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Study finds weed users get more active than abstainers

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Step aside, harmful imagery of a couch potato stoner flattened into flapjack.

Cannabis use of all kinds correlates to increased light physical activity—like, say, hacky-sack, disc golf, yoga, or bedtime activities. Just follow the science.

A large, new study found cannabis use in adults correlates to increases in certain types of physical activity. And no amount of pot use increased sedentary behavior compared to a control group.

This research builds on previous studies debunking cannabis’ bad reputation for creating couch potatoes. 

researchers found that daily blazers had a 4% increased chance of light physical activity. 

Cannabis’ real impact on activity 

The recent study (Xue, 2024), published in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, offers the largest sample size looking into this question to date. It included 4,666 adults aged 18 to 59. 

To learn more, researchers in this study analyzed data from FitBit-type devices—wrist-worn accelerometers—that track physical activity levels 24/7. They also included data on self-reported cannabis use from the last 30 days. 

By comparing these two factors, they determined whether self-reported cannabis use correlates with increases or decreases in sedentary behavior, light physical activity, or moderate to vigorous activity. 

The researchers also controlled for factors that could muddy the results, like co-use of other drugs like alcohol, race and poverty, and medical factors. 

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Cannabis tied to more activity—not less

The results (both before and after adjustments) found recent cannabis use did not cause couch potato-ism. 

Scientists did not find an association between weed use and increases in daily sedentary time. Instead, researchers found that daily blazers had a 4% increased chance of light physical activity. 

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The results also showed no differences in sleep time or moderate to vigorous daily activity between those who used cannabis and those who didn’t.

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Age did shift the associations. When broken down into two groups—18-39 year olds, and 40-59 year olds—some differences stood out. 

Both groups of tokers moved more than average. But after adjusting for age, only the youths got moving—the 18-39 year olds. Still, ganja did not make the older group slack off. The 40-59 year-old tokers showed no differences in sedentary behavior or physical activity from the control group of abstainers of the same age. 

These results suggest that cannabis use may increase light physical activity for young adults, but have no significant effect on activity by mid-life. Regardless, there is no evidence here that cannabis will leave you stuck to your couch. 

Frequent cannabis users moved more than lightweights

Does Oregon have good Jack? You bet. Jack Herer from Midnight Fruit Co, Oregon. (Ryan Herron/Leafly)
An energetic Jack Herer from Midnight Fruit Co, Oregon. (Ryan Herron/Leafly)

Researchers also looked at whether participants puffed lightly, moderately, or tough.

None of the smokers—light, medium, or heavy—sat around more than the non-smokers. And get this—the frequent smokers went on more hikes than the occasional smokers. 

To repeat: the cannabis-using groups were not more sedentary than controls. Occasional cannabis use was more associated with sedentary time than those who used cannabis frequently.

The authors suggest this may reflect different motivations for cannabis use (such as frequent medical use vs occasional recreational use). It also might have to do with daily smokers better tolerating and incorporating cannabis than the occasional party puffer.

What’s your motivation?

While encouraging, this study did have a few limitations. 

For one thing, it relied on self-reported cannabis use which may introduce biases. It also didn’t include factors like the motivation for use. This factor might shift things, given that people sometimes use cannabis to treat conditions that limit physical activity—or sometimes as an aid for exercise. 

Reviewers on Leafly describe smoking a bowl, wanting to stretch, and get some gardening done. And good for them.

Background: A decades-old, pernicious myth of Reefer Laziness 

The anti-drug movement posits that using too much weed will leave you lazy and sedentary.

Perhaps you even remember this classic DARE ad, where weed flattens one girl into a couch. Even the family dog started talking trash in later ads. 

Thankfully the Xue, 2024 study is starting to get at reality.

We know that being sedentary is tied to a lot of negative health outcomes, including cancer, diabetes, and obesity. And in the US, most adults need to move around more each day. So, if cannabis use does lead to being sedentary, using it would be an added health risk. 

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There has been some evidence (Vancampfort, 2019) pointing to increases in sedentary behavior (Doggett, 2019) for teens using cannabis from ages 12-18. 

It suggests that cannabis-using teens spend more time on the internet, texting, or playing games. While this is much different than melting into an unrecognizable blob on the couch (as the DARE propaganda suggests), it does cause some reason for concern. Still, this evidence doesn’t take into account factors like mental health which could explain both early cannabis use and sedentary lifestyles. 

The good news—legalization causes teen use to go down; for a variety of reasons including requiring valid ID for purchase.

Adult studies have had more mixed findings. For example, one study (Vidot, 2017) found adult cannabis use correlated to less physical activity. But a longer, more recent study (Smith, 2021) found that cannabis use correlates to MORE physical activity.

Now, the biggest study so far suggests that cannabis does not correlate to being a lazy loser. If anything, it may help you get a little more activity in your day.

See you at the Frolf course. Fore!

Ten fun light activities to do high

Low angle view of a womans step as she walks on a road lined with beautiful colorful autumn trees with sunlight coming through the leaves.
(Gajus/Adobe Stock)
  • Go for a walk or hike
  • Get some chores done
  • Get out into the garden
  • Play kickball with the kids
  • Play four-square
  • Neighborhood litter clean-up
  • Play some hacky-sack
  • Hit the disc golf course
  • Yoga and stretching
  • Complete our list—type in your favorite light activity when lit in the comments below.

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