker recovery, but their bodies are not actually recovering faster.
Getting high creates a feeling of euphoria and relieves anxiety, which explains users’ increased enjoyment, but that feeling could be blunted over time if they become tolerant to THC, the intoxicating compound in cannabis.
The Cons of Getting High and Hitting the Gym
Exercising while high could be a solution to your exercise woes if your only problem is motivation, but people who have certain medical conditions, such as heart disease, are strongly discouraged from smoking marijuana and hitting the gym.
Cannabinoids have a complex effect on the cardiovascular system, including making the heart pump harder. Additionally, people with established heart disease who are under stress develop chest pains more quickly if they’ve been smoking marijuana.
“Research suggests that the risk of heart attack is several times higher in the hour after smoking marijuana than it would be normally,” Harvard Health reported. “While this does not pose a significant threat to people who have minimal cardiovascular risk, it should be a red flag for anyone with a history of heart disease.”
For some users, consuming cannabis before a workout poses some accident and injury risks as well due to a loss of coordination and balance. Of course, users’ reactions depend on how much THC is present, and some other factors, such as their gender and weight.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says marijuana negatively affects a number of skills needed to drive safely — it can slow reaction time and ability to make decisions, impair coordination and distort perception. If it’s not advisable to drive a car while high, it’s probably not advisable to hit the gym.
Another interesting side effect of using marijuana came to light in a 2018 study, which showed that marijuana users who were involved in major trauma, such as a car accident, reported more pain than non-marijuana users. So if you do experience a significant injury while working out, you may require more opioids to manage your pain.
There are some potential benefits to lighting up before working out, including greater satisfaction with your workout and hitting the gym more often, but it’s a safer bet to avoid getting high before exercise considering the potential risks, especially for those with underlying conditions such as heart disease.