CBD for Muscle Recovery: How Athletes Use CBD

August 8, 2020

They say everyone gets their 15 minutes of fame. But in the case of Cannabidiol (CBD), CBD love is still going strong four years after the US government changed laws that prevented CBD research (2016) and two years since they legalized hemp federally (2018). Since then, our scientific understanding has grown. And so has the public's appreciation. This includes numerous current and former pro athletes in basketball, football, hockey, golf, mixed martial arts, who not only broadcast that they use CBD, but proclaim CBD benefits like alleviating pain, anxiety, spasms, seizures, brain trauma complications from CTE, and insomnia. CBD for muscle recovery is among these benefits.

In this article, we'll explore:

  • The Science behind how CBD works
  • Can CBD help with muscle recovery?
  • Why athletes in some sports have been less vocal about using CBD
  • How to use CBD for muscle recovery

How CBD Works for Muscle Recovery

When you think of muscle recovery, the muscles come to mind. But it's more complicated than that. Muscle recovery requires several functions working properly to restore and build new muscle tissue.

These include:

  • The immune system - It manages how tissues respond to physical stress. Over-active immunity leads to inflammation, prolonged soreness, and slower recovery from injury, including muscle micro-tears.
  • The sleep cycle - Muscle recovery doesn't happen in the gym. You recover while you sleep. Improving sleep enhances muscle recovery.
  • Pain processing - Pain is undoubtedly needed to tell us when something is wrong in the body. But chronic pain is often the result of overactive pain response. Pain not only slows recovery. Pain may also make it hard to stick with a training schedule. That's vital for building muscle. One missed arm day becomes two, reversing progress.

A growing body of research shows that CBD directly addresses these three pillars of muscle recovery by supporting the body's desire to stay in homeostasis. It is a mental and physical state in which the body is in perfect balance. For example, homeostasis means that just enough inflammation rushes to damaged muscle tissues, but not too much. Finding this balance can alleviate pain and speed recovery.

How The Body Responds to CBD

CBD is non-psychoactive because it does not contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the substance found in cannabis that causes marijuana's altered mental status.

In fact, a 2018 study from the World Health Organization (WHO) found that there was no evidence it was habit-forming in humans and that it is generally well-tolerated. That means people rarely experience any side effects that would deter their use. CBD may interact with some medication by making them work unpredicably, so if you take any medications, you should speak with your healthcare professional about dosing.

But enough about what CBD doesn't do. What is it doing in the athlete's body?

CBD interacts with the Endocannabinoid System (ECS)

The ECS is responsible for maintaining homeostasis in the body. This system includes:

  • Receptors, which are like doorways in cells that allow messages to pass from cell to cell. ECS receptors are mostly found in the immune system { cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2) } and central nervous system { cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) }
  • Endocannabinoids, little hormone-like substances called neurotransmitters that attach to receptors to calm over-active cells
  • Enzymes that break down endocannabinoids when they are no longer needed. The ECS produces more as needed in a continuous homeostasis-maintaining system, but this system doesn't always work optimally.

Current research suggests that the benefits that athletes get from CBD come from CBD's interaction with this system. Cannabidiol is biologically similar to the endocannabinoids your own body makes. CBD may work by slowing down how quickly the enzymes break down endocannabinoids, allowing them to stay in the system longer, maintaining balance. The cannabidiol receptors that interact with CBD are mostly found in the immune system, while THC, the other primary cannabinoid, interacts with those in the brain.

Does CBD Comply with Anti-Doping Rules?

Yes, for the most part. The World Anti-Doping Agency removed CBD from prohibited substances in 2018, which allowed many world athletes to use CBD while complying with prohibited substance rules. Additionally, the USADA lists CBD as not prohibited. THC is still prohibited with both. But taking CBD oil or other CBD products should not cause you to test positive for THC unless the product is mislabeled or the organization is using a very outdated test.

At this time, the PGA, UFC, and pro tennis allow CBD.

In 2020, the NFL began reviewing its policy on CBD, and all cannabis. They have since eased restrictions but it's unclear how they will apply this during the season. The NBA is not testing for any cannabis in the "the bubble", which may demonstrate a more permanent move for the upcoming season.

How Do Athletes Use CBD

The most versatile is CBD oil. You can use it orally, sublingually, or topically. Oral and sublingual CBD support a healthy sleep cycle as well as reducing overall inflammation and associated pain. But for more targeted relief, many athletes use a CBD muscle balm, which is convenient and less messy than CBD oil. CBD absorbs quickly through the skin, so this gets the CBD exactly where you need it after a workout and may provide faster relief from training pain in the muscles and joints.

Pre-workout CBD or Post-workout CBD?

This depends on how you use it. Using CBD muscle balm before a workout may relieve tension in muscles and joints, giving you a fuller range of motion, and reducing risk of injury.

Applying a CBD muscle balm or CBD oil post-workout--and later as needed--can reduce post-workout muscle inflammation to start that recovery process. Some find that taking CBD oil sublingually before a workout enhances the overall workout. But if you take CBD orally (just swallowing), it must go through the digestive tract, so the benefits of CBD are delayed.

We recommend that you experiment to find out what CBD routine works best for you.

CBD For Muscle Recovery