Next-Generation CBD Products for Athletes
Higher potencies and different means of delivery are driving innovation.
Within the ever-expanding overall CBD market, runners and other athletes are increasingly a focus. This emphasis makes sense, when you consider that many of the touted benefits of CBD—pain relief, better sleep, faster recovery, lower inflammation—are of special interest to people who push their bodies hard. Companies are targeting athletes with higher-potency versions of typical CBD products and different ways to deliver CBD.
First, a refresher: CBD stands for cannabidiol, one of more than 100 related compounds called cannabinoids that are found in the cannabis plant. CBD doesn’t produce the high caused by the other most well-known cannabinoid, THC. CBD products sold online and in retail establishments are made from hemp, which by definition is a cannabis plant containing no more than .3 percent THC. As of last year’s farm bill, hemp is no longer classified as a controlled substance under federal law. For a detailed background read on CBD, see this article.
Now, on to the new wave of CBD products for athletes, grouped by the type of innovation. These are all products I’ve tested since writing The Athlete’s Guide to CBD.
Higher Potency Within Typical Products
Two of the main CBD product types are oral tinctures and topical solutions. Tinctures typically come in a 300-milliliter bottle, or just about 1 ounce. You use the supplied dropper to place some of the tincture under your tongue, then keep the tincture in your mouth for 30 to 60 seconds before swallowing. (If someone says “CBD oil,” they’re talking about a tincture.) Topicals come in many consistencies—thick salve, oil, cream, lotion, roll-on, and so on—and in many sizes. Topicals are applied to achy body parts in the hope of delivering targeted pain relief.
When CBD really started hitting the mainstream in 2018, a typical tincture contained 300 to 600 milligrams of CBD. That equals about 30 full-dropper servings in a typical bottle, meaning that one drop of a 600-milligram tincture contains 20 milligrams of CBD. As customers reported benefits from larger daily amounts of CBD, manufacturers responded by making more concentrated tinctures. You can now find 30-milligram tinctures containing 2,000 or more milligrams of CBD; one dropper of an 1,800-milligram-strength tincture provides 60 milligrams of CBD.
Below are three high-potency tinctures I’ve had good results from. (“Results” for me include improved sleep and less overall creakiness from being a 55-year-old who has run more than 110,000 miles over the last 40 years and who is training for a 50-miler.) I appreciate the higher-potency offerings because I’ve gravitated toward a daily CBD sweet spot of 30 to 60 milligrams. If your standard level is lower, the higher-potency tinctures mean you can take a fraction of a dropperful and not have to restock as frequently.
CBD for Athletes: Does Hemp Oil Help with Athletic Performance?
The hype on CBD is at an all-time high, and nothing indicates that it will change any time soon. On the contrary, people are actually more into cannabis than ever thanks to the versatile health benefits of CBD oil. From reducing inflammation to relieving pain and anxiety, there are plenty of areas where modern people can find answers to their health concerns using plant-based cannabinoids.
For many folks out there, cannabis and sports may not be a relevant combo, but they don’t yet realize their perception is driven by an almost hundred-year-old stigma resulting from, let’s say, a combination of bad luck, racism, and conflict of interests.
But let’s say you’ve never heard any myths related to cannabis. You both have a clean slate. Tabula rasa, as they would say in Latin.
Would you believe that CBD, one of the major cannabis compounds, can be a worthy addition to one’s fitness routine?
How can CBD affect your achievements in sports?
Is there a point in using CBD as a sportsperson if you’re not a professional athlete?
Come and get your answers.
How Does CBD Work for Athletes?
If you want to get a better grasp of how CBD works for athletes, we can’t avoid a short stop by the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and its relationship with cannabinoids.
In simple terms, the ECS is a network of cannabinoid receptors, neurotransmitters, and enzymes that occur throughout your body. They are present in every organ system and control a wide range of biological functions, such as:
- Immune response
- Sensations of fear and pleasure
- Body temperature
- Sleep-wake cycle
- Cell energy regulation
- Pain perception
The role of the ECS is to keep the body in a state of internal balance (homeostasis), which provides harmony between the above processes and ensures that a person stays healthy.
