It’s a new twist on the term runner’s high. Researchers at the University of Colorado want to know if and how legal cannabis can improve both the physical and mental experience of serious runners as they exercise.
31-year-old Heather Mashhoodi regularly runs up to 100 miles per week when training for ultramarathons. Besides the demanding physical toll the training takes on her body, Mashhoodi and other runners face mental hurdles: staying focused through such long treks can be a challenge, to say the least.
That’s where cannabis comes in, researchers believe.
Besides listening to music, podcasts and audiobooks while taking in the scenery around them for motivation, more runners like Mashhoodi are adding cannabis to the mix. According to the University, when she loses her enthusiasm during the run, she eats half of a marijuana-infused gummy candy.
Before long, the colors around her look brighter and the music sounds better. Mashhoodi says her thoughts are clearer and she’s more emotionally in tune with herself.
But is the cannabis really helping, or is it more of a placebo effect? Scientists conducting the study want to find out. So far, research on how THC and CBD influence physical activity is limited due to the plant’s status as a federally banned substance.
And while Colorado has long been a cannabis pioneer as the first state in America to start adult-use sales back in 2012, the federal ban has created significant hoops for researchers to navigate.
Instead of taking their cannabis in the research lab, where they’re observed running on a treadmill, Mashhoodi and the study’s 49 other paid volunteers have to take it at home. As soon as they consume the plant, a scientist picks them up and transports them safely to the lab where their workouts — and the research — begin.
PhD neuroscience researcher Laurel Gibson says there are no human studies on the effects of legal cannabis on the experience of exercise. And the university’s study will include three exercise sessions to measure the plant’s impact. In the first session, researchers measure heart rate, survey participants and take baseline fitness measurements. They then assign participants are assigned to go to a local dispensary and pick up either a specific CBD-dominant strain or THC-dominant strain.
In the second visit, run sober on the treadmill for a half-hour, answering questions every 10 minutes to assess their workout experience. The third and final visit is the same as the second, except the runners get high before they come.
A previous study found that as many as 80% of cannabis users said they consume the plant for their workouts, many for enhancing enjoyment, boosting recovery improving motivation.