Why Athletes and Active People Should Consider Taking CBD
Athletes are known to have a strong sense of resilience. That doesn’t mean that they are resistant to injury or over exertion. For athletes today, there are a variety of great options to incorporate into a recovery routine, and CBD is quickly becoming one of them. CBD can be utilized for a number of conditions or injuries, whether related to sports or not. This natural compound is becoming a newfound alternative for athletes, those with active lifestyles and everyone in between.
Researchers are currently looking at the benefits of using cannabidiol (CBD) to treat anxiety, pain, insomnia, depression and inflammation. Whether you need CBD for recovery or joint pain, this hemp-based product might be a powerful tool that can help you achieve your athletic goals.
CBD Can Alleviate Stress
Even if you are only an amateur athlete, you know how stressful playing sports can be. One of the greatest advantages of using CBD products is stress relief. Stress occurs when you are in a state of emotional or mental strain. This happens because of the situation you are in. When you are under stress, you are more likely to suffer from strokes, heart attacks and arthritis.
Unfortunately, athletic activities are full of stress. If you want to calm your nervous system, you may want to try taking 10 to 20 milligrams of CBD each day. With CBD oil, you can easily apply a few drops under your tongue whenever you need stress relief.
Get Help With Inflammation
Inflammation occurs after an injury or over exertion. It can also trigger your body to fight illnesses through the immune system response. While some inflammation can help your body, excessive inflammation can cause problems like chronic illnesses, depression and pain. In addition, inflammation can slow down your recovery time.
During a 2010 study, researchers found cannabinoids were effective anti-inflammatory agents. Basically, CBD works to reduce inflammation to a safe, healthy level. This allows your muscles, joints and tissues to recover without suffering from chronic inflammation and oxidative stress. Reduced oxidative stress is also connected to having better insulin sensitivity, less muscle soreness and improved immune function.
CBD Increases Muscle Relaxation
When you take CBD for recovery, it immediately works to increase your muscle relaxation. This is important for athletes because exercise produces lactate. When you have excess lactate in your muscles, it leads to soreness and cramps.
Since CBD is a muscle relaxant, it can help your body handle lactate. The compound helps neurotransmitters calm the mind and body. By reducing certain neurotransmitters, CBD is able to alleviate cramps and muscle spasms.
CBD may also help improve your joint health. When CBD oil is combined with icing, foam rolling and stretching, it can help treat tendonitis injuries.
CBD Helps Your Nervous System
When you take CBD, it may also help your central nervous system and endocannabinoid system (ECS). These systems consist of your spinal cord and brain as well as receptors and transmitters. These two systems work together, in charge of communicating signals throughout your body using a network of neurons and nerves. When movements involve a lot of resistance like weight training, the nervous system becomes more active. If the nervous system is overworked for a long time, the muscles lose some of their strength and contraction power.
As an athlete, you may sometimes notice that your actions feel slower. You may be unable to lift as much. When this happens, it is because your muscles are not responding to neuronal firing.
Thankfully, CBD may be able to help this problem. It can protect myelin sheaths in the nervous system and support healthy neural signaling. Because of this process, CBD can help your nervous system recover from intense workouts.
Improve the Quality of Your Sleep
CBD may improve the quality of your sleep. In one study, nearly 36 percent of people found that CBD could treat sleep disorders on its own. CBD may be able to lower stress hormones and alleviate anxiety. As a result, people are able to have normal sleep cycles.
As an elite athlete, it is difficult to get enough sleep before major events. Your body needs sleep to recover, so a lack of sleep slows down the recovery process. Taking 10 milligrams of CBD oil can help you sleep better at night. The endocannabinoid system functions based on the rising and falling of the sun. Because of this, CBD’s effect on the endocannabinoid system may reset your sleep-wake cycles, so you can fall asleep and stay asleep.
Click here to check out Tribe CBD’s list of products, crafted with athletes and active lifestyles in mind.
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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: What You Need to Know About Cannabidiol
Athletes put a lot of stress on our bodies, to positive and negative effect. Training stress stimulates adaptation and increased performance, but physical trauma and prolonged wear and tear also lead to injuries and pain. Current methods of pain management are effective, but they’re also killing people. In search of improved sports recovery and safer pain relief, many people are asking about cannabidiol or CBD for athletes. Should you?
Chronic use of over-the-counter pain relievers (i.e. NSAIDs like ibuprofen and naproxen sodium) poses greater health risk than previously known, and we are in the midst of an epidemic of opioid addiction and overdoses that kill tens of thousands of Americans annually. In such a landscape, athletes are rightly curious about and eager for cannabidiols’ (CBD) promises of pain relief and reduced inflammation without the risks associated with NSAIDs or opioids.
