Exercise activates cannabis-like substances to help fight chronic inflammation

We’ve all heard exercise is good for your health, but new research suggests exercise helps in lowering pain levels similar to when you take medical marijuana. While you’re not exactly getting high from running a 5K, your body produces gut microbes called SCFAS that activate the release of cannabis-like substances known as endocannabinoids.

Endocannabinoids help with lowering pain levels by reducing inflammation, scientists say.

Previous research showed that one benefit of exercise is decreasing chronic inflammation, which lowers the risk of developing cancer, arthritis, and heart disease. The current demonstrates that by activating endocannabinoids in the body, exercise helped lower inflammation and reduce the pain from people with arthritis.

Researchers studied the effects of exercise on 78 people with arthritis. One group did 15 minutes of muscle-strengthening exercises everyday for 6 weeks while a second group did not exercise at all. Results showed that people who did exercise reported lower pain levels and produced more gut microbes called SCFAS involved in anti-inflammatory effects. Specifically, these gut microbes were involved in lowering inflammatory proteins and activating endocannabinoids.

At least one-third of the anti-inflammatory effects from the gut microbiome came from the increase in endocannabinoids.

“Our study clearly shows that exercise increases the body’s own cannabis-type substances. Which can have a positive impact on many conditions. As interest in cannabidiol oil and other supplements increases, it is important to know that simple lifestyle interventions like exercise can modulate endocannabinoids,” says Amrita Vijay, a Research Fellow in the School of Medicine and first author of the paper in a university release.

The study is published in the journal Gut Microbes.


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About the Author

Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor’s of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women’s health.

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