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Marijuana Use Linked To Increase In Light Physical Activity, Study Challenging ‘Lazy Stoner’ Stereotype Finds

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A new study into how recent cannabis use affects physical activity appears to disprove the long-held stereotype that marijuana makes people lazy, finding that young to midlife adults were neither more sedentary nor more intensely active after consuming cannabis—though recent use was associated with a “marginal increase” in light exercise.

“Our findings provide evidence against existing concerns that cannabis use independently promotes sedentary behavior and decreases physical activity,” researchers wrote, adding that “the stereotypical ‘lazy stoner’ archetype historically portrayed with chronic cannabis use does not acknowledge the diverse uses of cannabis today.”

The report, published this week in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, drew on data from Canada’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which, during its 2011–2012 and 2013–2014 cycles, included information from wrist-worn accelerometers that tracked participants’ physical activity. Participants, who were all between ages 18 and 59, also answered a Drug Use Questionnaire that asked about current and lifetime use of substances such as cannabis, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine.

Researchers described the findings, which drew on data from 4,666 adults—of which 658 (14.1 percent) reported using cannabis in the past 30 days—as “the largest cohort in which the relationship between cannabis use and physical activity has been studied.”

Results showed little differences in sleep or physical activity between people who did and did not use marijuana within the past month, according to the accelerometer data.

“No differences were found in the median daily awake versus asleep time, daily sedentary time, or daily [moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA)] time,” wrote authors from the University of Toronto and two Ontario hospitals.

In fact, daily time spent doing light physical activity (LPA) was marginally higher among recent cannabis users.

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“Median [interquartile range (IQR)] daily LPA time was greater in the recent cannabis use group,” the study says, though it notes the difference was slight, with a median of 102 minutes of light physical activity per day among those who used marijuana in the past month compared to 99 minutes per day among those who did not.

“With the rising prevalence of cannabis use, there have been concerns of its potential effects on physical activity levels,” the study concludes. “In this population-level analysis, recent cannabis use was not independently associated with daily sedentary time or MVPA, and it was associated with a marginally greater daily LPA time of unclear clinical significance.”

Participants in the study may not be representative of the general adult population, the study acknowledges. “First, more than half of the recent cannabis users in this study were 18–29 years, which may suggest selection bias toward younger and healthier people in the NHANES sample.”

The survey data also did not include respondents’ motivation for cannabis use, which the study says might include exercise, pain, anxiety, or sleep. Nor were participants asked about frequency of consumption or product formulation.

Authors said further research is needed “to examine if these findings are generalizable to specific subgroups using cannabis for chronic or neuropathic pain.”

The study comes on the heels of various other findings that challenge some widely held preconceptions about cannabis users. For example, a report last month concluded that there’s no association between habitual marijuana use and paranoia or decreased motivation. The research also found no evidence that marijuana consumption causes a hangover the next day.

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A 2022 study on marijuana and laziness, meanwhile, found no difference in apathy or reward-based behavior between people who used cannabis on at least a weekly basis and non-users. Frequent marijuana consumers, that study found, actually experienced more pleasure than those who abstained.

Separate research published in 2020 found that “compared to older adult nonusers, older adult cannabis users had lower [body mass index] at the beginning of an exercise intervention study, engaged in more weekly exercise days during the intervention, and were engaging in more exercise-related activities at the conclusion of the intervention.”

And a 2019 study found that people who use cannabis to elevate their workout tend to get a healthier amount of exercise. It also concluded that consuming before or after exercising improved the experience and aided in recovery.

A report published last December, meanwhile, examined neurocognitive effects in medical marijuana patients, finding that “prescribed medical cannabis may have minimal acute impact on cognitive function among patients with chronic health conditions.”

Another report, published in March in the journal Current Alzheimer Research, linked marijuana use to lower odds of subjective cognitive decline (SCD), with consumers and patients reporting less confusion and memory loss compared to non-users.

While the long-term effects of cannabis use are far from settled science, findings from those and other recent studies suggest some fears have been overblown.

A report published in April that drew on dispensary data, for instance, found that cancer patients reported being able to think more clearly when using medical marijuana. They also said it helped manage pain.

A separate study of teens and young adults at risk of developing psychotic disorders found that regular marijuana use over a two-year period did not trigger early onset of psychosis symptoms—contrary to the claims of prohibitionists who argue that cannabis causes mental illness. In fact, it was associated with modest improvements in cognitive functioning and reduced use of other medications.

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“CHR youth who continuously used cannabis had higher neurocognition and social functioning over time, and decreased medication usage, relative to non-users,” authors of that study wrote. “Surprisingly, clinical symptoms improved over time despite the medication decreases.”

A separate study published by the American Medical Association (AMA) in January that looked at data from more than 63 million health insurance beneficiaries found that there’s “no statistically significant increase” in psychosis-related diagnoses in states that have legalized marijuana compared to those that continue to criminalize cannabis.

Studies from 2018, meanwhile, found that marijuana may actually increase working memory and that cannabis use doesn’t actually change the structure of the brain.

And, contrary to then-President Trump’s claim that marijuana makes people “lose IQ points,” the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) says the results of two longitudinal studies “did not support a causal relationship between marijuana use and IQ loss.”

Research has shown that people who use cannabis can see declines in verbal ability and general knowledge but that “those who would use in the future already had lower scores on these measures than those who would not use in the future, and no predictable difference was found between twins when one used marijuana and one did not.”

“This suggests that observed IQ declines, at least across adolescence, may be caused by shared familial factors (e.g., genetics, family environment), not by marijuana use itself,” NIDA concluded.

Written by Ben Adlin for Marijuana Moment Featured image by Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

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