Whenever the ECS suffers from deficiencies due to persistent disturbance of the said balance, this can contribute to a wide range of chronic diseases, from persistent pain to insomnia, autoimmune conditions, depression, and neurodegenerative disorders.
This is where CBD steps in.
CBD is a phytocannabinoid found in cannabis plants — both hemp and marijuana. Unlike its cousin THC, CBD won’t get you high because it lacks intoxicating properties. While THC binds directly to the cannabinoid receptors in the brain — causing the signature high — CBD indirectly modulates their activity, ensuring optimal functioning.
CBD does it through the signaling of the ECS. When CBD interacts with our master regulatory network, it signals it to produce more of its endogenous cannabinoids while slowing down their breakdown (1). As a result, the ECS can use endocannabinoids more effectively thanks to their longer duration in the bloodstream.
Benefits of CBD for Athletes
The discovery of the ECS has provided researchers with the necessary tools to explore the health benefits of cannabinoids such as CBD and THC. CBD has three major effects on the body: it reduces inflammation, improves stress management, and mitigates pain signaling to the brain.
All of the above create ripe opportunities for athletes to boost their performance and improve regeneration.
Here’s how you can benefit from CBD oil if you’re a sportsperson.
CBD for Athletic Recovery
Sleep is an essential part of our lives, but when it comes to athletes, it becomes of paramount importance. Athletes are exposed to sleep deficiencies due to the extreme stress they put themselves into during competition and while preparing themselves for the season. Those trying to relieve their sleep issues often turn to OTC or prescription sleeping pills, which can have a devastating effect on their sleep cycle in the long run.
CBD has the ability to regulate the body’s sleep cycle by reducing stress, anxiety, and pain. These three factors contribute to sleep deprivation, so the next time you have trouble falling asleep before an upcoming game or you’re crippled by back pain, consider adding CBD to your routine.
CBD can also reduce the release of cortisol through physical activity. The adrenal system, which produces the stress hormone, regulates the body’s response to physical stressors, such as exercises. Whenever a person engages in physical activity, the adrenal glands begin to produce more cortisol into the bloodstream (2).
As reported by a small study conducted by the Department of Neuropsychiatry and Medical Psychology at the University of Brazil, CBD can lower the secretion of cortisol, thereby reducing its concentration in the blood. This can have a positive effect on athletic recovery and make CBD the holy grail of post-workout supplements.
CBD for Inflammation
Acute inflammation is a natural physical response to stress or injuries; it’s also an essential part of recovery. However, chronic inflammation is anything but good for your health and can significantly compromise your ability to engage in exercises. A study conducted by the Laboratory of Integrative Neuroscience at the National Institute of Health (NIH) showed that CBD has potent anti-inflammatory effects on the body and can suppress inflammatory responses by interacting with cannabinoid receptors located in the immune cells.
On top of that, the study reported that CBD along with its modified derivatives significantly reduces neuropathic pain without causing any kind of dependent or signs of building tolerance in rodent models (3).
A study conducted on arthritic inflammation discovered that the topical application of CBD provides therapeutic effects without apparent side effects. The study was conducted on mice, but it has a high degree of relevance, as all animals have the same endocannabinoid system (4).
These are promising news for athletes looking for a natural and safe alternative to OTC painkillers.
CBD for Pain Management
Working out and pain go hand in hand, but if you push yourself too hard, the pain may arise to the point it will prevent you from performing simple activities, let alone making progress in your niche.
Athletes are plagued by muscle soreness and injuries and hence they often turn to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen. In severe cases, doctors may prescribe opioid-based pain killers, but these medications are highly addictive and can further deteriorate the condition, not to mention high risk for abuse and addiction.
