The Complete Guide to CBD for Athletes


CBD or cannabidiol has been enjoying growing popularity over the past decade.

A body of research and testimonials of satisfied users vouch for its strong medicinal properties and hold promise that CBD will replace many traditional medicines.

CBD has been shown effective in treating several chronic and acute medical conditions and improving overall well-being.

Unlike THC or tetrahydrocannabinol, which is also a natural compound found in cannabis, CBD is not psychoactive and does not cause a high or any form of intoxication.

CBD’s benefits can be experienced at no cost to the body and the mind of the user. It is 100% organic, and safe for use, and unlike many over-the-counter medicines, it does not cause dependency. These qualities make it an ideal choice for athletes. CBD can aid in post-workout recovery and improve overall performance by improving sleep quality and more.

Many household names from the world of professional sports have shared their positive experiences of using CBD. Mike Tyson, a former boxer champion, David Wells, former baseball pitcher, KC Deane, one of the top US mountain bike athletes, Chris Camozzi, a mixed martial artist, to name just a few, have all publicly spoken about the multiple benefits of using CBD.

Despite all the health benefits associated with using CBD, there is a stigma surrounding it given that its use is not legalized everywhere and given its origin.

In this article, we try to break that stigma by providing an overview of all the information relevant to professional athletes and those who occasionally do sports: What is CBD and how it works, why and how athletes should consider using it, and whether using it would get them in trouble.

What is CBD and How Does it Work?

CBD is one of more than 100 naturally occurring cannabinoids found in the leaves and flowers of the cannabis plant. It is a 100% organic, non-addictive compound, which is safe for use.

CBD’s medical properties made it a popular natural remedy used to treat many common ailments.

It differs from THC, another cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant, in that it is not psychoactive. Taking THC produces a high or a sense of euphoria, while that is not the case with CBD.

CBD improves the functioning of the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a complex biological system in the human body responsible for several major processes such as appetite, mood, memory, and sleep. By interacting with the receptors in the ECS, CBD enhances the user’s overall well-being and helps the body stay balanced.

Is CBD Legal in Sports?

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed CBD from the list of banned substances in 2018. While CBD is not prohibited, other natural and synthetic cannabinoids are.

Most CBD products contain traces of THC. If a very large dose of CBD is taken, the consumer may test positive for THC on the tests used by anti-doping organizations.

Additionally, taking products with a higher concentration of THC increases the chances of testing positive for THC. To minimize the risk of this happening, it is important to use CBD isolate products since these contain up to 99.9% of CBD.

Why Are More Athletes Using CBD?

In the past decade or so, researchers have begun to study CBD more closely in an attempt to learn more about what its potential benefits might be.

Ongoing research into the benefits of CBD has resulted in the creation of two prescription medications – and in the meantime, CBD oils have become some of the world’s fastest-selling supplements.

Survey data suggests that people are using CBD for an enormous variety of purposes ranging from chronic pain and migraines to anxiety and insomnia – and increasingly, people are even beginning to use CBD without a specific health purpose; they’re simply using it to support overall wellness.

One of the biggest trends over the past couple of years is that many athletes have begun adding CBD to their supplement regimens to improve results and recovery times – and that’s what this article will more thoroughly explore.

If you search the web, you’ll find no shortage of anecdotal evidence suggesting that athletes are getting great results with CBD – but does the science actually support that? Let’s see if we can get closer to the answer.

What Studies Support the Use of CBD for Athletic Recovery?

One of the most important things to know about CBD for athletes is that, while there have been many scientific studies focusing on CBD, those studies have so far centered around the cannabinoid’s potential medical benefits.

You won’t find a study, in other words, suggesting that you should add CBD to your workout supplement regimen.

So, you’ll have to look at the studies that do exist and read between the lines a little. These studies can potentially provide some clues.

    • One of the largest medical reviews to date examining CBD’s potential as a treatment for chronic pain was published in Frontiers in Pharmacology in 2020. The review concluded that CBD shows promise as a pain treatment but noted that further research is required to determine the situations in which CBD is most likely to be an effective pain treatment.
    • In 2019, the journal Antioxidants published a review of CBD as a compound for reducing inflammation and oxidative stress. The review concluded that CBD may be useful for combating inflammation and helping the body initiate tissue repair.
    • In 2016, the European Journal of Pain published the results of a study in which the joints of arthritic rats were treated with a transdermal CBD gel. The treatment reduced the circumference of the rats’ joints, providing clear physical evidence of anti-inflammatory action.

What Are the Primary Benefits of CBD for Athletes?

Given its properties, CBD is used to treat pain and inflammation resulting from demanding workouts, but also to achieve mental balance as it helps reduce stress and anxiety. Using it does not only help preserve physical but also mental health, improving a person’s overall well-being.

CBD is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent

CBD has an anti-inflammatory effect which is one of its best qualities. Inflammation is a common issue for most athletes, and it is the body’s natural response to injury or strenuous workout. While minor inflammation is good as it can stimulate positive training adaptations, chronic inflammation can be one of the biggest barriers to full recovery and to participating in competitions.

Evidence suggests that CBD is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent with complex properties which reduce cytokine (a protein involved in acute and chronic inflammation) production. This helps the body maintain only the small amount of inflammation needed for optimal performance. This quality also makes CBD play an essential role in speeding up the recovery process.

CBD alleviates pain

Numerous studies have shown that CBD is effective in treating pain. It is used to reduce chronic pain, pain resulting from chemotherapy and the acute and less intense pain for people with migraine. There is evidence that CBD can also be used to treat arthritis, reducing inflammation and overall joint pain.

Inflammatory pain is the most common pain for athletes. It is often the consequence of training too hard or of an injury. If not treated on time, it can lead to more serious issues which can have a long-term impact on performance. More and more athletes are turning to CBD as a treatment for pain since it is safer than non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) traditionally used.

