Exercise To Kick Pot Habit: Vanderbilt Study

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Vanderbilt researchers are studying heavy users of marijuana to help understand what exercise does for the brain, contributing to a field of research that uses exercise as a modality for prevention and treatment.

Participants saw a significant decrease in their cravings and daily use after just a few sessions of running on the treadmill, according to a Vanderbilt study published today in the journal PLoS ONE. It is the first study to demonstrate that exercise can reduce cannabis use in persons who don't want to stop

Twelve study participants — eight female and four male — were selected because they met the criteria for being 'cannabis-dependent' and did not want treatment to help them stop smoking pot

During the study their craving for and use of cannabis was cut by more than 50 percent after exercising on a treadmill for 10 30-minute sessions over a two-week period.

“This is 10 sessions but it actually went down after the first five. The maximum reduction was already there within the first week,” said co-author Peter Martin, M.D., director of the Vanderbilt Addiction Center.

“There is no way currently to treat cannabis dependence with medication, so this is big considering the magnitude of the cannabis problem in the U.S. And this is the first time it has ever been demonstrated that exercise can reduce cannabis use in people who don't want to stop.”

Cannabis abuse or dependence and complications have increased in all age groups in the past decade in the United States.

In 2009, approximately 16.7 million Americans age 12 or older reported cannabis use in the previous month and 6.1 million used the drug on 20 or more days per month, the authors wrote.

Treatment admissions for cannabis dependence have risen from 7 percent of total addiction treatment admissions in 1998 to 16 percent by 2009.

Co-author Mac Buchowski, Ph.D., director of the Vanderbilt Energy Balance Laboratory, said the importance of this study and future studies will only continue to grow with the new knowledge of the role of physical activity in health and disease.

“It opens up exercise as a modality in prevention and treatment of, at least, marijuana abuse. And it becomes a huge issue with medical marijuana now available in some states,” he said. “What looks like an innocent, recreational habit could become a disease that has to be treated.”

Martin sees the study results as the beginning of an important area of research to better understand brain mechanisms of exercise in addiction.

“It shows that exercise can really change the way the brain works and the way the brain responds to the world around us,” he said. “And this is vital to health and has implications for all of medicine.”

Study participants, who reported they smoke on average 5.9 joints per day, came to Vanderbilt five times a week for two weeks to run on the treadmill. Buchowski and his co-workers measured the amount of exercise needed for each individual to achieve 60-70 percent of maximum heart rate, creating a personalized exercise treadmill program for each participant.

Participants were shown pictures of a cannabis-use related stimuli before and after each exercise session and then asked to rank their cravings according to the cannabis craving scale. They also documented cannabis use, which reduced to an average of 2.8 joints per day during the exercise portion of the study.

Martin said it is important to repeat the findings in a much larger study, in a randomized and controlled manner. The study results also should prompt further research into understanding what exercise does for the brain, he added.

“Mental and physical health in general could be improved. Unfortunately, young people who smoke cannabis often develop panic attacks, and may develop to psychosis or mood disorders,” Martin said.

“Back in the 1960s and 70s people used to say that cannabis is not particularly unhealthy. Well, there have been data coming out over the last five years that have demonstrated pretty conclusively that cannabis smoking may be a predisposing factor for developing psychosis.”

Vanderbilt co-investigators for this study are Evonne Charboneau, M.D., research assistant professor of Psychiatry; Sohee Park, Ph.D., professor of Psychology; Mary Dietrich, Ph.D., research associate professor of Psychiatry and Nursing; Ronald Cowan, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of Psychiatry; and Natalie Meade, study coordinator.

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Members Opinions:
March 04, 2011 at 6:41pm
No one has died from smoking cannibis yet we spend billions of dollars to lock up people who use this plant. Meanwhile many millions of people die from alcohol , tobacco use and you have to wonder what our priorities in this drug "war" are.
March 05, 2011 at 10:43am
I agree with blooeyes. They need to be studying how to get people off alcohol and meth.
March 05, 2011 at 11:25am
I think these folks are on to something and it will work for other drugs, too. My friend was a heavy drinker and he used endurance sports to help quit drinking over 10 years ago. He said idle time was one of the biggest contributing factors to his drinking. He started exercising a little every day. Before long he was reading about fitness, healthy diets and such and it wasn’t too long before he had changed his whole lifestyle.

Maybe the judges in Woodbury should select a group of repeat DUI and drug offenders whom we are always reading about in the Courier and give them an additional sentence of exercise, maybe they could have a group run 5 days a week, then after three months or so enter them into a race of maybe 10K in length. It wouldn’t cost too much and if it changes a life… At any rate, they would be trying something different, because if the reports in the Courier tell us anything they tell us that what we are currently doing isn’t working.
March 05, 2011 at 2:27pm

March 05, 2011 at 5:27pm
bh123424 I think you may be on to something there. I don't think we can force anyone to exercise but I do believe boredom is one of the biggest contributing factors in substance abuse. Kids involved in etracurricular activities are less likely to get into drugs and alcohol. Same for adults.
March 06, 2011 at 9:24am
These comments make me so sad. I understand that marijuana is not physically addictive like alcohol and meth, but it IS a gateway drug as is tobacco. Do not tell me smoking pot does not "hurt you". I have witnessed too many promising young minds full of ambition and potential throw their futures away because of marijuana. I have seen, first hand, the effects it has on families. Please do not glorify a horrible addiction. Please do not make light of a problem ruining the lives of so many children.
March 06, 2011 at 10:31am
miss nancy on romper room in the sixties told us all about the importance of a "good do-bee".alas she was ahead of her time.everyone knows no one wants a "long run" in their doobie.it is considered by most to be quite wasteful.and i might add,not the kind of "wasted" they are looking for.perhaps this exercise therapy would be better served on the ADDICTS who daily abuse the PERNICIOUS drugs such as methamphetamine and crack cocaine,and are truly detriments to society. never heard of anyone undertaking a violent crime spree after "burning one". however the airways seem to be full of stories of the crime and violence that the tweakers and crackheads seem to perpetrate on a daily basis.some states allow cannabis use as medicine for glaucoma and cancer patients,a LEGITIMATE,STATE SANCTIONED USE. and i might add just to P.O. the good old boys,the most DANGEROUS DRUG IN THE U.S. is good old ALKY-HALL,(alcohol)(ETOH)(booze).Drunk drivers are just as deadly as tweakers and crackheads. IN THEIR OWN SPECIAL WAY.let THEM run on the treadmill instead of the road.and please do not get me started on the EVILS and DISEASES caused by TOBACCO and its users,put them on the treadmill at once.oh yeah one last thing to say here....."FAR OUT,..MAN!"
March 06, 2011 at 1:07pm
I once worked out of an office in Brentwood and we often ate at a restaurant named Mama Mias. This restaurant was off of Harding Road close to I-65. One day after lunch, one of my co-workers took us across the street from the restaurant and into someone’s back yard. The man who lived there had built a small golf course in his tiny back yard. The story was the person who lived there had a drinking problem and wanted to quit. His father told him that he needed to come up with a project that he could work on and use his time on the project instead of drinking. He went on to have an invitation only golf event and it was a big deal to get an invitation.

Obliviously, the person with the problem has to want to quit and there are lots of other factors to consider.
I think exercise and fitness works because fitness and addiction are pretty much mutually exclusive.
March 06, 2011 at 9:50pm
I agree with you choateo. These comments really make me sad also. I have seen what smoking pot does to family's and I can't believe anyone can honestly say that it does not hurt you. It amazes me how so many ppl actually think smoking pot is ok.
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