CBD, on the other hand, offers a much safer way to fight pain. Not only does it reduce inflammation, but it also acts on vanilloid TRPV1 receptors and opioid receptors to alter pain signaling in the brain (5). As a result, the pain becomes manageable. Another receptor involved in pain control is the 5-HT1A serotonin receptor, whose activity also happens to be modulated by CBD (6).
The risk of addiction is nonexistent when it comes to using CBD for pain relief. In fact, some studies have shown that CBD should not be taken with alcohol but it may help treat alcohol withdrawal symptoms as well as with heroin and opioids with their compulsive behaviors.
CBD for Pre-workout
Aside from its anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties, CBD is also capable of boosting the user’s energy, focus, and performance. In essence, people who take CBD before workouts describe this sensation as being able to focus on here-and-now. Whether you run long distances, lift weights, or engage in activities that require endurance, CBD may prove useful.
This is just one of the many reasons why CBD for athletes has made big headlines in the fitness industry. When CBD is taken prior to workout, CBD can reduce the burning in the muscles and fatigue. Imagine that you’re trying to break your personal records, but your muscles are hot as hell. Yet, you can still push through it for a bit more time, and eventually, you succeed. In the end, the discomfort and muscle stress go away — that’s how CBD is supposed to work.
CBD for Appetite Control
CBD can help athletes control their appetite by regulating the activity of the ECS. If you want to lose body fat more efficiently, CBD will provide feelings of calm and relaxation without causing munchies. Unlike THC, CBD is actually considered a mild appetite suppressant. If you have problems with compulsive eating, CBD can modulate that behavior by acting on your GABA-A receptor, which is sort of a handbrake for the brain when it gets overexcited
For those with low insulin sensitivity, CBD oil can improve that marker, providing additional space for glucose and glycogen storage in the liver and muscle (7). Studies also suggest that cannabinoids contribute to smaller waist circumferences and lower rates of abdominal obesity in regular cannabis users in comparison with the general population.
CBD for Anxiety
There is a large body of research, including human clinical trials, suggesting CBD’s efficacy for anxiety-related disorders. Athletes, just like other people put under regular stress, suffer from recurring periods of anxiety, perhaps caused by peer pressure, pre-game concerns, and injuries.
The scientific literature shows how CBD oil can help reduce anxiety in patients with a social anxiety disorder (8). Furthermore, CBD can reduce the severity of traumatic memories, a signature symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (9).
Last but not least, research has found that oral administration of CBD leads to a reduction in anxiety levels in subjects before giving a public speech (10).
Considering the above, we can revel in CBD’s ability to reduce anxiety and fear, especially when it comes to professional sports.
Is CBD Legal for Athletes?
The increasing popularity of CBD among athletes has forced regulatory bodies to reconsider their classification of CBD. Until recently, athletes had to choose dangerous prescription drugs over CBD oil due to potential sanctions from their sports associations.
The tides began to change when the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) updated their schedule of prohibited substances by removing CBD from the list. CBD oil is now legal for athletes, including those participating in the Olympics, as long as it contains 0.3% THC or less.
The scope of athletes using CBD oil reaches further than the extreme level. Dancers, runners, MMA fighters, and many other professionals and amateur sportspeople also fall under the supervision of WADA.
As cannabis legalization is rolling across the United States, we can expect more research into the efficacy and safety of CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids. This may cause major sports leagues and organizations to open their eyes to new opportunities on a broad scale.
Does CBD Show Up On A Drug Test?
No, CBD won’t show up on a drug test. Drug screenings are designed to look for THC and its metabolites.
Full-spectrum CBD oils contain 0.3% THC or less, so it’s virtually impossible to get a false-positive result for THC on a drug test if you take this type of CBD oil. You would need to take 1,900 mg CBD daily to get such a score. Should that happen, you can tell your coach about it and request another screening.
Those who want to avoid the risk of testing false positive for THC should look for broad-spectrum CBD or isolates; the first type contains all the compounds found in hemp but with THC removed during the later stage of extraction, while CBD isolate refers to pure, separated CBD that has no odor, no flavor, and contains 99% of cannabidiol.