CBD improves the quality of sleep

Poor sleep can have a negative impact on athletic recovery and performance. It can also weaken the immune system, which can lead to more serious health issues hindering performance. A full 8 hours of sleep is therefore essential for achieving optimum results. Users report that CBD does not only improve the quality of their sleep but also helps them fall asleep faster.

CBD has shown promising results in treating sleep disorders. It can be used to treat the symptoms of REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD), a disorder in which a person acts out their dreams. Furthermore, it is efficient in treating grogginess which is a symptom of insomnia. Both human and animal experiments have shown that that CBD has a great potential in promoting wakefulness.

CBD improves mental health

A lot of athletes struggle with anxiety and stress given enormous pressure to perform both in training and competition. Even if they manage to overcome these emotions, sometimes it can hinder their performance. Stress over a longer period of time can contribute to serious health issues such as heart disease, heart blood pressure, and diabetes.

CBD is well-known for how it impacts anxiety and can be used to treat both acute and chronic anxiety. It can also help the body cope with stress by creating the right amount of anti-stress hormones in the brain. These qualities of CBD are particularly relevant as they can help enhance the performance without the body reacting in a negative way.

CBD is a great alternative to NSAIDs

For years, athletes have been using over-the-counter NSAIDs like Advil and Aleve to treat pain. It has been proven that the long-term use of NSAIDs is detrimental to a person’s health. It can lead to heart attacks, strokes, gastrointestinal issues, and more. Many athletes are turning to CBD as an alternative to NSAIDs as it has the potential to reduce pain without having serious side effects.

CBD strengthens the immune system

Research has shown that cannabinoids such as CBD can interfere with the release of cytokines, proteins released by the immune cells when the body experiences trauma or stress. Because of this property, there is ongoing research on the role of CBD in treating autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. Traditional medication for these conditions shuts down the immune system making the user susceptible to infections and illnesses. CBD has been found to suppress only specific parts of the immune system helping alleviate the symptoms of autoimmune diseases.

On the other hand, CBD can also do the opposite. It can strengthen the immune system to better cope with infections and illnesses. Some studies have found the positive effect of CBD on strengthening the immune system of cancer patients, who reported being able to better combat infection when taking CBD.

How is CBD Consumed?

There are a variety of CBD products available on the market suited for different methods of consumption. Consumers need to do their due diligence to make sure that the products they purchase come from a reputable supplier.

You can find CBD oil for sale, which is the most frequently used CBD product. It is made by extracting CBD from the cannabis plant and diluting it with a carrier oil such as coconut or hemp seed oil. There are several ways to consume it: by placing a few drops of it under the tongue (sublingually), by applying it directly on the skin (topically), and by using it as a cooking ingredient and adding it to food (ingestion).

CBD capsules are ingested just like any other pill or capsule. CBD oil which is extracted from the cannabis plant is suspended in a gel capsule to make CBD capsules. They are inconspicuous and simple to use, as the dosage is already determined.

CBD edibles are without a doubt the most discreet way of CBD intake. They are essentially foods and drinks infused with CBD. There is a wide selection of CBD edibles available on the market.

CBD can also be applied directly on the skin, and that in the form of a cream or an ointment. These are usually applied to the target area on the skin. There is a specific market for those who prefer CBD cosmetics to traditional cosmetics. Apart from ointments, the market also offers products such as body and lip balms, massage oils and bath salts.

CBD can also be consumed by vaping or smoking. CBD vape oil or CBD terpenes are used for this method of consumption. Terpenes are compounds responsible for color, flavor and smell in plants, and when combined with CBD they either intensify or lessen its effects.

How Much CBD Should be Consumed?

There is no standard dose which would ensure that every consumer experiences the optimal effects. How much CBD should one consume to see its positive effects depends on a variety of factors: method of consumption, a person’s body weight and metabolism, and the quality of a product. It is usually recommended to start off with a low dose and gradually increase it based on the effects it has.

It should be noted that users should consistently use CBD to maintain its positive effects. Developing a routine of CBD consumption will maintain a continuous amount of it in the system, bringing balance to the body and the mind.

How Do The Majority of Athletes Use CBD?

CBD does have a drawback as a supplement for athletes. Since it isn’t approved as a nutritional supplement by the FDA and can’t be marketed as an over-the-counter remedy for any purpose, you’re essentially on your own when it comes to deciding how to take CBD and how often to take it.

You can, however, look at what other people are doing and decide whether it might be possible to adapt those methods to suit your purposes.

The most popular way athletes use CBD is by taking an oil-based tincture that’s held under the tongue for several seconds and then swallowed. If you want to use CBD as a workout supplement, you’ll almost definitely want to try oral CBD oil because sublingual administration promotes fast absorption and allows the CBD to circulate throughout your body.

Many athletes also add a topical CBD product to your regimen as a way of applying CBD to specific muscles and muscle groups. As the arthritis study cited above suggests, topical CBD does seem to have the ability to reduce inflammation in targeted areas.

The Takeaway

There’s no doubt that removing CBD from the list of the banned substances by WADA was the first step in changing the perception of CBD and its use by athletes. Athletes who have publicly spoken about the positive experiences of using CBD have also helped in removing the stigma associated with it.

While the change in worldwide public perception will not take place overnight, the promising results of the ongoing research on the medical properties of CBD and a growing number of users worldwide are paving the way for it to take place in the near future.

If you’re an athlete and you still haven’t given CBD a try, check out a sites like CanaBD for quality and reliable products. CBD may just be what you’ve been looking for.

About Shannon Clark

Shannon holds a degree in Exercise Science and is a certified personal trainer and fitness writer with over 10 years of industry experience.

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