While cannabis has long fallen under the umbrella of performance-enhancing drugs, there aren’t human studies looking at the effect of pot use in combination with exercise, which is what a Colorado university study is aiming to understand.
The SPACE (Study on Physical Activity and Cannabis Effects) study, conducted out of the University of Colorado Boulder, is tracking how commercially available cannabis impacts regular exercise when it comes to enjoyment, motivation and pain.
“To date, there are no human studies on the effects of legal market cannabis use on the experience of exercise,” says lead investigator Laurel Gibson, in a University of Colorado Boulder video.
There have been more anecdotal reports of people combining cannabis and exercise, she says, so the study is focusing on common barriers to exercise.
Participants meet for three sessions at the campus exercise facility. During the first, participants will go through a baseline survey and a go for a quick run on a treadmill.
Then participants will come back for two more sessions where they’ll complete questionnaires, have blood drawn and run for 30 minutes on a treadmill. Before one of the final meetings, participants will use cannabis — either a THC or CBD dominant flower they were already assigned.
“I think it’s important for science to understand the basic mechanisms of exercise physiology and the endocannabinoid system,” says Heather Mashhoodi, ultramarathon runner and study participant.
Read more: Why running gets you high
While she says she doesn’t feel like cannabis is performance-enhancing, she notices a difference psychologically.
“When I run for a really long time, and I get kind of tired and just worn out, I get this, this thing kicks in — when it makes the colours brighter, and it makes my thoughts clearer, it makes me more emotionally attuned. And so that’s how I feel when I run like 30-plus miles. And then when I use cannabis and I run, and I get to feel that at a less intense mileage,” Mashhoodi says in the video.
SPACE participants have to use cannabis from the regulated market and in their own homes since it’s against federal law to use or possess cannabis on campus.
A mobile lab, which the university says is a white Dodge Sprinter sometimes called the “cannavan” drives the participants to their home to consume weed and brings them back to the exercise facility.
The study is using more than 50 participants who live in the greater Boulder area, have experience using cannabis with exercise and are between the ages of 21—40 (men) or 21—50 (women).
A 2019 University of Colorado Boulder study found that 80 per cent of cannabis users say they combine weed and working out. The majority of them said they used cannabis either shortly before or after exercising because it makes the experience more enjoyable, and about half said that cannabis increases their motivation to exercise.
“We’re really conducting the study just to give policymakers and healthcare practitioners and the public at large the information they need to make an informed decision,” Gibson says.
Whether or not cannabis should be screened in sports returned to national conversations following the high-profile suspension of Sha’Carri Richardson in the summer.
Months after the suspension, the World Anti-Doping Agency said it would start a review of its stance on cannabis but that it would remain prohibited throughout 2022.
At the beginning of the year, the UFC changed its anti-doping policy to no longer punish fighters for positive tests of carboxy-THC.
And some state boxing associations have stopped testing for cannabis or are treating it as a lesser offence.