Best Type of CBD for Athletes
There’s a debate over the efficacy of full-spectrum CBD extracts and isolates. Here’s how to distinguish between these two products — and which is better in certain scenarios.
Full Spectrum CBD vs Isolate for Athletes
As mentioned, full-spectrum CBD is a product made from the whole hemp plant. As such, it contains not only CBD but also other cannabinoids (including traces of THC) and terpenes. Researchers believe these compounds enhance the effectiveness of CBD; this phenomenon is known as the entourage effect and refers to synergistic effects between the said molecules.
Preliminary studies and many cannabis geneticists have suggested that cannabinoids and terpenes work better together than in isolation. When you take a look at the market, most companies start with full-spectrum CBD oils, steadily expanding their product selection with other formats and spectra.
CBD isolate, on the other hand, contains pure cannabidiol. The product is devoid of other cannabinoids and terpenes. Researchers argue that isolates are inferior to full-spectrum products in terms of their therapeutic potential, but at the same time, they may be the last resort for people whose leagues restrict the use of full-spectrum or broad-spectrum products. Isolates also come in handy if you are allergic to certain compounds in hemp.
Athletes often add some CBD isolate to full-spectrum oils to boost the amount of CBD they get in each serving.
Different Forms of CBD for Athletes
After digesting all the information we’ve presented so far, you may ask “what form of CBD will be the best in my case?” Choosing the right product type boils down to figuring out what works best for your lifestyle — and whether you value potency over convenience, or the other way round.
Here’s a brief overview of the popular choices among athletes who decide to try CBD.
CBD Oil for Athletes
CBD oil is the most common form of ingestion. It comes in different sizes and concentrations, so figuring the right dosage will require you to go through some trial and error. CBD oil is made from industrial hemp, so it won’t make you high. To take CBD in the form of oil, you need to apply the desired amount under your tongue using a dropper attached to your product. After holding the oil in the mouth for up to 60 seconds, the CBD will absorb through sublingual capillaries, avoiding the liver and the first-pass effect.
CBD oral drops usually take effect within 15–30 minutes after administration. Their bioavailability has been measured at around 35%, which is higher than with oral products such as capsules and gummies. Bioavailability is a figure expressing the amount of CBD that ends up in the user’s bloodstream.
The effects of CBD oil last up to 6 hours.
Alternative forms of CBD for those who are apprehensive about the hempy taste of full-spectrum CBD oil:
- CBD capsules: like most supplements out there, CBD is available in a convenient soft gel form. CBD capsules contain a predetermined amount of CBD per serving, so you don’t need to calculate the dosage. Capsules are also more discreet than CBD oil and can be taken anywhere on the go without the fear of leaking out in the bag. However, since capsules need to be processed in the digestive system, they have a slower onset than CBD oil, kicking in after anywhere between 40–90 minutes.
- CBD gummies: gummies are the most popular type of CBD edibles. They look just like regular gummy bears but with added CBD. Similar to capsules, gummies must be metabolized in the digestive tract, so their effects may come with a little ‘lag.’ On the other hand, they last longer than sublingual or vaporized CBD, up to 10 hours.
- CBD vape pen: CBD vape pens contain CBD vape oil, which is a mixture of CBD extract and thinners like vegetable glycerin or propylene glycol. Vaporized CBD absorbs into the bloodstream through the lung tissues, providing the fastest effects of all consumption methods. When you inhale CBD through a vape pen, it starts to act within 5–10 minutes after inhalation, lasting 3–4 hours.
CBD Cream for Athletes
The use of CBD cream and other topicals has skyrocketed among athletes. CBD creams, balms, skin lotions, and patches are widely available online and in local health stores. Athletes use them for muscle strains, inflammation, and injuries. CBD topicals have been highlighted in multiple studies for their ability to regulate inflammation and pain through their interaction with cannabinoid receptors in the skin. That’s why athletes are switching from OTC or opioid-based painkillers to natural solutions like CBD creams.
