Cannabis and exercise: Effects of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol on preference and motivation for wheel-running in mice

Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2021 Mar 8:105:110117. doi: 10.1016/j.pnpbp.2020.110117. Epub 2020 Sep 22.


Recent surveys have revealed close links between cannabis and exercise. Specifically, cannabis usage before and/or after exercise is an increasingly common habit primarily aimed at boosting exercise pleasure, motivation, and performance whilst facilitating post-exercise recovery. However, whether these beliefs reflect the true impact of cannabis on these aspects of exercise is unknown. This study has thus examined the effects of cannabis' main psychoactive ingredient, namely Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), on (i) mouse wheel-running preference and performance and (ii) running motivation and seeking behaviour. Wheel-running preference and performance were investigated using a T-maze with free and locked wheels located at the extremity of either arm. Running motivation and seeking were assessed by a cued-running operant task wherein wheel-running was conditioned by nose poking. Moreover, because THC targets cannabinoid type 1 (CB1) receptors, i.e. receptors previously documented to control running motivation, this study also assessed the role of these receptors in running preference, performance, and craving-like behaviour. Whilst acute blockade or genetic deletion of CB1 receptors decreased running preference and performance in the T-maze, THC proved ineffective on either variable. The failure of THC to affect running variables in the T-maze extended to running motivation, as assessed by cued-running under a progressive ratio (PR) reinforcement schedule. This ineffectiveness of THC was not related to the treatment protocol because it successfully increased motivation for palatable food. Although craving-like behaviour, as indexed by a cue-induced reinstatement of running seeking, was found to depend on CB1 receptors, THC again proved ineffective. Neither running motivation nor running seeking were affected when CB1 receptors were further stimulated by increasing the levels of the endocannabinoid 2-arachidonoylglycerol. These results, which suggest that the drive for running is insensitive to the acute stimulation of CB1 receptors, raise the hypothesis that cannabis is devoid of effect on exercise motivation. Future investigation using chronic administration of THC, with and without other cannabis ingredients (e.g. cannabidiol), is however required before conclusions can be drawn.

Keywords: CB(1) receptor; Cue-induced reinstatement; JZL184; Operant conditioning; T-maze.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists / pharmacology*
  • Conditioning, Operant / drug effects*
  • Dronabinol / pharmacology*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Motivation / drug effects*
  • Motor Activity / drug effects
  • Physical Conditioning, Animal*
  • Running


  • Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists
  • Dronabinol