While I wouldn’t consider myself an avid runner, whenever the warm days of spring and summer come around, I often make time to go for a run or walk along the water to experience Runners High. The combination of a sweat session, paired with nature, is a mood-boost I am craving after a grey city winter. To get myself moving, I usually take a few pulls from my flower vape and pack a joint to enjoy while I pause to watch the sky and listen to the water. While cannabis and running may seem like an odd combination at first, they are more complementary than you might think. Due to decades of criminalization, the stigma of cannabis as a substance that induces laziness, while passe, unfortunately still exists. As more products and cannabinoid combinations become available, and as more people successfully include them into their regular wellness routines, conversations around other uses for the plant are easing that stigma.
Most people with an exercise routine are familiar with the blissed-out state achieved through working out. It is part of what motivates them to get out for a run or take a spin class on an early Sunday morning. The blissed-out state, (often called runner’s high), originally thought to rely on endorphins released during a sweat session, is now understood to rely on the endocannabinoid system. This system is present through the brain and body of all humans and animals. While endorphins are released through exercise, they cannot cross the blood-brain barrier, meaning they cannot solely be responsible for runner’s high.
David Raichlen believed this high would have to not only cause pleasure but relieve pain, which led him to endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids can travel easily through the blood-brain barrier where they promote reduced feelings of anxiety and an increased sense of calm. Raichlen tested his theory and discovered that 30 minutes of exercise at a moderate intensity can cause endocannabinoid levels to triple. The benefits are not limited to running alone. Mood-boosting benefits occur after only 20 minutes of moderate exercise in any style.
The endocannabinoid system regulates many of the body’s processes, including pain and mood. The body naturally produces a neurotransmitter called anandamide (also known as the bliss molecule) which binds to the same cannabinoid receptors (CB1) in the endocannabinoid system as THC. Anandamide breaks down in the body quite quickly and is not stored the same way THC and CBD are. Cannabinoids from plant sources such as cannabis are referred to as phytocannabinoids, while endocannabinoids refer to endogenous cannabinoids made by the body, like anandamide. While THC has the potential to reduce the excitability of the brain’s neural networks, in the reward circuit, more dopamine is released than when relying on anandamide alone.
Runners High: What and how to pair?
When pairing exercise and cannabis, consider how you are looking to feel and what consumption methods best suit you. If combustion or smoking is your preferred method, I would suggest looking for strains high in a terpene called pinene. If you’ve ever taken a walk through a forest and felt the overwhelming urge to take a deep breath, you are most likely reacting to the terpene pinene, which is abundant in nature.
Strains like Romulan, Blue Dream, Island Sweet Skunk, and GSC are great pairings for any outdoor exercise. Strains high in myrcene can also be a great choice as myrcene may increase euphoria. A strain with a high CBG content like Sage n’ Sour by MTL Cannabis might also feel nice. Like THC and CBD, CBG is a phytocannabinoid found in cannabis and is thought to enhance the function of naturally occurring anandamide. Balanced strains can pair well with a workout as the CBD content will keep the THC from overwhelming your system, leaving you relaxed yet focused. While a strain like Carmel Sorbetto, with a bit more of a relaxing feel, might be a great choice post-workout.
If an edible or oil is your preferred consumption method, one thing to keep in mind is the timing around ingestion, onset, and duration of effects. Most ingestible options take anywhere from 1-2 hours to kick in. Keeping this in mind, you can time the effects to set in before, during, or after your workout. An edible or an oil with a high CBD content could provide a sense of ease throughout the body, making it an ideal pairing for any activity. Classes such as yoga, where the focus is on a deeper connection to the body and melting into each pose, provide the perfect opportunity to explore different cannabinoid combinations.
Topicals can offer some relief to areas of concern pre or post-workout. I recently attended my first dance class in over ten years, and the Rho Phyto Deep Tissue Gel provided me with the targeted relief I needed after class. Bath salts and bath bombs can also be a great addition to your routine. Soaking in a bath is a common way to relieve sore muscles and relax after exercise. Axea offers a Frankincense Pink Himalayan Dead Sea bath salt infused with CBD isolate and Japanese mint. The aromatic component is refreshing, while the salt and CBD provide a sense of comfort. Eve & Co offers a line of bath bombs infused with THC and CBD. The Lover bath bomb contains peppermint oil which provides a cooling sensation, while cinnamon oil warms things up ever so slightly.
Understanding the system responsible for the euphoric state achieved through working out can help you fine-tune your routine. The more reward associated with working out, the more likely we are to take better care of our bodies and look forward to our next run or practice of choice. Whether that means rolling a GSC joint to enjoy beside the water post-run or having an edible before hitting the gym, I always recommend following what feels good for you. Topicals and bath products are a great starting point for those who are still a little hesitant when it comes to ingesting cannabis; however, as runner’s high is due to an increase in endocannabinoids crossing the blood-brain barrier, ingestion of some THC is required to achieve a similar or enhanced effect.