During your cessation journey, multiple people and sources have probably told you to exercise (The Guide included). That’s because exercise is one of the most beneficial, non-pharmacologic interventions that can be employed during the cessation period. Users may anecdotally report that exercise makes you feel good and can help clear your mind, and these sentiments are backed by clinical trials, too.
Exercise has a demonstrated benefit on symptoms of depression, anxiety, sleep, and appetite across a wide variety of addictions. For marijuana users in particular, regular exercise has been shown to decrease depressive symptoms, reduce cannabis consumption and cravings, and increase the percentage of days abstinent during a cessation attempt1,2
Why is this so? It all goes back to neurochemistry. You’ve likely heard of the concept of a “runner’s high”, and researchers have long sought to understand its biological underpinnings. Post-exercise euphoria has traditionally been attributed to the increased production of endorphins, which signal through opioid receptors in the body. Though this still may be true, in part, growing evidence suggests that the endocannabinoid system (ECS) is critically important in mediating this effect3.
If you recall, chronic cannabis use results in downregulation of cannabinoid receptors in the brain and, consequently, dampens signaling through the ECS. Exercise increases the production of the endogenous cannabinoid AEA and increases the sensitivity of cannabinoids receptors to their ligands4,5. These two effects collectively increase signaling through the ECS and may help mitigate the neurochemical alterations associated with chronic cannabis use and withdrawal.
If you haven’t already incorporated exercise into your routine, consider trying out new types of exercise to find something you find enjoyable. There’s lots of choices out there, and your brain may thank you.