Exercise increases plasma THC concentrations in regular cannabis users

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2013 Dec 1;133(2):763-7. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2013.07.031. Epub 2013 Aug 11.


Background: The major psychoactive ingredient of cannabis, Δ(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) accumulates in fat tissue from where it slowly diffuses back into blood. THC pre-treated rats can show elevated plasma cannabinoid levels when subjected to conditions that promote fat utilization, such as fasting. Here we examine whether fasting and exercise increase plasma THC concentrations in regular cannabis users.

Methods: Fourteen regular cannabis users completed 35 min of exercise on a stationary bicycle in either a fed or overnight fasted state. Plasma cannabinoid levels were assessed prior to exercise, immediately post-exercise and 2h post-exercise. Plasma samples were also analyzed for indices of lipolysis (free fatty acids (FFA) and glycerol).

Results: Exercise induced a small, statistically significant increase in plasma THC levels accompanied by increased plasma FFA and glycerol levels. Exercise-induced increases in plasma THC concentrations were positively correlated with body mass index. Fasting induced a significant increase in plasma FFA levels, and a lowering of blood glucose, but did not significantly alter plasma cannabinoid levels.

Conclusions: Here we demonstrate that exercise enhances plasma THC levels in regular cannabis users. The lack of a fasting effect may reflect the modest duration of fasting used which was associated with only a modest increase in fat utilization relative to exercise. Overall, these results suggest that exercise may elevate blood THC levels by releasing dormant THC from fat stores. These data suggest the interpretation of blood THC levels in roadside and workplace tests might be complicated by recent exercise.

Keywords: Cannabis; Exercise; Fasting; Lipolysis; Reintoxication; Δ(9)-Tetrahydrocannabinol.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Bicycling
  • Body Mass Index
  • Cohort Studies
  • Dronabinol / blood*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Fasting / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids, Nonesterified / blood
  • Female
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Glycerol / blood
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marijuana Smoking / blood*
  • Young Adult


  • Fatty Acids, Nonesterified
  • Dronabinol
  • Glycerol