by Miranda on 19/10/2017 | Consumption

Does Cannabis Affect the Way We Walk?

Cannabis effects The current situation of the legalization of cannabis worldwide has been an important incentive behind the research effort on the bodily effects of cannabis. The turn to study its effects on the body's movement has come. Does cannabis affect our walking gait? Keep reading.


Much research about the bodily effects of cannabis is currently available and constantly being updated with newer findings. The current situation of the legalization of recreational and medical cannabis has been an important incentive behind the research effort. The way in which the phytocannabinoids in the cannabis plant affect the human body and its interaction with our endocannabinoid system have become an important subject of study. And now the turn for an aspect that has not yet been researched much has come. Does cannabis affect our walking gait and our balance? A study by an Australian university reveals its findings in this area.

We live in a time when much attention is being paid worldwide to the effects of cannabis due to its decriminalization or legalization in an increasing number of countries. The scientific community focuses its research on many aspects related to how cannabis affects the human body at the mental and physical levels, in order to determine its possible health benefits or risks.

A photograph of two feet in trainers balancing on a tightrope
More and more countries legalize or decriminalize cannabis (CC. Andrés Rodríguez)

Will You Recognize them by Their Walking Gait?

It seems that the way in which cannabis use might affect certain parts of our psychomotor system – and consequently our balance and our gait – has not been studied much so far. To address this, a group of Australian researchers published last September in the Drug and Alcohol Dependence magazine, a study that analyzes the relationship between cannabis use and people’s walking gait after consumption.

It has already been proven that cannabinoid receptors are located in the brain regions involved directly in the control of movement, more precisely in the basal ganglia, cerebral cortex and cerebellum. In addition, the regular use of cannabis has been related to structural and functional changes at the cerebral level.

For this reason, the main objective of this team – made up of researchers from different research centers and Australian universities – has been to investigate the effects of cannabis on regular cannabis users, in addition to studying how it affects the capacity to maintain balance and walking gait.

Study Methodology

To conduct this study, a total of 44 individuals – between the ages of 20 and 30 – were divided into two groups of 22 subjects. The first group consisted of individuals who did not have any history of illegal drug use, while the second group was comprised of individuals who had tried marijuana before, but no other substances.

A photograph of a walking stick figure painted on a road
Is our walking gait affected by cannabis use? CC. Bruce Aldridge)

The 44 members of the sample underwent a series of tests in order to analyze the effects of cannabinoids on the locomotor system: a screening test to confirm the presence of cannabis; a walking gait and balance test, by using a motion-capture system; and a clinical neurological examination of movement for each subject.

Conclusions

After studying the behavior of the participating users and non-users of cannabis when moving, researchers soon came to several conclusions. On the one hand, the behaviors they encountered confirmed some data they already had, and on the other, they provided some information unknown to them until then. According to the study there were hardly any differences between the two groups with respect to walking speed, balance and neurological parameters while walking.

However, it seems that cannabis affects regular users when walking in the following ways:

  • They have a greater and faster knee movement; cannabis users’ knees were 7% faster than those of non-users during the distance walked.
  • They tend to move their shoulders less; their shoulders posture is less flexible and more rigid.

The findings of this research – which contradict the results of previous studies – conclude that although cannabis use is associated with subtle changes in certain aspects of a person’s motor skills, they are so minimal that they are almost imperceptible at the clinical level.

A close-up photograph of a manicured bud of California Indica cannabis from Sensi Seeds
The study analyzes walking gait after cannabis use (CC. ashton)

In the words of Verity Pearson-Dennett, one of the study’s authors, “the changes in walking were small enough that a neurologist specializing in movement disorders was not able to detect changes in all of the cannabis users”.

What Previous Research Had Proven

In 2006, a study published in Neuropsycopharmacology concluded that the use of cannabis with high THC content (13%) causes deterioration of the executive function and the inhibitory motor control. It appears that the deficiencies exhibited by cannabis users over six hours after consumption, such as changes in balance, were more pronounced during the first two hours than after the following four, during which the effects were becoming less noticeable. Nonetheless, controlled studies with lower THC doses were recommended for more reliable results.

Two years later, in 2008, another study observed that there was a clear change in the corporeal stability and balance of the subjects when high THC doses were given to them. Although these studies seem to indicate that there is a relationship between taking a considerable dose of cannabis and its frequent use with the appearance of variations in movement, it should be noted that the 2006 sample was only comprised of 20 people between ages 19 and 29, fourteen men and six women.

A black and white close-up photograph of a person smoking a joint
The effects of cannabis on balance have been observed in few studies (CC. *FranJa)

Reservations About the Findings  

Due to the small size of the study we are presently dealing with as well as the one mentioned before, we cannot forget that there is a high margin of error with regard to the conclusions reached. The researchers themselves acknowledge the need for more studies and tests with a larger number of participants using different methods, to be able to determine without any doubt which processes and to what extent cannabis affects body movement. It is clear that there are still a few issues to be addressed.

 “Further research is required to investigate if the subtle gait changes observed in this population become more apparent with aging and increased cannabis use”, the study states.

Let’s not forget that science is not perfect and not always right at first. For this reason, the limitations of a study help the experts know what to do more in further research.

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