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Studying the impacts of combining cannabis and exercise

University of Colorado Boulder launched SPACE, the Study on Physical Activity and Cannabis Effects.

DENVER — The steps to finding balance in life can be found in the rhythmic cadence of a long run for people across Colorado. For Josiah Hesse, he prefers it in a truly Colorado way.

"I never run without cannabis," Hesse said.

Hesse runs routinely in and around Cheesman Park in Denver. But, he said running never used to be a part of his life.

"I couldn't imagine running a mile 10 years ago," Hesse said. "I was drinking too much. I was using cocaine. I was chain smoking cigarettes and I was eating bad food."

He decided to start running because Hesse said he was struggling in life.

"I read that it was helpful with depression and anxiety," Hesse said.

But, at first, he was struggling to start. Running was hard, he said.

"I tried it out a couple times and it was painful. It was boring, didn't really care for it," Hesse said. "I was pudgy. I was soft, just kind of weak and tired."

Then, Hesse tried stepping – stoned.

"For me, discovering that very specific dose of 10-to-20 milligrams of THC was a complete game-changer," Hesse said. "It made the experience easy, fun, just delightful."

He said eating a marijuana edible gives him more euphoria and less pain. Ten years later, Hesse now runs races from half-marathons to 50Ks.

"That led to entering races and meeting other runners and then I discovered I was far from the only one," Hesse said.

He met so many people, Hesse wrote a book about it called Runner's High.

"Research has shown that after about 30 minutes of running at 70% heart rate, anandamide is released into the brain, into the body and this reduces pain and increases joy," Hesse said.

Scientifically, Hesse said the phenomenon known as the natural "runner's high" comes after a high level of physical exertion. But, he said, that's not always attainable for some especially at the beginning of running routinely.

"If you can change your relationship to the struggle of the body when you’re running or playing basketball, or skiing, it’s a completely different endeavor," Hesse said.

He said using cannabis before running changes everything.

"THC and other cannabinoids will jumpstart that system. Get it happening a lot quicker and more efficiently. So, people can experience the natural runner's high much faster," Hesse said.

Books and stories are one thing. But, what about the science?

"That's what we're trying to figure out whether cannabis has a causal effect on exercise engagement," Laurel Gibson, said.

Gibson is a graduate student at the University of Colorado Boulder. She has launched a research project called SPACE -- Study on Physical Activity and Cannabis Effects.

"There have been no human studies to date on the effects of legal market cannabis products on the experience of exercise," Gibson said.

She wants to provide people with actual data on the combination of exercise and cannabis.

"It's mostly anecdotal reports of people being like, oh, I tried this one time and it was great. Why don't you try it? And, there's no really scientific evidence that they're going off of," Gibson said.

Yet, Gibson said, more and more marijuana dispensaries are opening across the nation.

"When you go into a dispensary, what are you most likely to pick up? What is the strength of that product, the THC, or the CBD profile of that product. So, we're really curious to see how what's readily available and commonly used is going to affect exercise," Gibson said.

She is having experienced cannabis users come into the lab to submit some bloodwork and run on a treadmill first sober and then not. Gibson will have them answer questions while exercising about their experience.

"So, we’re looking at things like pain, enjoyment, motivation and time perception," Gibson said.

She is looking for more participants for the study. If you want to find out more, click here.

Gibson hopes that her work can lead to more research on the impacts of retail cannabis on the general public.

"People need data-driven facts in order to make informed decisions and there’s just not that much out there right now on how cannabis might affect exercise," Gibson said.

Hesse was one of the early participants.

"It's wonderful. It's groundbreaking. It's exciting. But, it's also well overdue," Hesse said.

He calls it – the next steps.

"I think the study that's going on in CU Boulder is gong to be a stepping stone to a whole lot more research and a whole lot more debate around this topic," Hesse said.

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