Cannabis Use Associated with ‘Marginal Increase’ in Light Physical Activity

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As modern-day cannabis research persists, studies have increasingly shed light on prevailing stereotypes of cannabis users, those persistent attitudes that cannabis makes people lazy and unmotivated. 

Given the increased accessibility of cannabis in the United States and beyond, it’s now clear that there is no fixed demographic when it comes to cannabis use. The research shows it, too, regularly concluding that cannabis may actually fit in nicely with those pursuing a more active lifestyle.

One of the most recent studies to examine this relationship was published last week in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, measuring the physical activity and sedentary behavior among young-to-midlife adults and confirming that cannabis use is actually associated with a marginal increase in daily light physical activity (LPA).

‘The Largest Cohort’ to Study Cannabis Use, Physical Activity

Researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2011 to 2014 to investigate the relationship between cannabis and physical activity. 

The study included U.S. adults aged 18 to 59 who responded to the questionnaire and had at least four days of activity data using wrist-worn accelerometers to track physical activity.

The findings drew data from 4,666 adults, 658 (14.1%) of which reported cannabis use within the past 30 days. Researchers said that it is “the largest cohort in which the relationship between cannabis use and physical activity has been studied.”

The accelerometer data found few differences in sleep or physical activity between people who did and did not use cannabis over the past month. While there were also no differences found between groups in daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) time, daily time spent doing LPA was higher among recent cannabis users.

However, the difference is minimal, as those who used cannabis in the past month had 102 minutes of light physical activity per day versus 99 minutes for those without past-month cannabis use.

New Findings and Outstanding Questions

“With the rising prevalence of cannabis use, there have been concerns of its potential effects on physical activity levels,” the study concludes. “In this population level-analysis, recent cannabis use was not independently associated with daily sedentary time or MVPA, and it was associated with a marginally greater daily LPA time of unclear clinical significance.”

Researchers noted that more than half of the participants were 18-29 years old, “which may suggest selection bias toward younger and healthier people in the NHANES sample” and may not be a representative sample of the general adult population. 

The study also did not explore motivations surrounding cannabis use, though researchers noted the reasons could include exercise, pain, anxiety or sleep. The study also did not include data surrounding frequency of consumption or specific products used.

Authors said that further reason could be useful to examine whether the findings were generalizable to specific subgroups who use cannabis for chronic or neuropathic pain.

“Our findings provide evidence against existing concerns that cannabis use independently promotes sedentary behavior and decreases physical activity,” authors concluded, highlighting that the longstanding “lazy stoner” archetype often portrayed with chronic cannabis users “does not acknowledge the diverse uses of cannabis today.”

Ongoing Research Puts Tired Stoner Stereotypes to Bed

It’s one of several recent students examining cannabis use and physical activity, similarly showing that these tired attitudes surrounding cannabis consumers may need to be examined in a new way in regard to today’s modern cannabis community and broad user base.

A study published last month found that regular cannabis consumption was associated with more positive emotions and fewer negative emotions, alongside minimal effects of motivation or objective effort willingness.

“When frequent cannabis users get high, in other words, they are no more apathetic, nor less extrinsically or intrinsically motivated to pursue their goals,” researchers said. “They are, however, slightly less motivated to do things when they are high because they would be upset with themselves if they did not do them.”

Other research has honed in on cannabis use and physical activity specifically. 

Another study from earlier this year showed that cannabis users take more walks on average compared to non-users and e-cigarette users and that they are no less likely to engage in basic exercise and strength training compared to non-users. 

A similar study looking specifically at Americans 60 and older found that this demographic of cannabis consumers exercise more than their non-cannabis-consuming counterparts, while another study found that cannabis is increasingly being used in conjunction with exercise and may increase positive mood and enjoyment during workouts.

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