Study Finds Exercise Reduces Inflammation, Increases Endocannabinoids


Many talk about the rush, even high, that they experience during and following a rousing round of exercise. However, a study seems to substantiate the euphoria associated with working out, finding that exercise helps to reduce pain and inflammation while also increasing the body’s “cannabis-like” substances, or endocannabinoids.

Endocannabinoids such as anandamide (AEA), 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), N-palmitoylethanolamine (PEA) and N-oleoylethanolamine (OEA) elicit cell signaling, stimulated through exercise.

The study was led by a group of scientists from the School of Medicine at the University of Nottingham and published in the journal Gut Microbiomes. It notes, “Specifically, exercise has been shown in both animal model and human studies to increase the relative abundance of butyrate-producing microbes and thereby increase the production of butyrate, a short chain fatty acid with systemic anti-inflammatory benefits.” 

Though, according to a news release from the University of Nottingham, “little” is historically known about how exactly it reduces inflammation.

The study was conducted, examining 78 people with arthritis. Among those participating, 38 did 15 minutes of muscle strengthening exercise intervention every day over the course of six weeks, while the rest did not.

The results found that those who added exercise to their routines had reduced pain and lower levels of inflammatory substances, or cytokines. They also had more gut microbes, which produce anti-inflammatory substances, along with higher levels of endocannabinoids, or molecules similar to the cannabinoids produced by cannabis, but instead, they are produced by the body.

“The increase in endocannabinoids was strongly linked to changes in the gut microbes and anti-inflammatory substances produced by gut microbes called SCFAs,” the University of Nottingham explained. “In fact, at least one-third of the anti-inflammatory effects of the gut microbiome was due to the increase in endocannabinoids.”

Our bodies have an endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is a complex cell-signaling system that plays a role in regulating a range of functions and processes, including sleep, mood, appetite, memory, and reproduction and fertility. It exists and is active in a person’s body, whether or not they use cannabis. 

People have endocannabinoid receptors throughout their bodies, which bind to cannabinoids and endocannabinoids and signal to the ECS that it must take action. The two main endocannabinoid receptors are CB1 receptors, which are mostly found in the central nervous system, and CB2 receptors, mostly found in the peripheral nervous system and immune cells.

It’s a complicated system that researchers and experts are continuing to look further into, though we have found that the ECS is linked to appetite and digestion, metabolism, chronic pain, inflammation, mood, motor control, sleep, stress and more.

The functions all contribute to homeostasis, or the stability of a body’s internal environment. Many experts believe that maintaining that homeostasis is the primary role of the ECS.

THC binds to the receptors, just like endocannabinoids, and it can bind to both CB1 and CB2 receptors. The conversation around CBD is less clear, as it does interact with the ECS, but it doesn’t bind to CB1 or CB2 receptors in the way THC does.

The results of the study suggest that the anti-inflammatory effects of those microbes are mediated in part by the endocannabinoid system, according to the researchers. It appears based on the data that the exercise intervention promoted those changes by affecting the gut microbiome, according to the university. They also indicated that it could help to treat conditions such as heart disease and arthritis.

Dr. Amrita Vijay is a research fellow in the School of Medicine for Nottingham and the first author of the paper. She expanded further on the findings:

“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.”

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