Whenever you’re shopping for a CBD topical, make sure it’s made of organic ingredients, without GMO and synthetic additives that could negatively affect its quality. But most importantly, look for third-party lab reports to confirm the product’s potency and purity.
You can use CBD topicals to the affected area as many times as you need, reapplying it whenever you feel the effects are starting to disappear.
Final Verdict: Is CBD A Viable Health Supplement for Athletes?
The CBD boom has created many opportunities for athletes that seek natural alternatives for sports-related ailments, such as pain, inflammation, anxiety, and sleep deprivation. While CBD isn’t a miracle cure for all your health problems, it can surely contribute to a healthy fitness regimen, balancing the master regulatory network known as the endocannabinoid system.
Once you ditch the stigma-driven presumptions that cannabis and sports can’t fit together in one sentence, you’ll start seeing windows of opportunities to grow as a sports person both physically and mentally. As scientists are fueling more resources into the studies on the health benefits of CBD, we may soon discover new options in which CBD oil can aid those living active lifestyles. Whether you want to reduce pain, boost regeneration in a natural way, or push yourself beyond the limits, cannabidiol will make for a fine addition to your arsenal of supplements.
- Fine, Perry G, and Mark J Rosenfeld. “The endocannabinoid system, cannabinoids, and pain.” Rambam Maimonides medical journal vol. 4,4 e0022. 29 Oct. 2013, doi:10.5041/RMMJ.10129
- Hiller-Sturmhöfel, S, and A Bartke. “The endocrine system: an overview.” Alcohol health and research world vol. 22,3 (1998): 153-64.
- Hammell, DC et al. “Transdermal cannabidiol reduce inflammation and pain-related behaviors in a rat model of arthritis.” European journal of pain (London, England) vol. 20,6 (2016): 936-48. doi:10.1002/ejp.818
- Xiong, Wei et al. “Cannabinoids suppress inflammatory and neuropathic pain by targeting α3 glycine receptors.” The Journal of experimental medicine vol. 209,6 (2012): 1121-34. doi:10.1084/jem.20120242
- Russo, Ethan B. “Cannabinoids in the management of difficult to treat pain.” Therapeutics and clinical risk management vol. 4,1 (2008): 245-59. doi:10.2147/term.s1928
- Russo, Ethan B et al. “Agonistic properties of cannabidiol at 5-HT1a receptors.” Neurochemical research vol. 30,8 (2005): 1037-43. doi:10.1007/s11064-005-6978-1
- Ignatowska-Jankowska, Bogna et al. “Cannabidiol decrease body weight gain in rats: involvement of CB2 receptors.” Neuroscience letters vol. 490,1 (2011): 82-4. doi:10.1016/j.neulet.2010.12.031
- Crippa, José Alexandre S et al. “Neural basis of anxiolytic effects of cannabidiol (CBD) in generalized social anxiety disorder: a preliminary report.” Journal of psychopharmacology (Oxford, England) vol. 25,1 (2011): 121-30. doi:10.1177/0269881110379283
- Stern, Cristina A J, et al. “On disruption of fear memory by reconsolidation blockade: evidence from cannabidiol treatment.” Neuropsychopharmacology: official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology vol. 37,9 (2012): 2132-42. doi:10.1038/npp.2012.63
- Zuardi, A W et al. “Effects of ipsapirone and cannabidiol on human experimental anxiety.” Journal of psychopharmacology (Oxford, England) vol. 7,1 Suppl (1993): 82-8. doi:10.1177/026988119300700112
Livvy is a registered nurse (RN) and board-certified nurse midwife (CNM) in the state of New Jersey. After giving birth to her newborn daughter, Livvy stepped down from her full-time position at the Children’s Hospital of New Jersey. This gave her the opportunity to spend more time writing articles on all topics related to pregnancy and prenatal care.
