For over 50 years, cannabis has had a bad reputation regarding its health benefits. Since the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 prohibiting cannabis, there have been several false narratives regarding the physical and mental health of individuals who use cannabis—the pop culture “stoner” stereotype, or going even further back to fear mongering over “Reefer Madness.” While these stereotypes are fading, the stigma still exists and requires conscious efforts to eradicate them. It is important to remind ourselves that when cannabis was first illegalized there was no scientific reason to do so nor was one ever found. These stereotypes are a harmful impediment to individuals considering cannabis or CBD to enhance their health since they have been falsely led to believe that cannabis is unhealthy.
Before diving into how cannabis can help with exercise and metabolic processes, I want to debunk a few stereotypes.
The first stereotype is someone who uses cannabis must be “crazy” like the ridiculous caricatures in “Reefer Madness”, a dangerous criminal or a rebellious outcast. While I proudly embrace being a rebellious outcast (and made an entire career of it), cannabis users being labeled as dangerous criminals has done generational harm to so many people and prohibited research and growth in cannabis science. The second stereotype is the “stoner” who is typically described as lazy, unmotivated, unintelligent, unsuccessful, or rather content to lie around and eat too much unhealthy food. This stereotype runs directly at odds with the lived experience of so many, with cannabis making us brighter and healthier.
Neither of these depictions is true, nor are they based in fact. Research has disproven these tropes over and over again, as you can will see below.
One of the first questions I ask my clients during their assessment is if they have any negative association with cannabis; I need to know that so I can address it right away. If clients feel guilty and feel like they are doing something “wrong” it can prohibit them from achieving their goals. This is why debunking these falsehoods is so important to end the stigma. It’s safer than alcohol and nearly every over-the-counter medication. There have never been any deaths reported related to phytocannabinoids (the plant). Quite contrary, there is only growing research showing how beneficial it can be for health.
Cannabis and CBD can help you achieve your health and wellness goals in many different ways. It can help make exercise more enjoyable, help change eating habits, and help improve a variety of metabolic processes in your body. All of which can make you feel healthier and achieve your fitness goals.
If changes to your weight, either loss or gain, are part of your wellness goals, cannabis can help you achieve them in a few different ways. A very commonly known side effect of THC is increased appetite, which is very helpful for people who are looking to gain weight. On the other hand, if weight loss is something you are hoping to achieve, then CBD and other cannabinoids can also be a useful tool. Some specific cannabinoids do not increase appetite but do decrease inflammation and promote lipid metabolism i.e. breakdown of fat (Parray et al 2016). CBD can also help you exercise. While no studies have found conclusive evidence yet that CBD enhances athletic performance, studies have indeed shown that it does decrease pain and inflammation, which makes for easier mobility, allows you to have longer workouts, and not to forget feeling better after.
There also exist some large studies confirming that CBD and cannabis can help decrease overall BMI (body mass index, a rough comparison of your weight related to your height). The results of the study demonstrated a “significantly reduced body mass index and rates of obesity in Cannabis users, in conjunction with increased caloric intake.” (Clark et al 2018) This means that cannabis users ate more and still had a reduced BMI. Another study showed that in a sample of 30,000 people (a very impressive sample size for a study of this nature) cannabis users on average weighed 2 pounds less and this change persisted across a variety of different amounts of exercise and caloric consumption. (Alshaarawy 2019) How and why this happens is yet unknown, perhaps it has to do with cannabis and CBD aiding in hormonal regulation, or it could be the action of CBD promoting the breaking down fat. It could also have to do with sleep regulation or insulin and cortisol regulation. We don’t know yet exactly, but the next few years of research are going to give us more concrete answers.
Furthermore, studies have also shown CBD and cannabis do the following: decreases cholesterol, decreases insulin resistance, decreases blood pressure, decreases cortisol, and might be cardioprotective? All of these potential benefits set up cannabis and CBD to be useful tools to incorporate into your fitness routine and help to decrease your risk of metabolic disease. As mentioned before, cannabinoids decrease pain and inflammation making it easier and more pleasurable to exercise.
Alshaarawy, O., & Anthony, J. C. (2019). Are cannabis users less likely to gain weight? Results from a national 3-year prospective study. International journal of epidemiology, 48(5), 1695-1700.
Clark, T. M., Jones, J. M., Hall, A. G., Tabner, S. A., & Kmiec, R. L. (2018). Theoretical explanation for reduced body mass index and obesity rates in cannabis users. Cannabis and cannabinoid research, 3(1), 259-271.
Parray, H. A., & Yun, J. W. (2016). Cannabidiol promotes browning in 3T3-L1 adipocytes. Molecular and cellular biochemistry, 416(1), 131-139.