Are CBD products right for you? There’s a lot here to unpack and consider, so get comfortable and read on.
Is CBD legal for athletes?
Yes. Starting at the beginning of 2018, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed CBD from the list of prohibited substances – in or out of competition. (Here is the 2020 WADA Prohibited List.) The US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) did the same, and they provide a “Marijuana FAQ” page to clarify the rules. There is an important caveat: ONLY CBD was removed from the prohibited list. The psychoactive component of marijuana, THC, is still prohibited in competition, as are synthetic cannabinoids. The specific wording is: “All natural and synthetic cannabinoids are prohibited, e.g.: In cannabis (hashish, marijuana) and cannabis products. Natural and synthetic tetrahydrocannabinols (THCs). Synthetic cannabinoids that mimic the effects of THC. Except: Cannabidiol.”
Interestingly, WADA set a urinary threshold of 150 nanograms per milliliter for THC, which is substantially more lenient than the previous limit of 15 nanograms per milliliter. The higher threshold is designed to lower the risk of an athlete testing positive due to casual use outside of competition. A USA Today article in 2016 quoted Ben Nichols, a spokesperson for WADA as saying, “Our information suggests that many cases do not involve game or event-day consumption. The new threshold level is an attempt to ensure that in-competition use is detected and not use during the days and weeks before competition.”
As for legality outside of sports, that’s a whole different matter. The federal, state, and local legality of cannabis and related products is constantly evolving. Check the laws in your area.
Athletes can legally consume cannabidiol, but what is it, what does it do, and why would you use it?
To begin with, cannabinoids already exist in your body. Scientists have identified what they call the endocannibinoid system (ECS) that modulates the activity of neurons. (9) Cannabidiol (CBD) is a phytocannabinoid found naturally in the cannabis plant. Unlike THC, which is also found in cannabis, CBD is not psychoactive.
Beyond that, scientists understanding of how the ECS works and how CBD influences it is still evolving. For a long time, research in this area was hard to complete due to the legal status of marijuana. However, based on recent studies and 2018’s The Essentials of Pain Medicine, Fourth Ed., here are the basics (5).
Within your nervous system, two endocannabinoids (2-AG and EAE) are produced in postsynaptic neurons (downstream) and released into the synapse. They bind to CB1 and CB2 receptors on the presynaptic neuron (upstream) and act to inhibit the release of certain neurotransmitters. For instance when CBD is used to treat epilepsy, it may reduce seizure activity by – in part – reducing the buildup of glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter.
CB1 receptors are found throughout the brain, spinal cord, and other tissues. CB2 receptors are as well, but more of them are found in immune system tissues. CBD binding to CB1 receptors has a greater effect the central nervous system, and CBD binding to CB2 receptors has a greater effect on reducing inflammation.
The primary purpose of the ECS appears to be maintaining homeostasis, which it does by keeping neurotransmitter levels in check. Consuming CBD could be thought of as supplementing or increasing the activity of your body’s existing endocannabinoid system.
As an athlete you apply greater stress to your body, leading to pain and inflammation greater than what your endocannabinoid system can handle. Adding exogenous CBD may help this overloaded system get your neurotransmitters back under control and help athletes maintain homeostasis.
6 Benefits of CBD for Athletes
Studies have shown cannabis (mostly THC and far less CBD) is effective for reducing pain, including musculoskeletal pain from exercise, as well as stiff joints. (5) There is little research on CBD alone or a 1:1 ratio of THC to CBD. This is an area where anecdotal evidence and biological plausibility are the best we have until research catches up. Despite the lack of hard evidence, CBD does appear to relieve pain effectively for many athletes.
Alternative to NSAIDs
Athletes have been consuming over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen sodium (Aleve) for decades, but they may not be as safe as we once thought. Ultradistance athletes, in particular, are typically advised to avoid NSAIDs during long training sessions and events, due to increased risk of renal damage. But even if your workouts and events are short, long-term or frequent use of NSAIDs may increase your risk for heart attack and stroke.
Some athletes have found the pain relieving effect of CBD can reduce or eliminate their use of NSAIDS for exercise-related pain, with minimal side effects. According to The Essentials of Pain Medicine, Fourth Ed., “There are no documented deaths from cannabis or cannabinoid-based products. In a systemic review of studies of oral and oral-mucosal cannabis for various medical conditions, the majority of adverse events reports were considered non-serious (96.6%).”
Alternative to Opioids
According to the CDC, in 2016 opioids were involved in more than 42,000 deaths in the US. Opioid pain medications (i.e. morphine, codeine, oxycontin) are highly effective for pain management, but carry a significant risk of addiction and death by overdose. Cannabinoids are not as effective as opioids for relieving acute, high-intensity pain (5), but may be effective for long-term pain management – either alone or in conjunction with other medications – with far less risk of dependence or accidental death.
