Acute Effects of Ad Libitum Use of Commercially Available Cannabis Products on the Subjective Experience of Aerobic Exercise: A Crossover Study

Sports Med. 2023 Dec 26. doi: 10.1007/s40279-023-01980-4. Online ahead of print.


Objective: The present study aimed to examine the acute effects of legal-market cannabis on regular cannabis users' subjective responses to exercise in a controlled laboratory environment.

Background: Given the stereotype that cannabis is associated with extreme sedentary behavior, there are concerns that cannabis legalization may exacerbate the US physical inactivity epidemic. However, despite these concerns, recent years have seen considerable public interest in the use of cannabis concurrently with exercise (e.g., running).

Methods: The present study compared participants' experiences of exercise without cannabis to their experiences of exercise after acute ad libitum use of one of two commercially available cannabis flower products: a Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol-dominant or a cannabidiol-dominant product. Participants (N = 42) were regular cannabis users between the ages of 21 and 39 years (mean = 30.81 years, standard deviation = 4.72 years).

Results: Although participants reported a more positive affect (p < 0.001), enjoyment (p < 0.001), and runner's high symptoms (p < 0.001) during their cannabis (vs non-cannabis) exercise appointment, they also reported more exertion (p = 0.04). Pain levels were very low and did not differ between appointments (p = 0.45). Effects appeared to depend, in part, on cannabinoid content; there was a larger difference in enjoyment (p = 0.02), and a smaller difference in exertion (p = 0.02), between the cannabis and non-cannabis exercise appointments among participants in the cannabidiol (vs Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol) condition.

Conclusions: To our knowledge, this is the first study to investigate the acute effects of commercially available cannabis on subjective responses to exercise in a laboratory environment. Our findings suggest that, among regular cannabis users who use cannabis in combination with exercise, cannabis use prior to exercise may lead to increases in both positive and negative aspects of the subjective exercise experience. Research using diverse samples, exercise modalities, and methodologies (e.g., placebo-controlled trials) is needed to establish the generalizability of these findings.