A real “runner’s high”: How does cannabis affect the subjective experience of aerobic exercise? Original paper

In this randomized crossover trial, using cannabis before running on a treadmill made exercise more enjoyable, but it also increased perceived exertion. The effects of cannabis differed between participants who used a THC-dominant product and those who used a CBD-dominant product.

This Study Summary was published on February 7, 2024.

Quick Summary

In this randomized crossover trial, using cannabis before running on a treadmill made exercise more enjoyable, but it also increased perceived exertion. The effects of cannabis differed between participants who used a THC-dominant product and those who used a CBD-dominant product.

What was studied?

The effect of cannabis on the subjective response to aerobic exercise in regular cannabis users.

The outcomes assessed were resting heart rate, percentage of maximum heart rate (the participant’s heart rate divided by their estimated maximum heart rate, i.e., 220 minus their age), as well as rating of perceived exertion (RPE), pain, arousal, positive affect, enjoyment, and runner’s high symptoms, all of which were assessed using numerical scales.

The outcomes were assessed 4 times during exercise: at the start of exercise and at 10, 20, and 30 minutes.

Who was studied?

42 physically active, regular cannabis users (ages 21–39; 67% men, 33% women; average of 383 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity exercise per week) recruited from Boulder, Colorado.

The participants used cannabis products approximately 3 to 4 days per week. To be included in the study, the participants had to have used cannabis while running or jogging at least 3 times in the past 12 months or at least 6 times in their lifetimes with no negative effects.

How was it studied?

In this randomized crossover study, the participants performed 30 minutes of aerobic exercise on 2 occasions. On one occasion, they performed exercise approximately 30 minutes after ad libitum use of 1 of 2 cannabis products: a THC-dominant product (24% THC and 1% CBD) or a CBD-dominant product (1% THC and 20% CBD). On the other occasion, the participants did not use cannabis (the control).

The intensity of exercise was near the participant’s ventilatory threshold, which was determined at baseline using the Talk Test.[1] The experiments were separated by at least 2 days (9 days, on average), and the participants were asked to abstain from using cannabis the day of each experiment (i.e., beginning at 12:00 a.m.).

What were the results?

Compared to the control condition, positive affect, enjoyment, runner’s high symptoms, and RPE were higher during the cannabis condition. Percentage of maximum heart rate did not differ between conditions, although resting heart rate was higher during the cannabis condition.

Subgroup analysis according to the cannabis product used indicated that, compared to the control condition, resting heart rate, RPE, and arousal were higher in the participants who used the THC-dominant product, but there was no difference between conditions in the participants who used the CBD-dominant product. Additionally, ratings of enjoyment and positive affect were higher in the participants who used the CBD-dominant product than in those who used the THC-dominant product.

Anything else I need to know?

Some limitations of this study include (i) the absence of a placebo in the control condition, (ii) a relatively small sample size, and (iii) an unbalanced sample, as the participants were allowed to switch cannabis conditions if they didn’t like their initial assignment, resulting in more participants in the THC-dominant condition (31 participants) than the CBD-dominant condition (11 participants). As such, the results should be considered exploratory.

This Study Summary was published on February 7, 2024.

References

  1. ^Persinger R, Foster C, Gibson M, Fater DC, Porcari JPConsistency of the talk test for exercise prescription.Med Sci Sports Exerc.(2004-Sep)