A little bit of inflammation can be good for athletes and help stimulate positive training adaptations. Too much inflammation hinders recovery and hurts performance. There are CB2 receptors in both the brain and periphery, but they are more concentrated in immune tissues. Cannabinoids binding to CB2 receptors may have an anti-inflammatory effect by reducing cytokine (cell messengers) production. (8) In other words, CBD bound to CB2 receptors help dial down the response when your immune system sounds the alarm after hard workouts.
Settle your gut
Inflammation in the small and large intestines causes a lot of discomfort, and GI distress is one of the leading reasons endurance athletes drop out of races. CBD won’t solve stomach problems from dehydration and overheating (two major causes for athletes), but if you have underlying inflammation issues that contribute to gut problems during or after exercise, CBD may be effective for reducing your symptoms. There are CB1 and CB2 receptors in the colon. Colitis symptoms were inhibited (in mice) when CB1 and CB2 receptors were activated. (8)
Improve Sleep Quality
Getting more and better sleep is one of the most effective ways an athlete can achieve greater training gains. Anecdotally, athletes who consume CBD report greater ease going to sleep and a more restful night’s sleep. One potential reason for this could be CBD inhibiting the reuptake of adenosine. (7)
Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) breaks down as your brain burns carbohydrate for energy, and adenosine gradually accumulates in the brain. More adenosine binding to neurons inhibits the release of neurotransmitters, slowing down brain activity, helping you feel calmer, and inducing sleep. Your body metabolizes adenosine as you sleep, and some time later, low concentrations of adenosine help you wake up and the process starts again.
By binding to same receptors adenosine would bind to, CBD may inhibit adenosine reuptake, which helps it accumulate more quickly and makes you feel sleepy sooner. CBD may also have a potent anti-anxiety effect for some people, which can help them get to sleep and have more restful sleep.
How to use CBD
New CBD-containing products hit the market every week. You can get ingest CBD through capsules, pills, or as an oil. You can inhale it as a vapor. It has been infused into sports drinks, recovery drinks, and all manner of edibles. There are also topical creams and lotions that contain CBD oil, as well as tinctures/drops that can be placed under your tongue.
How you consume CBD may affect how quickly you experience its effects. Capsules, oil, and edibles have to be digested, so they may take a bit longer. Topical creams are said to be quicker than edibles, and sublingual drops/tinctures are said to be the most rapid (besides inhalation via vaping).
CBD is available as “full spectrum” or “isolate”. Full spectrum CBD products contain CBD and other compounds found in the original plant, which could include small amounts of THC. If the CBD was derived from industrial hemp, the THC content of the original plant is legally supposed to be less than .3% (in Colorado). Products that contain CBD isolate should only contain CBD. CBD isolate and CBD produced from hemp would be a better choice, from an anti-doping standpoint, for anyone with zero-tolerance drug testing at work (i.e. pilots).
How much CBD to use
Here’s where things get tricky. There is no standard dose that delivers a consistent effect for all people. CBD products are not well regulated, so there can be inconsistencies in how much CBD is in a product. And depending on how you consume CBD (oil, gummy bear, cookie, recovery drink, tincture, vapor), it can be difficult to be precise. The most precise way to consume CBD is probably through capsules, or by calculating how many milligrams of CBD are in a given volume (i.e. 1 milliliter) of a tincture.
Companies that produce and sell CBD products recommend starting with a low dose and gradually increasing it based on the effects you experience.
Conclusion and Caveat
The emergence of cannabidiol could mark a major turning point in how athletes recover from training stress and manage both occasional and chronic pain. The giant, glaring caveat is that right now the use of CBD and the ways it’s being delivered are ahead of the science. There is a lot still to learn about how CBD works and how to best utilize it with athletes. That is not unusual, though. Back when carbohydrate-rich sports drinks first came out, it was clear they were helping improve performance even if the formulas weren’t perfect and the mechanisms weren’t all known.
Although it is not a banned substance for athletes in or out of competition, the potential risk for athletes is if the product you buy doesn’t contain what it says on the label. If it actually contains a significant amount of THC or other prohibited substance, you are at risk for a doping violation. As with anything else, it will be up to you to research and find a reputable brand.
With what we know at this point, CBD offers good potential benefits and few risks. If it improves recovery as a pain reliever, anti-inflammatory, and sleep aid, then it has great potential to improve athletic performance. And if it gets athletes to reduce consumption of NSAIDS, opioids, and prescription sleep aids, those are even bigger victories.