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CBD and Sports: Can Cannabidiol Improve Athletic Performance?
For most athletes and sports enthusiasts, the search for performance enhancing additions to add to your routine can be undying and often challenging. Because supplements and substances used by athletes – especially professional ones – must conform to anti-doping laws, be safe while effective, and these days are preferably natural, there is a new player in the field. Enter CBD, or cannabidiol.
CBD is making waves among athletes and sports enthusiast who claim the benefits can vary from accelerated recovery, to better sleep, to less stress of upcoming events. Though many organizations still consider THC, the often-better known cousin of CBD, to be an illicit substance the World Anti-Doping Agency does permit the use of CBD for athletes. It’s always best to check with your particular sports and leagues rules, but overall, CBD is gaining more and more popularity among athletes since being removed from the WAD’s list of controlled substances. Let’s take a closer look at why, and how CBD could benefit your athletic routine:
What Is Cannabidiol?
CBD is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid that has shown to have anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, anti-anxiety and analgesic properties. CBD, along with other cannabinoids have been thought to help with an abundance of health and wellness related issues, from acting as a sleep aid, to stress reduction and pain management. CBD is vastly different than THC and offers different therapeutic properties that can benefit athletes without causing issues in the direction of drug testing or an altered mindset known as the “high” that comes from THC.
CBD interacts directly with the human body’s endocannabinoid system, or the ECS. This bodily system is known for controlling and contributing to things like appetite, mood, pain and inflammation. By interacting with the receptors within the ECS, cannabidiol is able to impact the body and brain’s response to a number of things. This interaction has proven beneficial for people from all walks of life, including athletes.
CBD for Athletes
In a 2020 review published by Sports Medicine, preclinical animal studies and clinical trials with non-athletes, researchers found that CBD could help promote both physiological and psychological as well as biochemical benefits that could help athletes. A key factor in this was found directly linked to CBD’s ability to alleviate inflammatory pain linked with tissue damage, and neuropathic pain due to nerve irritation or damage. This could be a gamechanger for action and endurance sport athletes who are subject to high-intensity and impact movements as well as repetitive and long-distance workouts that can lead to inflammation and irritation or injury.
For athletes in any sport, CBD could be a beneficial addition to your training regimen for a few reasons. By interacting specifically with the CB1 and CB2 receptors within the endocannabinoid system, CBD can aid in reducing the pain and inflammation associated with athletic injury or irritation. For athletes this can lead a shorter recovery period with increased comfort. CBD for athletes is commonly consumed through sublingual methods, like an oil or tincture, as well as applied topically with a cream or lotion. Topical application can target specific areas, while sublingual consumption can bring a sense of overall body and mind wellness.
Many athletes may find themselves getting stressed out before a game or event. As stress can impact performance adversely, CBD could be an option for mitigation. To manage game day stress as well as preparation, CBD is a great natural alternative.
Similarly, after an athletic session, game, or heavy workout, it’s important for athletes and active people to get adequate sleep, so the body has time to heal on its own. A tiring day should normally put an athlete to sleep easily but pre-existing sleep issues or heightened stress levels may lead to a struggle getting to sleep at night. CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system to regulate mood and even behavior similarly to pain, helping you stay active during the day and get good sleep at night.
CBD for Athletes: Up Your Performance Naturally
CBD use for athletes is on the rise, and one major influencer is the ability to pass a drug test. As an athlete turning to CBD, always be sure to double check label claims for accuracy so you are in compliance with your team or league’s substance rules. Most companies are transparent in their claims but airing on the side of caution and relying on brands backed by third party -lab-test results is your best way to ensure safety.
If you are curious to learn more about CBD products created specifically with athletes in mind, check out Tribe CBD. Crafted with care from seed to sale, Tribe offers a variety of great products that are perfect for athletes. From their Hemp CBD Energy Shots to their Hemp CBD Cold Therapy Cream, all label claims are backed by third-party test results and are completely THC free unless stated otherwise.