Studies shows that exercise can improve your memory, and now scientists know why. Turns it, it’s because of a system in the brain closely related to marijuana.
Published in October in the journal Hippocampus, the Brazilian-led study found that exercise-related improvements in memory were due to activation of a specific pathway in the brain responsible for the marijuana high – the CB1 receptor.
Blocking this receptor seemed to prevent the memory benefits observed in mice.
“In this study, treadmill running was able to improve spatial memory in mice. This effect was prevented by simultaneous treatment with the CB1 receptor antagonist, AM251, indicating that the endocannabinoid signaling is important to mediate the promnesic (memory enhancing) effect of exercise.”
While cannabinoids from marijuana are known to activate CB1 receptors, the body has its own set of cannabinoids. One of these is anandamide, which has similar effects as THC.
According to the authors, exercise has been shown to increase anandamide levels.
“Our results can be supported by several studies showing that exercise induces an increase in circulating levels of anandamide in addition to activate cannabinoid signaling.”
The study also found evidence that CB1 activity may work to enhance memory by promoting factors in cell growth of an area of the brain important for memory and learning – the hippocampus. The authors note that this finding is supported by previous research.
“The endocannabinoid signaling seems to be essential to a number of molecular and cellular events important for learning and memory.”
While the effects of exercise on the brain have been studied for decades, naturally occurring opioids (endorphins) were first thought to play a major role. However, researchers now believe it could be cannabinoids that underlie many of the neurological events in exercise, including what is known as the ‘runner’s high’.
The study was published ahead of print and received funding from CNPq and FAPEMIG