Why We Get High
Promoting a healthy lifestyle with cannabis
Cannabis has long been touted as the drug for the lazy and unmotivated, but the developing research that we have on cannabis and the role it can play in a healthy and active lifestyle tells a very different story.
If you’ve ever gone on an intense run you may have experienced a “runner’s high.” Long thought to be caused by the release of endorphins in the body, that “high” is actually caused more prominently by the stimulation of the endocannabinoid system (ES).
The ES is a group of cell receptors and lipids (fats) that are found throughout the human body in the central and peripheral nervous systems, as well as some peripheral organs. The most prevalent of these receptors are known as CB1 and CB2.
When particular compounds known as cannabinoids,interact with these receptors, like a key fitting into a lock, they directly affect multiple functions throughout the body, including pain response, mood, memory, and appetite.
Phytocannabinoids are the most well-known cannabinoids and are produced in the cannabis plant; namely delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). The cannabis plant also produces at least 83 other cannabinoids and a wide variety of terpenes, which may also alter how cannabinoids interact with our bodies.
Endocannabinoids are cannabinoids made by our own bodies. Anandamide (AEA), and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) are the two endocannabinoids we have discovered so far. Our bodies produce these compounds regularly in order to modulate the aforementioned functions, like mood and appetite, in our day-to-day lives.
These endocannabinoids were first discovered by researchers investigating how cannabis affects the body. They found that the phytocannabinoids act in the exact way that our own endocannabinoids do, by interacting with the CB1 and CB2 receptors and other parts of the ES, like copies of a key opening the same lock.
Some doctors have theorized the potential for a “clinical endocannabinoid deficiency syndrome.” This theory of a dysfunctional ES, has been associated with many conditions such as fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, multiple sclerosis, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and various psychological conditions.
If this ES deficiency is even partly responsible for these serious conditions, finding a way to intervene and improve the functioning of the ES is a very important area of study that is in desperate need of further research.
Some researchers suggest possible interventions for this syndrome would include analgesics, anti-psychotics, anxiolytics, or anti-convulsive drugs. Interestingly, the phytocannabinoids in cannabis have been found to have analgesic, antipsychotic, anxiolytic, and anticonvulsive effects.
So, there is potential for cannabis to play a role in regulating and optimizing the functioning of the ES, and because the ES affects such a wide variety of vital bodily functions, careful cannabis use could have a very powerful effect on our general well-being.
Your body will produce higher levels of endocannabinoids after going for an intense run; bicycling for over 30 minutes; after a strenuous high-altitude hike; and a moderate increase can even be measured after a massage or a session of yoga.
Your body can not only produce these increases on its own, but regular cannabis users can also experience an even higher release of cannabinoids when performing these long-term forced exercises.
When we use cannabis, some of the phytocannabinoids are stored in our fat cells for later use. When we exercise, that fat is burned off and the cannabinoids are released in our blood. This boost in cannabinoids has been measured up to 28 days after consuming any cannabis.
Importantly, not every form of exercise is enhanced by cannabis use. Cannabis can be useful for simple tasks that do not involve fast decision making, teamwork, reflexes, or learning new movements.
Endurance athletes can benefit from the decrease in pain-sensitivity and the bronchodilating (improved airflow) effects. And fighters could benefit from an increase in focus and creativity. But soccer players, for instance, would likely experience a more negative impact on their performance.
So it is very important to consider what activities you’re going to be performing before using cannabis, but as long as they are simple, like lifting or running, they do not involve complex decision making and you do not see any negative impact on your motivation or performance, then cannabis may be an invaluable supplement to your workout.
It’s very important to note that the positive effects that cannabis has been shown to have on our ES have come entirely from acute doses. Regular, but very moderate doses of cannabis have a positive influence on our ES. Chronic and large doses of cannabis can have a very counterproductive impact; desensitizing our receptors and actually decreasing the functionality of ES receptors.
Unfortunately what constitutes “acute” and “chronic” cannabis use is not well defined and is likely different for each individual. So that being the case, a careful and methodical approach to how much cannabis you’re using is absolutely necessary for any healthy cannabis user. The great news for chronic or high-dose cannabis users is that the ES has been shown to bounce back after about four weeks of abstinence.
Truly the potential for cannabis as a supplementary drug for our ES is vast and promising. Of course, as with nearly all aspects of cannabis, we have only scratched the surface of its potential in this area. Many of the current studies have only been conducted on rodents and there are risks to be aware of before delving into any serious personal experimentation.
Hopefully, as we learn more about this fascinating area of research, we may be able to completely shed the outdated notions of the lazy, unmotivated stoner and move into a more scientific understanding of cannabis and its important role in a healthy, active lifestyle.
Michael Murchison is a Cannabis Counsellor working out of Canadian Cannabis clinics throughout the GTA, offering free knowledge and guidance to hundreds of medical cannabis patients every day. Canvasrx.com, firstname.lastname@example.org