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As cannabis becomes more integrated within mainstream culture, millions are becoming more educated on the many benefits of THC and other cannabinoids. Not only does cannabis consumption lower insulin resistance, but it also improves fasting insulin and facilitates metabolic function. More athletes and even those engaged in moderate recreational fitness have found incredible benefits from daily consumption of the once demonized plant.
Coupled with the pain-relieving effects of both plant and human-derived cannabinoids, cannabis and exercise seem to go hand in hand if you’re looking to improve your physical health.
Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that allows your body to use sugar (glucose) from carbohydrates in the food that you eat for energy, or to store glucose for future use. Insulin helps keeps your blood sugar level from getting too high or too low. If you consume a meal which make blood glucose levels rise quickly, insulin secretion often overshoots to compensate and the excess is stored as fat. If you have too much unused glucose in your cells, you will gain weight. If your body isn’t handling insulin properly, you may also gain weight.
A study published in the American Journal of Medicine has found that regular cannabis consumers have fasting insulin (insulin in your body before eating) levels 16% lower than non-consumers. The study also found that cannabis consumers had 17% lower insulin resistance levels and lower average waist circumferences. The researchers concluded that there were significant associations between marijuana use and smaller waist circumferences.
Some athletes swear by using marijuana or its isolated active ingredients, such as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) as performance-enhancing drugs, saying these substances ease anxiety and increase pain threshold so that they can push themselves during workouts.
Men’s Journal interviewed elite triathlete Clifford Drusinsky, a Colorado gym owner who also leads training sessions fuelled by marijuana edibles.
“Marijuana relaxes me and allows me to go into a controlled, meditational place,” Drusinsky told Men’s Journal. “When I get high, I train smarter and focus on form.”
Researchers say that marijuana has an anti-inflammatory effect and that the chemical compounds that come from cannabis might mimic the body’s natural endorphins, which could help increase our pain threshold like a natural runner’s high and make it easier to push through a tough workout.
Contrary to popular thought, it’s not just the endorphins (the compounds which make you feel excited after activities such as exercise and sex) that make physical activity so great. A 2003 study found that exercise actually activates the endocannabinoid system in the same way that the cannabis plant does. The endocannabinoid system is a group of lipids (types of fats) and cell receptors that cannabinoids (compounds like THC and CBD) bind to, inside the body. The endocannabinoid system is responsible for easing pain, controlling appetite, and influences mood and memory.
Perhaps as a coping mechanism for easing pain, the body naturally produces its own cannabinoids during exercise. In the aforementioned study, researchers found that human-produced cannabinoids increase as you exercise, causing you to feel a little “high.”
In a 2003 study, researchers uncovered the truth that marijuana and exercise both activate the same endocannabinoid system in the brain.
As a group of lipids, fats, and cell receptors that THC bind to when consuming cannabis, the endocannabinoid system plays a prominent role in the neurological system for maintaining homeostasis for overall human health. In short, the endocannabinoid system is responsible for easing our pain, controlling our appetite, relieving our stress, influencing our mood, and even regulating our memory. In order to help our body cope with pain from rigorous physical activity, our brain will naturally produce its own version of cannabinoids to stimulate this system during exercise. Just like taking a hit of marijuana, the natural cannabinoids will begin to circulate through the endocannabinoid system when you exercise, to produce a high.
Peak blood concentrations of cannabinoids occur in 3-8 minutes after you inhale, as opposed to 60-90 minutes after you eat a cannabis-containing edible or ingest a cannabis tincture, with neural effects beginning after 20 minutes and maximizing within a range of 2-4 hours.
THC binds cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1), mainly localized in the brain, while cannabinol (CBN) binds CB2, which exists mainly on immune cells. CBD binds neither receptor, but still affects numerous metabolic processes including appetite, pain sensation, immune function, stress reactivity, hormonal secretions, and muscle and fat tissue signalling.
A 2013 adjusted epidemiological study showed that obesity rates are significantly lower for all groups of cannabis users (inclusive of gender and age) compared to those who had not used cannabis in the last 12 months.
The lower Body Mass Index (BMI) of pot-smokers may be explained by an adaptive down-regulation of brain endocannabinoid signalling. While acute THC stimulates appetite, the repeated stimulation of CB1 receptors by THC decreases receptor expression and sensitivity, and long-term stimulation may result in antagonistic rather than agonistic triggering of CB1 receptors, which would dampen hunger signals.
Furthermore, CBD and another component of marijuana, tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), may reduce body weight, as animal models of obesity have shown THCV to increase metabolism of fat cells. But before you get excited that marijuana may burn fat, please realize that very few strains on the market have significant levels of THCV, so do your research! And, remember, CBD (cannabidiol) will not cause the “munchies”, will lower your stress levels, thus making you feel good and less likely to binge eat!