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Can CBD Help Athletic Performance and Recovery?

By Danyal Swan December 6, 2022
Can CBD Help Athletic Performance

CBD is a cannabis compound that has long been touted for its health and wellness benefits. It’s known for its pain-relieving and relaxation qualities, as well as its status as a cannabis extract that lacks much of the usual stigma associated with another popular cannabinoid, THC. Its pain relieving-qualities have brought forth a new question within the space:

Can CBD aid with athleticism and recovery?

There has been plenty of research over the years regarding CBD and its potential benefits. One frequent topic is whether athletes should be able to use CBD. Can CBD help athletes enhance their performance or hasten recovery? Is it okay for athletes to take CBD in the first place?

The Perception of CBD

Studies show that CBD products are becoming increasingly popular, even among people who have never tried cannabis before. People are aware of the therapeutic potential, and many believe it is a natural, trustworthy product that can help people feel better. One might think that this perception would carry over into the athletic world, but that’s not necessarily the case. 

Many substances are banned from use while participating in sports and banned from use by athletes in general. Most of these drugs are performance enhancers, which give an unfair advantage other competitors can’t naturally achieve. Contests are meant to be fair, so all participants are expected to begin on a level playing field. 

However while there is an extensive list of drugs that are explicitly banned or regulated by organizations such as the International Olympic Committee, cannabis is often not mentioned at all. In other cases, it is simply discouraged due to a lack of research rather than its actual effects. For this reason, cannabis is often lumped-in with anti-abuse and anti-doping arguments.

What about CBD in isolation, apart from its psychoactive counterpart THC? 

That’s a slightly different story. At the moment, CBD is not explicitly banned, even when other cannabinoids are. So, what is it that ultimately makes CBD so much different from other cannabinoids or full-spectrum cannabis? Does its good reputation line up with how it’s actually used by athletes? 

Effects of Cannabidiol and Other Cannabinoids

CBD for Fitness Recovery

CBD is the abbreviated term for cannabidiol, the non-psychoactive cannabinoid compound found in cannabis. Unlike other cannabinoids like THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), CBD can’t get you high or alter your mind. What it can do is relieve stress and anxiety, reduce inflammation, alleviate chronic or acute pain, and it may even be useful for fighting more serious ailments. 

The magic boils down to the way CBD interacts with the cannabinoid receptors in the body. While THC’s psychoactive effects come from its direct binding to CB1 receptors, which are primarily located in your central nervous system. CBD, on the other hand, does not bind directly - it touches and interacts, however, with both CB1 and CB2 receptors. This interaction alters the way other substances interact within your body,  inhibiting their excitatory nature and disrupting certain chemical signaling. Thus, the science behind the anti-anxiety and pain-relieving aspects of CBD: specific receptors control how much pain we feel, and CBD can temporarily block that pain by interacting with those receptors. In fact, CBD has been proven to be a more effective pain-killer than placebos in various trials.

Other Effects of CBD

So does CBD increase athletic performance? There’s more to athletic performance and recovery than the absence of pain, of course. CBD does a lot of good for athletes on the field and while recovering from a performance without crossing the line into acting as a literal performance enhancing substance.

Gastrointestinal Benefits

CBD is known to protect the gastrointestinal tract from damage, which can be helpful for athletes who risk damaging this essential body system. Damage can occur due to lack of oxygen or even direct injury. 

Stress Relieving Benefits

We’ve already discussed how CBD oil can combat anxiety. These benefits don’t stop at providing calm in the moment—CBD may also help improve sleep. Both these qualities are great for athletes, who can avoid pre-game anxiety and get enough rest to play to the best of their abilities.

Bone Health Benefits

Sports can be rough, and many athletes risk bone damage via repetitive motion as well as breakage due to acute stress. CBD may help improve bone strength due to the plethora of cannabinoid receptors located in the bones. 

Potential Risks of Athlete CBD Use

Can there be a risk to using CBD oil? Why are cannabinoids banned in sport, even if CBD may not be banned specifically? What could be the problem with attempting to alleviate the pain that can come from sports injuries and constant exertion? 

Unfortunately, THC is still illegal on a federal level, although the industrial hemp used to produce CBD can legally have up to 0.03% THC. Both THC and other cannabinoids can wind up in CBD products as a result, especially those labeled “full-spectrum CBD.” THC and other cannabinoids are often banned under anti-doping regulations for their potentially performance enhancing qualities. For many anti-doping agencies, the ban is the result of how THC can affect the mind, making people more confident and relaxed than they otherwise would be, and thus better at their sport. 

Because of these points, athletes are encouraged to be cautious when considering using CBD products to relieve stress or pain. The positive effects of the cannabidiol often don't outweigh the controversy if an athlete is caught “doping,” however outdated anti-doping rules may be. 

The Regulation and Use of CBD

As a result of current anti-doping regulations pertaining to THC and other cannabinoids, many athletes are looking for ways to use CBD without accidentally triggering an accusation of doping. Whether you are subject to anti-doping regulations or not, consider the answers to these FAQs.

When Should Athletes Take CBD?

