We are studying the effects of cannabinoids on exercise and sleep. This has ramifications for athletic performance and the treatment of pain, insomnia and conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Exercise has many benefits, not only for your physical health, but also your mental health. In your brain, exercise stimulates chemicals that improve your mood and the parts of the brain responsible for memory and learning. These chemicals include endorphins and serotonin, which enables sleep. One of our studies, however, is also researching the effect of exercise on raising blood plasma levels of endocannabinoids, the cannabinoid molecules produced by our own bodies.
Exercise is great for the brain as it improves blood circulation, assisting us to think more clearly.
Exercise also increases the size of the hippocampus, that part of the brain responsible for memory, and increases the connections between the nerve cells in the brain. This improves memory and helps protect your brain against injury and disease.
It is recommended that we all get at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise on most, or preferably all, days of the week in order to reap the physical and mental health benefits it provides.
There is already much anecdotal evidence to suggest that consumption of cannabis improves athletic performance. Binding the body’s own cannabinoid receptors, the molecules in cannabis have been shown anecdotally to reduce anxiety, increase endurance and pain thresholds during athletic sports performance and even aid in muscle recovery by reducing inflammation.
Along with reducing pain and anxiety, cannabis is known to induce and assist sleep. Cannabinol (CBN), a cannabis compound, has been shown to be sedating, with other cannabis terpenoids acting in synergy with cannabinol to enhance the sedative effect.
According to a study on the effect of illicit recreational drugs upon sleep, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) reduces REM sleep, while acute administration of cannabis appears to facilitate falling asleep, and increases stage 4 sleep. Cannabis withdrawal meanwhile, has been shown to cause difficulty sleeping, strange dreams, longer sleep onset latency, reduced slow wave sleep and an REM rebound effect.
THC is stored within the fat cells and is released back into the blood stream when the body burns fat, such as during exercise. Our researchers are interested to discover how this may affect a person’s performance and ability during exercise. Studies are also needed to verify the cause of sleep disturbances during cannabis withdrawal and how cannabinoids work to aid sleep.
A study of vigorous physical activity and endocannabinoids
This study hypothesised that the beneficial effects of exercise on mood and wellbeing may be facilitated by the effect that vigorous exercise has on raising plasma endocannabinoid levels.