The Relationship Between CBD & Exercise
Cannabinoids like CBD are so scarily similar to endocannabinoids, they’re basically siblings. They are keys that fit the same locks, and can perform some of the roles that endocannabinoids can in the body; ensuring balance across the bodily systems.
This may have something to do with the tidal wave of interest in phyto-cannabinoids such as CBD. People are using it for all sorts of ailments, from pain to anxiety.
CBD actually prevents the breakdown of one of our endocannabinoids, known as Anandamide (13). Like CBD, exercise also increases the bodies natural levels of Anandamide!
CBD can also block cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2, which alters how messages are received by endocannabinoids (15). So, CBD can both turn up and turn down the ECS, based on each individuals need to turn their ECS up or down.
It might be that cannabinoids like CBD could help support the function of an ECS that is struggling to maintain homeostasis in certain medical conditions. It makes sense if you look at what roles the ECS has, and the fact that cannabinoids push many of the same buttons that endocannabinoids do.
So whilst we love CBD, exercise can provide many of the benefits CBD does, even more so when they are combined!
The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) & Exercise
When you consider the benefits exercise has for overall health, its amazing to learn that its actually the endocannabinoid system thats responsible for producing these benefits. The even cooler thing is that many of the benefits of exercise are scarily similar to the benefits of CBD.
Here’s a top level look into some of the ways the ECS is tied to exercise.
For example, when you start running the ECS does a few things:
- It ensures blood vessels dilate (1), so exercising muscles get the nutrients they need to produce energy and perform work.
- It regulates breathing rate (2), to provide oxygen rich blood to muscles to help them produce energy from nutrients.
- It helps boost metabolism by revving up mitochondria to turn over energy quicker (3).
- It maintains core body temperature (4), so you don’t overheat from the heat that is produced from exercise.
These are all important factors in initiating and sustaining exercise, and the ECS adjusts them to meet the increased physiological demands of exercise.
So what happens is that the ECS actually becomes ‘activated’ when you start exercising. Its activity increases to help us adapt to the work that’s in front of us, whether that’s lifting weights, a heavy HIIT session or a killer cardio workout.
When the ECS is activated by exercise, it has lasting benefits in the body after you’ve finished your workout.
Research has found that exercise increases the levels of our bodies own natural endocannabinoids:
Anandamide increased after moderate intensity cycling and running (5). Levels of Anandamide increased after strenuous hiking (6). Endocannabinoids increased after moderate intensity running (7). Anandamide was increased during and after intense cycling (8).
When our bodies are ‘boosted’ by endocannabinoids after exercise, this can increase aspects of our health and wellbeing. This is exactly what CBD does, and how it exerts many of its benefits, by boosting levels of endocannabinoids.
This is part of the reason exercise is so ubiquitously good for us, because it’s the ECS that’s the middle man in producing the well known benefits of exercise:
Cognition & Memory
Exercise is well known to improve brain plasticity and cognition by increasing cell growth in the hippocampus – the process known as neurogenesis. The ECS regulates neurogenesis via the CB1 receptor.
Anandamide is able to increase neurogenesis via activating the CB1 receptor (9). The hippocampus is also responsible for forming memories, which may be positively affected by the ECS after exercise (10).
Stress and mood
Exercise induces a state of consciousness known as the runners high. The runner’s high has been described as pure happiness, elation, a feeling of unity with one’s self and/or nature, endless peacefulness, inner harmony, boundless energy, and a reduction in pain sensation (11).
Incredibly, when we perform exercise (particularly endurance) we stimulate the production of Anandamide in the brain. Anandmide has been shown to improve mood and reduce stress by activating CB1 in specific brain regions – the hippocampus, Amygdala and Paraventricular nucleus (12). This is how Anandamide got its name, from the sanskrit word Ananda which translates to ‘bliss’. The runners high has been largely attributed to Anandamide.
Interestingly, similar observations are made by people who describe their experiences with cannabis/THC. They report feelings of distorted perception, atypical thought patterns, diminished awareness of one’s surroundings, and intensified introspective understanding of one’s sense of identity and emotional status (11).
THC produces these euphoric effects through activating the CB1 receptor in the brain. This is how one may experience an ‘altered state’ with cannabis.
So there’s an incredible biological similarly from the high we experience from exercise, and that of cannabis.
Exercise improves insulin sensitivity and metabolic flexibility in muscles, reduces the accumulation of fat in the liver and stimulates the use of fat from bodily stores (12).
As you’ll discover later on, the ECS is involved in all these processes. It plays a leading role in regulating metabolism, but tends to encourage the storage of fat and discourage the utilisation of energy. However, during exercise the opposite seems to be true. Researchers are still trying to figure out how the ECS responds to exercise.
Different types, duration and intensities of exercise can help promote a healthy immune system.
In general, exercise suppresses the immune system by reducing levels of inflammation, decreasing the number of activated immune cells and increasing the number of immune cells that prevent against excessive immune responses.
The ECS actually bridges the gap between exercise and its effects on the immune system. Cannabinoid receptors are found on immune cells, so when we exercise we are increasing the activation of CB2 in particular.
The endocannabinoid Anandamide activates CB2 on immune cells, which reduces the pro-inflammatory response and triggers an anti-inflammatory response (10).
This is how exercise in general helps to keep levels of inflammation in check. However chronic, heavy and intense exercise is well known to produce inflammation. Its possible the ECS fails to arrest inflammation under these conditions, which is why using CBD could lend a hand.
Anandamide can have widespread pain reducing effects in the body. Again, Anandamide increases during and following exercise, which increases activation of the CB1 receptor in the spinal cord to reduce pain (11).
Exercise and CBD make such a good pairing, both before, during and after exercise is CBD a welcome addition. By combining the two, the benefits of each can be compounded, and one can help support the other (CBD for recovery and management of post exercise pain).
The key takeaway here is understanding that its actually the ECS thats responsible for most of the benefits of both CBD and exercise, and there’s plenty more ways to support your endocannabinoid system to support your health.