As mentioned, CBD may help athletes recover from everything from pre-game jitters to post-game soreness. As it’s not considered a performance enhancer and if you’re not worried about THC content, there’s no reason to time CBD consumption so that it wears off before your event. The real strategy comes from how you take the CBD, as different methods may set in more quickly and last longer. This means that you may want to take it a few hours before the game if you’re using a slower-acting method you want to experience effects during the game. Or, you may want to take it immediately after so your fast-acting method can begin providing you with post-competition pain relief as soon as possible.

Can Olympic Athletes Use CBD?

Because CBD is legal in all sporting contexts worldwide, Olympic athletes are allowed to take CBD, and have been since Tokyo 2020. The issue is, of course, that the traces of THC may lead to a controversy. These athletes are expected to be careful about their CBD use and should only take CBD with a very low risk of incidental THC exposure.

What Sort of CBD Product is Most Suited for Athletes?

To avoid doping concerns, the best product for an athlete to take is one that contains little to no THC. This can be anything from CBD-only gummies and oils, or a hemp-based product which has less THC by nature. Research should be done in all cases to ensure you're not taking a product that will risk your competition status.

Topicals are also a great choice as they have the potential to help manage pain. CBD, when applied to your skin, binds to the cannabinoid receptors in your epidermal and dermal skin. This activation of your endocannabinoid system alleviates pain and inflammation. And, since this product is applied to the skin and not ingested, there is no risk of CBD or even trace amounts of THC getting into the bloodstream. 

To avoid doping concerns, the best product for an athlete to take is one that contains little to no THC. This can be anything from CBD-only gummies and oils, or a hemp-based product which has less THC by nature. Research should be done in all cases to ensure you're not taking a product that will risk your competition status.

What Sort of CBD Product is Most Suited for Athletes?

Topicals are also a great choice as they have the potential to help manage pain. CBD, when applied to your skin, binds to the cannabinoid receptors in your epidermal and dermal skin. This activation of your endocannabinoid system alleviates pain and inflammation. And, since this product is applied to the skin and not ingested, there is no risk of CBD or even trace amounts of THC getting into the bloodstream. 

Is Using CBD Oil Good for Athletes?

What it all boils down to is that CBD oil is perfectly fine for athletes to use, and harbors some excellent benefits that don’t give the player an unfair advantage in the competition. Being able to relax and heal up before and after a game is something that helps the players feel their best. This just goes to show just how much potential CBD has in a therapeutic and medical context.

The only stipulation to reiterate is that athletes must be aware of what they’re using and avoid THC and other cannabinoids. This can be tricky, given that pure CBD is difficult to find, but is certainly possible if care is taken. Otherwise, even the World Anti-Doping Agency agrees that CBD is fair, beneficial, and safe to use.

Where to Find CBD Products

Buy CBD at a Zen Leaf Near You

Whether you’re an athlete looking for pain or inflammation relief or just someone who wants to relax more easily, CBD is a good place to start. 

With Zen Leaf locations across the country, it’s easy to find quality CBD near you! Just head on over to the Zen Leaf store locator and find your dispensary to start shopping for the best CBD for athletic and fitness recovery.


References:

  1. Bhamra, S. K., Desai, A., Imani-Berendjestanki, P., & Horgan, M. (2021). The emerging role of cannabidiol (CBD) products; a survey exploring the public's use and perceptions of CBD. Phytotherapy Research, 35(10), 5734– 5740. https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.7232
  2. Zeiger JS, Silvers WS, Fleegler EM, Zeiger RS (2019) Cannabis use in active athletes: Behaviors related to subjective effects. PLoS ONE 14(6): e0218998. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0218998
  3. Larsen, C., & Shahinas, J. (2020). Dosage, efficacy and safety of cannabidiol administration in adults: A systematic review of human trials. Journal of Clinical Medicine Research, 12(3), 129–141. https://doi.org/10.14740/jocmr4090
  4. Whiting PF, Wolff RF, Deshpande S, et al. Cannabinoids for medical use: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA. 2015;313(24):2456–2473. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2015.6358
  5. Gyires, K., & Zádori, Z. S. (2016). Role of cannabinoids in gastrointestinal mucosal defense and inflammation. Current Neuropharmacology, 14(8), 935–951. https://doi.org/10.2174/1570159x14666160303110150
  6. Raphael-Mizrahi, B., Gabet, Y. The Cannabinoids Effect on Bone Formation and Bone Healing. Curr Osteoporos Rep 18, 433–438 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11914-020-00607-1

Digital Content Manager for MÜV Florida and Zen Leaf Dispensaries. A cannabis connoisseur with a passion for explaining the miraculous possibility of the plant, Swan began her journey with cannabis as a recreational user and quickly realized its positive impact on her depression and severe anxiety. She joined the cannabis industry as Receptionist and MedTender and witnessed first-hand the immense potential of the plant for a wide variety of ailments, deepening her passion for alternative medicine. Swan is dedicated to self-education on the plant and sharing its potential with all. She holds a Journalism degree from the University of Iowa.

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