Fads come and go in the sports and fitness industry, there's one compound that's made a substantial presence in the space and is only gaining more popularity, cannabidiol (CBD).
While clinical trials are still needed to determine the efficacy of this cannabis-derived substance for sports, many professional and amateur athletes alike speak highly of CBD oil for supporting their workout recovery, mental focus, and healthy stress levels.
We've done a deep dive into what the research has to say about CBD for muscle recovery and sports performance. If you're someone who's looking for ways to maximize athletic performance, this article on the science of delayed onset muscle soreness and CBD's potential sports benefits is worth a read.
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness: Why We Feel Sore After Exercise
Before we delve into CBD for muscle recovery and rest, let's take a look at why we feel sore in the first place. It doesn't matter if you're a professional athlete or someone who is just starting their fitness journey, if you've trained hard enough, you can't escape the muscle pain.
Muscle soreness after an intense workout routine is a direct result of the muscle fibers undergoing a repair process to build back stronger muscles to withstand the stress you put them under.
This phenomenon is known as delayed onset muscle soreness—DOMS for short. DOMS sets in about six to eight hours after physical activity and can last for up to two days.
During this period, the muscle pain that is experienced is a result of muscle inflammation. Since muscle fibers undergo microscopic damage during strenuous exercise, the body undergoes post-workout inflammation to start the repair process.
If your sore muscles persist longer than two days without significant improvements in pain, you may want to check with your physiotherapist to ensure you didn't tear any muscles or ligaments.
What Does The Research Say About CBD And Inflammation?
While inflammation is a healthy response—a normal part of our immune system for fighting off infection and aiding in recovery—chronic inflammation can lead to pain, discomfort, and chronic disease.
CBD is a non-intoxicating chemical compound found in cannabis plants that have been observed to have anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects in pre-clinical trials.
One of the ways that CBD may have these benefits is through its ability to suppress cytokines that trigger the inflammatory response .
In animal studies, CBD was able to reduce inflammation by obstructing T-cell proliferation and supporting T-cell apoptosis, which is essential processes in reducing muscle inflammation .
Why Do Athletes Love CBD?
Athletes are under a lot of pressure to perform their best under extremely stressful circumstances. Only about 30% of an athlete's success happens at games, matches, or competition, the rest of the work happens in their strenuous training routines and daily lifestyle habits.
CBD oil is a naturally-derived compound from cannabis plants that isn't on the list of banned substances according to the World Anti Doping Agency, and many professional athletes claim the benefits of CBD help them to perform their best.
1. Supports Healthy Stress Levels
It's no secret that athletes undergo situations of immense stress, being under constant pressure to perform at their peak and improve.
To support healthy stress levels, many athletes take CBD in order to relax and alleviate their mental health. In fact, early-stage clinical studies have indicated that CBD may act as an anxiolytic within stress-inducing circumstances, helping athletes deal with their everyday stress and anxiety levels .
2. Support Focus & Flow State
If there's one thing that's a must to reach elite athletes status, it's consistency.
Athletes have to remain consistent, whether it's with their fitness routines or maintaining their body weight, and CBD has been said to help athletes get in the right mindset.
This 'right mindset' sought by athletes is known as the flow state—a mental state of being which harnesses energized focus and full involvement in an activity. The flow state allows certain parts of the brain to switch off, making way for focus on the task at hand, facilitating athletes in their workout routine and sport.
According to researcher Steven Kotler, there are five neurotransmitters related to the flow state, two of which—anandamide and serotonin—are greatly impacted by the presence of CBD .
With CBD in the endocannabinoid system, enzymes responsible breaking down of anandamide (aka the 'bliss molecule') are blocked, increasing its levels. CBD's interaction with serotonin results in it acting as an agonist, allowing CBD to mimic serotonin's calming effect. Hence, the calm needed for the flow state is achieved with CBD ingestion.
3. Support Muscle Recovery & Mobility
Professional athletes need to undergo serious muscle recovery to avoid exercise-induced muscle damage.
It's no surprise then that the fitness world has started to take notice of CBD—including big names like Nate Diaz and Lolo Jones—both of whom use CBD to relax and help their bodies recover from hours of strenuous exercise.
Delayed onset muscle soreness is not only uncomfortable, but it puts a lot of strain on your mental and physical activity, and can keep you away from the gym. CBD oil is often used to reduce inflammation and ease post workout pain, allowing for a faster recovery of muscle fibers.
And since 2017, after the world anti-doping agency lifted the CBD ban, hemp-derived CBD appears to be a go to choice for most athletes due to its seemingly many benefits such as relieving pain levels.
