When we first started hearing about the benefits of CBD, it was mainly used to treat rare conditions like epileptic disorders. Today, we’re finding more and more uses of cannabidiol for physical and mental health conditions. We’ve also seen the development of CBD products for pets and children, and even for skincare. And that’s not all—the latest development in the field of CBD could be its use for improving athletic performance. But can CBD really make you a better athlete? And how does it affect your body during exercise? Here’s what the latest research is telling us.
What is CBD?
CBD is short for “cannabidiol.” It’s a cannabinoid compound found in the cannabis plant that has a wide range of health benefits. Over recent years, we’ve found that CBD could be useful in:
- Treating epilepsy
- Easing arthritis pain
- Fighting insomnia
- Lowering levels of anxiety and depression
- Helping those with ADHD, PTSD, and even autism
CBD works by giving a boost to our endocannabinoid system. It binds to receptors throughout our body, which can affect things like mood, pain management, and inflammation. All these receptors are part of a biological system called the endocannabinoid system. By acting on this system, CBD can really improve our overall well-being. After all, things like mood and inflammation are responsible for a lot of the most common physical and mental health conditions.
Unfortunately, there’s still a bit of confusion about what CBD is, and about its legal status. Although it is derived from the cannabis plant, CBD is not a psychoactive compound. In other words, it doesn’t create a “high” as marijuana does. Today, CBD is legal in a lot of countries, even those where medical cannabis has not been legalized.
In countries like the U.S.A, the classification of CBD has changed completely in the past few decades. CBD was once considered a “schedule 1 drug”: a drug with no medical value, and a high potential for abuse up to a few years ago. Following its legalization, we’ve seen a new wave of research and clinical trials on its uses for medicine, psychiatry, and now sports science.
CBD is legal on a federal level in the United States, as long as it contains less than 0.3% THC. However, it is still prohibited by certain state laws and doesn’t have FDA approval. We encourage you to consult a physician before you start taking CBD.
What are the effects of CBD on athletic performance?
So far, there have only been a handful of studies on the effects of CBD on athletes. But what we know about its anti-inflammatory and painkilling effects strongly suggest that it could be of use to athletes.
Recovering from injury
Probably the most useful benefits of CBD for athletes come in the event of injury. CBD can lower markers of inflammation throughout the whole body and be a safe and effective painkiller. This means that it could help you recover from an injury faster and keep training without having to resort to potentially harmful pain medications.
A 2018 study looked more closely at the connection between cannabis and sports. It found that athletes involved in high-risk sports (like snowboarding or American football) used cannabis more frequently than their peers. Although the researchers didn’t think that cannabis had “performance-enhancing” effects for them, they suspected that consuming cannabis helped those athletes to handle the pain and injuries associated with the sport.
CBD and sore muscles
Although we mainly hear about CBD in its edible form, it can also be very effective as a topical. Over the past few years, we’ve been seeing CBD salves showing up on the shelves of sports shops, promising relief from sore muscles. But are these products actually effective? And how do they work?
As we mentioned previously, CBD works on our bodies by activating certain receptors of the endocannabinoid system. Those receptors (CB1 and CB2) can also be found just under the surface of the skin. So when you apply a CBD cream and it penetrates the first layer of skin, the compounds are able to bind to those receptors and start having some effects. In particular, they can calm down inflammation, release tension, and lower pain—which is exactly what you want when you’re suffering from sore muscles!
Some athletes even find that taking regular CBD has helped them to stop using NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen). Although those drugs can help with recovery, they also risk creating problems for the digestive tract or the heart over time. Replacing them with CBD is a lot safer and easier on the body, and comes with a few added benefits (like lowered anxiety and better mood).
Have the benefits of CBD for athletic performance been exaggerated?
Because of its inflammatory and pain-killing effects, we have a good reason to believe that CBD really helps with recovery and sore muscles. Some athletes also claim that it boosts their performance, but research on the topic is still at an early stage.
For example, former Tour de France cycling star Floyd Landis has launched his own CBD brand, aimed specifically at athletes (Floyd’s of Leadville). Among other things, he sells CBD-enriched protein powder and special sore muscle creams. But while it’s tempting to believe that CBD can make you into a better athlete, the research to date doesn’t back that up.
For the moment, the only thing we really know about the effects of CBD on sports performance is that it can help you recover faster, and potentially bypass the use of NSAIDs.
Is CBD prohibited in sporting events?
Since 2018, CBD has been considered a legal substance in most sporting events. The World Anti-Doping Association considered that, though it may have some benefits, it’s no more of an unfair advantage than things like adopting a good diet or stretching regularly.
Following this recent decision, we can expect to see a lot more research on CBD for sports science coming soon.
Is taking CBD safe for athletic performance?
CBD is a very safe drug. Not only is it safer than some other substances athletes frequently take (like NSAIDs or opioids), research also shows that it has few side effects. That’s not to say that CBD agrees with everyone’s body, of course. Some people have found that CBD can make them nauseous, create changes in appetite, and even causes slight changes in mood. But to date, researchers haven’t found any serious, dangerous, or life-threatening side effects to taking CBD, even in larger doses.
That being said, not all CBD is up to standards in terms of quality. Recent reports have found that CBD products frequently contain more or less CBD than they claim to, have more than just traces of THC, and contain things like heavy metals and pesticides.
To choose CBD products that are safe, have the right potency, and don’t contain any unwanted substances, you’ll have to pay careful attention to the documentation provided by manufacturers. CBD companies should use third-party testing to verify the purity of their products. They should also provide a Certificate of Analysis, which is an official document where you’ll find the exact composition of the product, from its CBD percentage to any traces of pesticides or bacteria.
Learning to check the quality of CBD is crucial. It’s the only way to make sure that you get maximum benefits out of a product.
How can athletes use CBD?
CBD comes in lots of different formats: you’ve got CBD edibles, CBD oil droppers, CBD vapes, and even CBD creams. For athletes, any one of these forms of CBD could be useful.
For example, CBD edibles can be a good way to get some CBD into your diet on a daily basis. This could be helpful for people who suffer from frequent inflammation, such as runners or endurance sports athletes.
Many athletes are also fond of vaping CBD after practice. Although vaping CBD always presents certain risks for the respiratory system, it’s also the fastest way to experience relief from CBD. If you end your training in pain or are trying to prevent an inflammatory reaction, vaping CBD could be the way to go.
Finally, athletes can find relief from sore muscles by using a CBD topical on their skin. Massaged into your calves, arms, or backs, topical CBD can help to relax sore muscles and take some of the pain away. Be careful though, many so-called “CBD creams” only contain traces of CBD. Make sure to check that the product you’re planning on using has a high CBD percentage, otherwise you risk not feeling any of its effects.
Can CBD make you a better athlete? Not necessarily, or at least not that we know of yet. But with powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-pain benefits, CBD can make recovery from injury a lot faster. It can also help with sore muscles, anxiety, and generalized inflammatory problems, which many athletes suffer from. So why not give CBD a try? Though it’s far from being a miracle product, it has enough health benefits to at least replace other products that athletes frequently use during exercise.
Research on Cannabis and Athletes
2018 study on cannabis consumption in the athlete population
Safety of CBD
2017 study on the safety and side effects of CBD