How Does Cannabis Affect Energy Levels?
Have you ever bought a cannabis product that promised “energizing” effects on its label? There’s some science behind why a product may have an energizing effect, but it may not be what you think. We spoke with Ethos-Philadelphia pharmacist Andy Atterbury, PharmD, to find out more about what we know about cannabis and energy — and what may be myth.
Clearing up the confusion around cannabis and energy
Throughout the Prohibition era, research on cannabis was virtually non-existent. Even now, research into exactly how cannabis impacts energy is scant. So, people have largely been left with anecdotal evidence about what to expect when consuming cannabis, its energizing effects included.
These anecdotal examples may be helpful in guiding you to choose the right product, but they aren’t on the same level as scientific research, leaving room for inconsistencies and conjectures in four major ways:
#1: The sativa/indica myth remains prominent
One of the most common refrains is that sativa-dominant cultivars are energizing, while indica-dominant cultivars are relaxing. Research has concluded that this is an oversimplification of how cannabis affects energy: It’s nowhere near a guarantee that a sativa-dominant cultivar will be energizing. However, this canna-myth is still a common refrain among experienced and newcomers alike.
Want to learn more about different cannabis species? Read our guide on sativa, indica, and hybrid cannabis plants.
For example, a common top strain for energy is Durban Poison, a landrace sativa from the port city of Durban, South Africa. Conversely, the pure indica strain Hindu Kush is often cited as a top choice for sedating effects. But then what of sativa-dominant strains like Blue Dream, which are reportedly so relaxing the name even evokes feelings of sleepiness? The “sativas are energizing, indicas are sedating” rule is far from precise science.
#2: Product type and route of administration matters
The cannabis product type you buy and how you consume it influences how you’ll feel. Inhaling cannabis flower generally offers a near-instant onset of effects because phytocannabinoids quickly enter your bloodstream through your lung membranes. That will elicit a different response than eating a cannabis-infused edible, for example, which takes longer to have an effect because it needs to be metabolized by your digestive system first. One product type might leave you feeling energized, while another could leave you feeling couch-locked.
#3: The placebo effect plays a role
It’s not impossible that the pep in your step comes from your mindset rather than your grinder. What you’re told about a certain cultivar or cannabis product, including the marketing copy on the package, can inform your expectations around cannabis and alter your perception of its effects. If you purchase a cultivar expecting it to be energizing and uplifting, you may well be primed to have that experience.
#4: Cannabis experiences are highly individualized
When considering the anecdotal effects of any given cultivar or cannabis product on energy (or any other feeling or experience, for that matter), it’s important to remember that the cannabis consumption experience is highly subjective, individualized, and context-dependent. In other words, just because your friend consumed Durban Poison and felt motivated to clean their house doesn’t mean you won’t consume the same cultivar and feel a strong urge to take a nap instead.
How does cannabis influence energy levels?
With the four common assumptions around cannabis and energy clarified, you may be left wondering how, if at all, cannabis influences energy levels. The answer lies within your endocannabinoid system (ECS). Here’s what we know.
How the endocannabinoid system influences energy
The ECS is a series of receptors and chemicals that serve to regulate a wide range of bodily functions throughout the central nervous system and immune system. When phytocannabinoids interact with the CB1 and CB2 receptors of the ECS, they can influence a number of processes that relate to how people perceive their own energy levels. These functions include:
- Appetite and metabolism: Ever hear of the munchies? That phenomenon is caused by the way phytocannabinoids interact with the ECS, stimulating the production of the hormone ghrelin and certain neurotransmitters associated with eating. For consumers who typically don’t eat enough, an increased appetite and food intake could lead to more energy.
- Mood: Cannabis is often mentioned alongside anxiety and depression because of its ability to stimulate neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which are linked to mood disorders. If a cannabis product impacts neurotransmitter production, it’s likely you may perceive a change in your energy levels. Not only can cannabinoids like THC and CBD influence neurotransmitters, but so can terpenes like limonene that are present in cannabis.
- Sensory perception: Cannabis, and particularly delta-9 THC, heightens sensory perception1. This is why too much THC can even feel overwhelming or prompt feelings of panic at times. However, increased sensory perception may also translate to feelings of invigorated energy, even if there is no reason physically that you feel energetic.
- Motivation: Cannabis and motivation are closely intertwined2, also through the release of neurotransmitters like the reward center chemical dopamine. Lack of motivation may be perceived as a lack of energy, while a motivating experience might lead you to report they experienced an energy boost.
In each of these cases, the regulation of energy falls more on the mental and emotional side of the equation than the physical. However, that doesn’t make cannabis’s impact on energy any less real – it just makes it more nuanced than conventional wisdom would have you believe.
What about the entourage effect and energy?
If the ECS sounds complicated, the entourage effect takes things to the next level. The entourage effect is a term that describes the way in which phytocannabinoids and terpenes interact with one another to augment or enhance one another’s effects. Researchers know that the entourage effect exists, but little is known about precisely how it works — only that different combinations of compounds can elicit vastly different effects.
When it comes to energy, this can have some interesting results. For example, the terpene limonene is commonly associated with energizing experiences, both within and outside the context of cannabis. This common citrus terpene is prevalent in many cultivars, and it’s also often associated with feelings of refreshment and invigoration, which can be linked to its ability to regulate dopamine production and reduce stress3.
When present with other stress alleviating terpenes and phytocannabinoids, such as the terpenes myrcene and beta caryophyllene or the phytocannabinoid Cannabidiol (CBD), these effects may be enhanced even further and experienced as an uplifting or energetic high.
This is another reason to pay less attention to the indica/sativa distinction when looking for energizing cannabis products. An indica-dominant hybrid with the right combination of compounds could elicit effects that are more closely associated with sativas and energy. With the entourage effect in play, it becomes even more clear that the overall phytocannabinoid and terpene profile of your chosen product is what counts, not simply the genetics of the parent plants.
Other ingredients found in some cannabis products for energy
Some cannabis products designed for an energy boost include other ingredients known for similar effects. Here’s a look at some of what you might find on dispensary shelves.
If you’ve ever had a cup of coffee or black tea, then you’re likely familiar with caffeine’s energizing effects. This natural stimulant typically kicks in within a few minutes after consumption, and its effects can linger for hours. When the effects of caffeine wane, you may feel a bit inattentive or groggy.
Products combining caffeine and cannabis are gaining steam. Some cannabis products marketed for energy, including drinks and tablets that are swallowed, contain as much caffeine as a cup of coffee.
Taurine is an amino acid and well-known ingredient in non-cannabis energy drinks, now making its way into the infused beverage space as well. Although taurine is used in energy drinks because of its stimulating effects, it’s not actually a stimulant like caffeine. Instead, taurine activates gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors, which should interestingly have a calming effect. Despite taurine’s reputation as an energy enhancer, there is little evidence to suggest it provides an energy boost – much of that credit might go to caffeine, which is included in many beverages alongside taurine.
B vitamins, particularly vitamins B6 and B12, are useful for energy production. B12 is essential in the production of red blood cells, which carry oxygen through your cardiovascular system. Additionally, B12 is responsible for breaking down fats and proteins to convert them into energy. Similarly, B6 converts proteins and fats into glucose, which can support prolonged energy exertion.
How to find the right cannabis product for energy
The way cannabis affects energy is a lot more complicated than just choosing a sativa dominant product. Determining if a cannabis product is energizing involves a bit of education, closely reading product test results, and trying products to see what works best for you. At Ethos, our associates stand ready to help you make the best decision if you want to try cannabis for its energizing effects.
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