Is CBD Safe To Use?
CBD is well-tolerated and safe to use in most circumstances. However, CBD has the potential to interact negatively with other medication, such as blood thinners.
It's also not advised for pregnant or breast feeding women. If you have an underlying medical condition or are on medications, you should get your doctor's advice before using CBD for muscle recovery or any other potential wellness benefit.
The biggest danger with CBD oil comes from sourcing quality products. There are a lot of products online and in-stores that claim to help with muscle recovery, but fail to deliver on these promises.
In the best case scenario, there isn't enough CBD for its anti inflammatory support—and on the dangerous end of the spectrum, you could be buying an adulterated product with illegal amounts of THC or other dangerous compounds.
Always shop with reputable CBD brands that only source their CBD oil from Farm Bill-compliant hemp plants and carry a third-party certificate of analysis to verify the products contents.
What Are The Side Effects Of CBD?
While good quality CBD products are considered safe, it's important to discuss its potential side-effects. Although it's uncommon, some people may experience adverse effects when taking CBD, including:
- Dry mouth
- Reduced appetite
Most of the adverse effects of CBD use is associated with poor dosing and thankfully, these side effects are temporary.
Everyone's ideal dose will depend on a variety of factors such as their body's endocannabinoid system, lifestyle, and genetics. To avoid experiencing the side effects, work your way up to high doses slowly to allow your endocannabinoid system to adjust to the supplemented cannabinoids.
How Athletes Use CBD For Muscle Recovery
CBD is a versatile ingredient—you can find it as sublingual CBD oil, hemp tea, vapes, gummies, capsules, and lotions that can all help to support muscle recovery in their own unique ways.
The best way to use CBD for muscle recovery will come down to personal preference. Let's outline the most popular methods below.
Well, here are your options:
- Ingestion (oils, capsules, edibles)
One way to take CBD is by ingesting it, that is, by letting it enter your system orally. You can take CBD in the form of capsules, CBD oil, gummies, or even in tea.
Edible CBD is the most accessible, smoke-free option, but it has a downside called the first-pass effect. It's when the digestive system and liver break down 30–50% of the active compound before it reaches the bloodstream to exert its effects.
It's not the most bioavailable option, which means you may need higher doses of CBD when eating it (compared to smoking it) to reach the desired effects. When shopping for CBD edibles, make sure there's an adequate amount of CBD. Most of the studies investigating the anti-inflammatory support use higher doses of CBD (40 MG+), so make sure the product you're looking at can reach these doses.
- Smoke (pre rolls & vape)
Another way to take CBD is through smoke in the form of CBD joints, vapes, or inhaling CBD cartridges. The main benefit of smoking CBD is the speed with which it starts to act—typically within minutes.
However, there is a downside to smoking CBD: carcinogens. Since
CBD is directly extracted from the cannabis plant, smoking it can lead to inhalation of carcinogens from burnt plant material, which can cause irritation on the lungs.
And of course, there's the good old CBD topicals that can be applied straight to the skin in the form of lotions, topical cream, balms, transdermal patches, and salves.
The main reason why topicals are a hit is their ability for location-based treatment. Sore calf muscles? Apply a CBD topical to your calves and the work will start, and since topicals are not subject to the first pass effect, users will not miss out on the results.
However, skin permeability to CBD topicals is relatively poor, which makes using topicals of a high potency and in high doses almost a necessity.
Takeaway: CBD For Muscle Recovery
So, there you have it, the low down on using CBD products for muscle recovery and pain alleviation.
And yes, although clinical trials are still underway to determine the exact beneficial effects of CBD, it's highly believed that CBD works.
Not only does it have a positive impact on pain due to exercise, but it also has beneficial psychological effects that allow athletes to centre themselves and focus on the workout and game.
So give CBD a go, it's sure to be an experience that's worth it!
- Nagarkatti, P., Pandey, R., Rieder, S. A., Hegde, V. L., & Nagarkatti, M. (2009). Cannabinoids as novel anti-inflammatory drugs. Future medicinal chemistry, 1(7), 1333-1349.
- McCartney, D., Benson, M. J., Desbrow, B., Irwin, C., Suraev, A., & McGregor, I. S. (2020). Cannabidiol and sports performance: a narrative review of relevant evidence and recommendations for future research. Sports Medicine-Open, 6(1), 1-18.
- Haj-Dahmane, S., & Shen, R. Y. (2011). Modulation of the serotonin system by endocannabinoid signaling. Neuropharmacology, 61(3), 414-420.