The image of cannabis users as stoner couch potatoes, mainly focused on satisfying the munchies, may need a major update. Many people are making cannabis part of their exercise routine, according to a recent study. And it may even be motivating them to exercise more.

The study only looked at regular cannabis users in five of the 10 states where recreational cannabis use is now legal. It found that over 80 percent used cannabis shortly before or after exercising.

Marijuana users exercised about 43 minutes more each week than those who didn't partake.

When asked about their reasons, 78 percent of these regular users said that it boosted recovery; 70 percent said it increased their enjoyment of exercise; and 52 percent said it motivated them to exercise. Since each of these can be a barrier that prevents people from exercising, the study raises the intriguing possibility that cannabis can raise the likelihood that a person will engage in exercise and reap the benefits exercise brings to mind and body.

Researchers asked regular marijuana users if they used cannabis within an hour before or four hours after exercising. Use after exercise was more common, but two-thirds reported doing both. The study found that marijuana users exercised about 43 minutes more each week than those who didn't partake.

“There is a stereotype that cannabis use leads people to be lazy and couch-locked and not physically active, but these data suggest that this is not the case,” said senior author, Angela Bryan, a professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience and the Institute for Cognitive Science of the University of Colorado Boulder.

Dr, Bryan stresses that she is not recommending cannabis use as an aid to exercise: “The evidence is not there yet,” she said. “But I am also not convinced it is harmful.”

Cannabis may also help some people, particularly older ones, to exercise more by reducing pain and inflammation. “As we get older, exercise starts to hurt, and that is one reason older adults don't exercise as much,” Bryan said. “If cannabis could ease pain and inflammation, helping older adults to be more active that could be another benefit.”

The study appears in the open access journal Frontiers in Public Health.

With cannabis now legal for recreational use in 10 states and an additional 23 states allowing limited medical use, there's likely to be a lot be more research into how cannabis and exercise interact with each other. One such study is already underway at CU Boulder, comparing the activity level of older adults who use cannabis with those who do not.

Preliminary results of this separate study show that after starting out on a 16-week exercise program, the cannabis users exercised more than the non-users did.