More people are using marijuana to boost their workouts, but experts warn exercising while high has a number of risks.

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New research finds a number of people are using marijuana to improve their workouts. Getty Images

For decades, marijuana has had an image problem — of which the most prominent has been the “lazy stoner.”

Sunken into the couch, the marijuana user only gets up from their comfortable spot between commercial breaks to raid the fridge and pantry in search of munchies. Or so it used to be believed.

Today, liberalization of marijuana laws across the United States and changing attitudes about the drug have also helped to change what the image of a marijuana user looks like.

Furthermore, increasing interest in cannabis from the medical and scientific communities has provided valuable insight about the drug’s potential.

Recent research has consistently indicated that cannabis users are less likely to be obese and have a lower BMI than the average American.

As for the munchies, a study published in March of this year found that over a three-year period, marijuana users put on less weight than those who didn’t use marijuana products.

Now, in a new study from the University of Colorado (UC) in Boulder, researchers are asking a bold question: What if instead of making people lazy, marijuana could actually get users to engage in more physical activity than they normally would?

The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health, looked at self-reported data from more than 600 marijuana users in states where the drug has been legalized.

The average age of users was 37.5 and was split almost down the middle in terms of sex, with slightly more males than females.

The vast majority — more than 80 percent of respondents — endorsed using cannabis in some form either directly before or directly after exercise.

Getting high and exercising also resulted in more physical activity as well.

Even after controlling for demographic factors like age and gender, co-users (those who used marijuana before or after exercise) on average took part in 43 more minutes of aerobic exercise per week and 30 more minutes of anaerobic exercise, such as weightlifting.

And co-users also surpassed the American College of Sports Medicine’s recommendations of a minimum of 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week by nearly 10 minutes.

“The average cannabis user in our study was exercising a lot more than your average American,” said Angela Bryan, PhD, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at UC-Boulder and one of the study’s authors.

“It seemed that not only were cannabis users in general exercising quite a bit, but they were combining cannabis and exercise behavior at pretty high rates,” she said.

While it’s unclear why this association appears, the study does offer some clues.

Co-users frequently cited marijuana as increasing enjoyment of exercise and aiding in workout recovery. Less frequently, they said that it helped with motivation and physical performance.

According to Dr. Bryan, it’s possible that co-users were just having more fun.

“That can help people do it for longer as well. If you’re more motivated and you’re having more fun while you’re doing it, you’re enjoyment is higher. And we know from decades of exercise work that that’s going to be associated with more physical activity,” she said.

However, the study is far from demonstrating any clear causal relationship between marijuana use and increased physical activity.

Others have weighed in saying that the self-reported nature of the study makes it hard to draw any real conclusions.

“These results may be more reflective of the fact that marijuana is a more significant part of these respondents’ overall lifestyle.” Paul Armentano, the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) told Healthline.

“It would be interesting to know if many of these respondents would similarly report that marijuana provides increased enjoyment with other routine activities, as well, such as eating dinner, watching television, playing video games, etc,” he said. “My presumption is that a similar trend would emerge if these questions were asked.”

Other confounding factors, which the authors point out, include the fact that states where marijuana is legal are “without exception more physically active than the national average.”

In short, there’s plenty of work still to be done on the issue.

But from a public health perspective, if marijuana is in fact helping some users get up off the couch instead of lounge on it, then ultimately that’s something worth investigating.

Joel Minden, PhD, a clinical psychologist and the director of the Chico Center for Cognitive Behavior Therapy, worries that the short-term benefits of using cannabis while exercising may not be sustainable over a long period of time.

“[People] might say, ‘Well, smoking pot helps me go to the gym, it helps me check out a little bit or enjoy it more’… Certainly it’s not my place to say ‘don’t do that.’ I just think it’s really smart for people to recognize that there are some potential downsides associated with using pot,” Dr. Minden said.

Beyond the purely psychological and emotional elements of marijuana use, such as motivation and enjoyment during physical activity, there are also physical effects that users should consider.

Marijuana can affect coordination and reaction time, so users must consider their own safety and the safety of others around them if they choose to exercise while high.

“I think what we do need to know is depending on what kind of physical activity people are doing and given the balance control effects, the motor control effects, the cognitive effects of cannabis — how do we make sure that people are being safe? That’s really where my main concern would be,” Bryan said.

Minden cautioned that certain high-risk exercises, such as rock climbing or using barbells, wouldn’t be advisable to individuals using marijuana because of potential injury.

But both Minden and Bryan express a sort of pragmatism when it comes to what individuals choose to ingest when it comes to their exercise routines: For some that could be an energy drink — for others a joint.

“Whether people use a Red Bull or pop an edible before they work out, I’m just happy they are off the couch. I’ve been doing physical activity research for decades and it’s difficult to get people to exercise. So if it works for you, fantastic,” Bryan said.

In a new study from UC-Boulder, researchers found that people who used marijuana immediately before or after physical activity (co-users) exercised more often and for longer than those that didn’t use it.

The vast majority — more than 80 percent of respondents — endorsed using the drug during exercise.

Even after controlling for demographic factors like age and gender, co-users on average took part in 43 more minutes of aerobic exercise per week and 30 more minutes of anaerobic exercise, such as weightlifting.

According to self-reports, users frequently responded that marijuana helped with both enjoyment of physical activity and recovery.

However, due to the self-reported nature of the study, it’s unclear what conclusions can accurately be drawn.

It’s also unknown if marijuana can improve physical performance.

Experts warn that individuals need to be careful while working out under the effects of marijuana because of its effects on cognition, balance, and motor control.

It also has the potential to increase the risk of injury depending on the kind of exercise.

Nonetheless, researchers say that in some marijuana users, the drug could potentially serve as a beneficial tool to increase physical activity.