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The runner's high: Is pot good for long distance running?

Runner''s high

(NaturalNews) Running and smoking pot might sound like two mutually exclusive activities, but marijuana use among runners has increased over the years. Several athletes claim that eating marijuana edibles beforehand actually enhances the running experience, calling into question whether cannabis is a performance-enhancing drug.

For years, scientists believed people experienced what is known as a "runner's high" because their bodies released endorphins, which mitigate pain and stimulate the brain's reward system. Recently, however, researchers realized that endorphins don't cross the blood–brain barrier.

Scientists now recognize that exercise also increases the production of a molecule that acts like a neurotransmitter known as anandamide, which has a structure similar to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive constituent of cannabis. Whenever this molecule crosses the blood–brain barrier, it activates cannabinoid receptors, which are the same ones activated whe THC is in the bloodstream.

High on the hill

Although recreational marijuana use is still illegal in most states, more and more athletes are using it to curb the boredom that usually accompanies long runs, as well as a pain reliever and anti-inflammatory medication following an intense workout.

Marijuana use and running may not seem complimentary on the surface, but advances in neurobiology suggest these two activities could be comrades in arms.

Dr. Johannes Fuss, a researcher at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, authored a study that, in his own words, "investigated the neurobiological mechanisms that mediate the emotional benefits after acute exercise, often termed as a runner's high."

"Some researchers argue that long distance running might have evolved in our ancestors when forests were replaced by open savannas in Africa. This land conversion allowed the chasing of prey by endurance running. Reduced sensation of pain and less anxiety through long-distance running would have been a benefit for running hunters," he added.

"When volunteers exercise for 30 minutes, the level of the endocannabinoid anandamide in their bloodstream goes up," Gregory Gerdeman, assistant professor of biology at Eckerd College, told The Guardian. "In one study, we found that the increase of feelings of wellbeing in patients was tightly correlated to levels of anandamide in their bloodstream. So we started talking about anandamide as a neurobiological reward for running. It makes you feel good... And anandamide acts like THC in many ways. It gets its name from ananda, which means bliss in sanskrit," he continued.

Run, Forrest, run!

No conclusive studies have been conducted examining the relationship between marijuana use and long-distance running. Marijuana can help ease mental and physical exhaustion, however, so it is not too much of a stretch to suggest it may be beneficial for long-distance running. As a result, debate wages as to whether marijuana qualifies as a performance-enhancing drug.

Although marijuana could complement running, Gerdeman cautions that it probably wouldn't be a good idea for people new to marijuana use or running to meld the two activities.

"It's conceivable that cannabis could benefit someone who is just starting an exercise routine," he told The Guardian. "[C]annabis use elevates the heart rate, so for someone who isn't used to exercising, it could make them lightheaded and have a spike in blood pressure. It could be dangerous for someone who is older with emergent cardiovascular disease."

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