Athletes are always looking for ways to increase their performance. So, it is no surprise that the benefits of CBD for athletes are being explored. In competition it’s often the tiniest things that make the difference between victory and defeat.
People who train a lot continually put stress on their bodies. This stimulus is great and promotes the changes to muscle fiber, tendons and ligaments that competing requires, but all these changes come at a price. Prolonged wear and tear can often lead to a range of problems, including inflammation, pain and injury.
Knowing this, the question becomes “Can CBD help relieve pain, inflammation, or help prevent injury?”
Along with this we will talk about legal issues that come along with anything related to the cannabis plant, how to take CBD, and how much you an athlete should take.
CBD Oil Basics
To understand the potential benefits of CBD for athletes you should know the basics about the substance first.
CBD is the abbreviation for cannabidiol. This substance is what is known as a cannabinoid and is derived from the cannabis plant. The better-known cannabinoid is THC, but unlike THC CBD has no psychoactive effects, meaning that it won’t give you the high that THC will.
Both of these cannabinoids react with the endocannabinoid system (ECS) which is a fairly new discovery when it comes to the human body. Most of the studies that currently being done look at the effect of the ECS on the body, and in turn the effect of CBD and THC on the ECS.
Through receptors found in the brain, spinal cord, muscle tissue and immune system the main function of the ECS seems to be to regulate a healthy balance in the body. An athlete that is putting additional stress may tax the ECS more than it can handle and ingesting CBD may help to give the endocannabinoid system the power to maintain homeostasis.
Is CBD Illegal for Athletes?
For athletes at the top level of most sports normal drug testing is a very real thing, and the consequences of failing a drug test are often times career ending. Thus, it is understandable that any new substance they will try needs to be approved by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).
Good news. In 2018 both the WADA and the USADA removed CBD from the list of banned substances, both in and out of competition. Here is the 2019 WADA prohibited List.
The caveat to this is that many of the other cannabinoids found in cannabis, including THC, were not removed. Natural cannabinoids from cannabis, hashish, and marijuana are still banned as are synthetic cannabinoids such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and many other cannabimimetics.
Many CBD products are sold as a “broad” or “Full-Spectrum” mixture, meaning that while CBD is the main ingredient, it does still have trace amounts of other cannabinoids (including THC) and terpenes naturally occurring in cannabis.
Products such as this are made from hemp, a specialized strain of cannabis with a legal limit of 0.3% THC.
Along with removing CBD from banned list in 2018 WADA also increased the threshold of 15 nanometers per milliliter to 150 for urinary THC content. This threshold significantly reduces the chance that a casual user would fail a test, while still catching people who were using the day of, or the days leading up to, a competition.
Because Full Spectrum products have such a small amount of THC in them, they should be fine to use daily for an athlete. In the week or two leading up to a competition, if you are concerned about it, you should switch to a CBD Isolate product, which is 99% CBD.
Check out the following article for more information on CBD and drug tests.
6 Benefits of CBD for Athletes
As we mentioned before, athletes are always looking for the 1% changes that will give them the edge in competition. Many athletes already have a wide range of supplements, from protein powders to fish oil, pre and post workouts, and everything in between. So the question is, why add CBD? And for what?
You train enough and you will experience some sort of pain from muscles, joints, and other tissue that has simply had enough.
CBD and THC work through the ECS to sooth the pain signals that these damaged parts of the body are giving off. This provides relief to the body and allows the person to rest and heal in relative comfort.
Most of the studies surrounding this subject have been done with THC rich-cannabis, but anecdotal evidence and biological plausibility both point to the fact that CBD is likely to be just as effective in these areas.
As the margins between victory and defeat become increasingly narrow, many times the winner is he or she who recovers the best. This may be one of the best things about CBD.
Studies have shown that CBD can reduce much of the pain and soreness caused by inflammation, allowing an athlete to return to training sooner, and push harder during those additional sessions.
In addition to this, athletes are notorious for their use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). New studies are showing that things like ibuprofen and naproxen sodium actually have some very severe side effects, especially when taken over a long period of time. Over long periods of time these can cause renal damage, heart attack or stroke.
