Exercise helps production of "cannabis-like" molecules in the body, study finds

"Muscle-strengthening" exercise can help the body produce more "cannabis-like" substances

Person performing squats using a resistance band
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It's no secret that exercise is excellent from a health preservation point of view, but according to new research, it can also reduce inflammation by altering the gut microbiome and increasing the levels of endocannabinoids, a "cannabis-like" substance produced in the body.

As explained in a research paper (opens in new tab) (via ScienceDaily (opens in new tab)) published in Gut Microbes in November 2021, researchers University of Nottingham tested 78 people with arthritis. Thirty-eight people carried out 15 minutes of "muscle-strengthening" exercises every day for six weeks, while the other 40 did nothing. "Nothing" in this case means no exercising.

Researchers found that the group who exercised not only felt less pain by the end of the experiment but also had lower levels of cytokines and increased levels of endocannabinoid. The former is a small protein that is secreted from immune cells and certain other cell types that promote inflammation, while the latter are molecules produced by the body that has a similar effect to cannabinoids.

Interestingly, these beneficial effects were achieved by the body changing the structure of the gut microbiome. As ScienceDaily explains, "The increase in endocannabinoids was strongly linked to changes in the gut microbes and anti-inflammatory substances produced by gut microbes called SCFAS. In fact, at least one-third of the anti-inflammatory effects of the gut microbiome was due to the increase in endocannabinoids."

"As interest in CBD oil and other supplements increases, it is important to know that simple lifestyle interventions like exercise can modulate endocannabinoid", added Doctor Amrita Vijay, first author of the paper.

Person performing a kettlebell goblet squat in a gym

Exercise can improve overall health and can help people sleep better

(Image credit: Getty Images)

We are just starting to understand what effect the gut has on our body and mental health. Much research has been conducted in the field, and mounting evidence suggests that looking after your guts is beneficial, not just because it helps bowel movement.

That said, most research looking into the subject is relatively new. Long term studies are yet to be conducted, and without these, we can't conclusively say just how significant the effect of the gut microbiome is on the body.

One thing is for sure: exercise can help you lose weight and build muscle as long as you're consistent in your efforts and out the work in. If it also helps lower inflammation via altering the gut microbiome, all the better.

Matt Kollat
Matt Kollat

Matt is T3's Fitness Editor and covers everything from smart fitness tech to running and workout shoes, home gym equipment, exercise how-tos, nutrition, cycling, and more. His byline appears in several publications, including Techradar (opens in new tab) and Fit&Well (opens in new tab), and he collaborated with other fitness content creators such as Garage Gym Reviews (opens in new tab).