If you’ve been researching ways to alleviate marijuana withdrawal symptoms, multiple people and sources have probably told you to exercise. That’s because exercise is one of the most beneficial, non-pharmacologic interventions that can be employed during the quitting period.
Former heavy cannabis users in the Weedless community frequently report that exercise makes them feel better and makes quitting easier. 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 attempt (Brown, Ment Health Phys Act, 2010, Buchowski, PLoS One, 2011).
Why is this? 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 effect (Fuss, PNAS, 2015).
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 ligands (Sparling, Neuroreport, 2003; Loprinzi, Brain Sci, 2019).
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.
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Weedless.org is a free, web-based resource and community created by a team of healthcare professionals and researchers. We distill the facts about marijuana use and its effects into practical guidance for interested persons or for those who are thinking about or struggling to quit weed. Finding reliable, easy to understand information about marijuana should never be a struggle—that is why our core mission is to provide the most up to date information about marijuana use, abuse, addiction, and withdrawal. While we seek to empower individuals to have control over their use, we are not "anti-weed" and we support efforts to legalize adult marijuana use and study.