The most important factor for performance and recovery is sleep. If you are not resting enough there is zero chance you’ll perform your best in training and competition.
One of the major causes of loss of sleep are serotonin levels in your brain and body. Serotonin is known to have soothing effects on anxiety, addiction, appetite, sleep, pain, and even some stomach issues. Each and every one of those things could cause you poor, or lost sleep.
Serotonin also is a precursor to melatonin production. Chronically low levels of serotonin could result in too little, or no melatonin being produced. This in turn would increase the difficulty of falling into a deep, restful sleep.
While far from being proven, CBD for athletes may also have REM sleep cycles due to the homeostatic nature of the endocannabinoid system.
Promotes Optimal Mood
Stress, anxiety, depression and other issues with your mood can affect your training, turning a training session sour or possibly even keeping you in bed rather than in the gym.
CBD has been proven to help with many of these conditions, helping produce more of the hormone that you’re lacking that is putting you in the funk you’re experiencing.
In 2011, a study was done on a group that suffered from social anxiety disorder with participants given 400mg of CBD showing reduced levels of anxiety compared to the placebo group.
It’s impossible to compete at your highest level if you’re head isn’t in the right place, it looks promising that athletes might look to CBD Oil to help get it there!
Calms Stomach Issues
One of the most common reasons that endurance athletes drop out of races are GI distress related issues. Dehydration and overheating are very common and not something CBD will be able to help with, but inflammation issues contribute to a lot of gut issues and CBD can help there.
The colon is a location we know that is home to both CB1 and CB2 receptors, meaning that CBD Oil should activate those receptors, helping maintain optimal digestive health.
Alternative to Pain Medication
We already mentioned athletes tendency to overly rely on pain medication of the anti-steroidal type, but Opioids are as much, if not more of a problem.
In 2016 the CDC attributed more than 42000 deaths in the United States alone to Opioid pain medication.
Reducing the use of both of these pain medication types will be beneficial to athletes, especially in the long term.
Best Ways to Use CBD Oil
There are basically four ways to ingest CBD for athletes and each one has its benefits and drawbacks. We’ll go through why you may want to use CBD sublingually, through inhalation or ingestion, or topically.
We will start with inhalation because it Is the one method we don’t recommend to athletes. With very few exceptions, anything that could potentially damage your lunges is something you’ll likely want to stay away from. That being said, inhalation is the fastest way to feel the effects of CBD and can be great for pain management.
Next up is sublingually, this method involves putting a few drops of oil under your tongue and letting the mucus membranes absorb the substance. This method is almost as fast as inhalation but without many of the bad side effects.
If you have a sore muscle or joint you can use a cream, lotion or slave topically to apply direct pain relief. This method is great because it is very targeted but finding the perfect amount to use consistently can be a struggle.
Eating gummies or taking pills orally is also a good way to take CBD. The benefit is that you can time out exact dosages, making sure that you have constant relief from the ailment or pain you’re trying to calm. The downside to ingestion is that the CBD will take a long time to reach your bloodstream, and a lot of it is lost in the digestive process.
How Much CBD Oil to Use
This is one of the tougher questions to answer surrounding CBD. The dosage of CBD that you need depends on multiple factors, and as of right now the FDA and medical organizations have yet to release any guidelines.
CBD effects people differently depending on things like weight, body chemistry, CBD concentration, and the condition being treated. A 140lbs woman with anxiety will have a much smaller dose than a 225lbs man with chronic shoulder pain.
Our advice with CBD Oil is always that you start small and work your way up. While CBD does not have any major side effects it is still better to see how your body reacts and adjust up, rather than taking too much.
Our normal recommendation is to take 1-6mg of CBD per 10 pounds of body weight, starting closer to the 1mg range. For example, that 140lbs girl from our earlier example would start with 14 to 20mg per day, while the guy who weighs 225 could start around 25-30mgs a day.
As you become accustomed to the substance you will be able to increase your dosage to find an optimal level!