Exercise and Marijuana: Do They Mix?

By: Soft Secrets, June 27, 2017

Medical marijuana is legal in 26 states and recreational use is legal in seven states and the District of Columbia. As a result, more people are able to access pot and use it in a variety of circumstances – exercise not excluded. That’s right: While a popular perception of marijuana users is the spaced-out stoner unable to get off the couch and face the day, advocates of marijuana use for athletes say they are proving this stereotype wrong.

But, from a research perspective, how marijuana actually affects athletic performance remains to be seen. Even in states where the drug is legal, researchers may be hesitant to devote shrinking budgets to the topic or attach their names to this type of research. As views and attitudes continue to change, however, more well-designed and controlled studies may emerge.

We do know, however, that everybody responds to marijuana use differently, and that the boom in production (at least publicly) has yielded tremendous variety in the strands of the drug, each of which likely carries its own unique effects and side effects. Here’s what else the limited available research suggests about how well (or poorly) marijuana affects different aspects of athletic performance:

marijuana culture

Pain Management

Athletes often talk about marijuana as a pain reliever. They’re not wrong: In addition to offering actual pain management (hence its legalization medically in many places), marijuana appears to alter the emotional response to pain by distracting the individual from feelings of pain and fatigue, and refocusing their energy on the task at hand – a valuable benefit for long-duration athletes like runners or cyclists. Still, pain management is a bit of a long-shot reason for most of us recreational exercisers to use pot before workouts.


“Mind over matter” is a helpful mantra among many endurance athletes, who may find that the ability to block out the monotony of a long-duration event is just as important as physical ability. Marijuana may help facilitate that mindset since the part of the brain that responds with a pleasant buzz when exposed to the tetrahydrocannabinol – known as THC – in marijuana is that same part that fires when athletes feel a “runner’s high.”

Energy Level

Marijuana drawbacks include forgetfulness, lethargy, lack of motivation and anxiety. Some users claim that even if physical performance falls somewhat following use, it’s still worth it for the pain management and focus benefits.

Motor Skills

Marijuana causes changes in visual perception, coordination and reaction time, all of which will negatively impact the ability to exercise, particularly if the activity requires complex movements and high levels of agility. This may be one reason why the proponents of marijuana use prior to exercise typically discuss simple, repetitive activities like long-distance running as opposed to sports like tennis or golf.


How marijuana affects anxiety levels during exercise (or elsewhere) varies widely. Some users say it reduces their anxiety and may even lower resistance in the airway, which would potentially drive some performance benefits. Other users report increased feelings of anxiety and paranoia.

So, should you use?

While the pros and cons of pre-workout marijuana use may warrant additional study, there are serious negative side effects that should not be ignored in the quest to enhance physical performance.



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