Athletes induce a lot of stress and fatigue in their bodies. The stress accumulated from competitions and training may cause physical trauma and prolonged muscle wear and tear, sometimes leading to pain and injuries. Commonly, fatigue related to physical exercises manifests as pain, weakness, loss of functional mobility, alteration of vital signs, and reduced concentration.
The prevalent method to combat symptoms of stress or fatigue is the intake of over-the-counter pain relievers or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen sodium. These drugs pose health risks such as heart attacks and strokes if used chronically.
Due to these reasons, topics on recovery have become crucial in sports research. Over the last few years, various alternative means and methods of fatigue recovery have been tested. One of the well-known strategies is using plant-derived products such as ginseng, curcumin, green tea, cherries, spinach, and beetroot. According to studies, these products have anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antioxidative properties that can promote fatigue recovery.
Another area of study is the use of CBD or cannabidiol because of its similar properties and wide acceptance in medicinal and recreational applications. In the world of sports, a growing number of fitness enthusiasts use CBD as an essential part of their recovery routine. Professional athletes likewise use CBD products to help them with chronic pains and inflammation, competition-related stress, and poor sleep quality.
What is CBD?
CBD is one of the over a hundred compounds found in the extract of seeds and stalks of cannabis plants. As a natural botanical concentrate that contains less than 0.3% THC, CBD does not make users “high”. This compound has a similar structure as endocannabinoids, the naturally occurring substances produced by the body with important roles such as modulating the activity of neurons to maintain health, stability, and a sense of well-being.
How does CBD benefit athletes?
Studies related to the beneficial effects of CBD for athletes are still developing, but several studies conducted so far show the potential of CBD in improving the performance and recovery of athletes.
Around 300 to 400 mg of CBD can have sedative effects by acting directly on the central nervous system. Specifically, CBD boosts levels of brain adenosine, a neurotransmitter that inhibits pain sensations by suppressing the central nervous system. Moreover, CBD may also block pain signals from reaching the brain by binding to TRPV1, a transient receptor responsible for transporting pain and inflammation signals.
A 2018 review article looked at different studies on the effectiveness of CBD in relieving chronic pain conducted since 1975. Based on these studies, CBD can help provide relief for types of pain like cancer pain, fibromyalgia, and neuropathic pain, without any negative side effects, unlike other pain-relieving substances like opioids and THC.
To learn more about the role of CBD in pain management, check How are CBD Products Used in Pain Management.
CBD is known to interact with endocannabinoid receptors of the body, aiding a number of different responses. These include anti-inflammatory effects that help alleviate chronic pain experienced by the body.
According to studies, the therapeutical potential of CBD in inhibiting oxidative stress and inflammation is based on the evidence that it could cause changes in cortisol release to regulate inflammatory response to injuries. Moreover, CBD also seems to alter processes related to gastrointestinal damage and promote the healing of skeletal injuries.
Gastrointestinal distress due to the inflammation of small and large intestines is one of the leading reasons endurance athletes drop out of races. Since CBD can bind to cannabinoid 1 and 2 receptors in the colon, it can help reduce symptoms of gut problems related to inflammation.
Athletes often experience sleep disorders as a result of having high training loads accompanied by insufficient recovery. About 28% of them resort to using CBD to improve sleeping quality. They report greater ease of sleeping and more restful evening sleep.
A study by Murillo-Rodriguez et al. in 2020 suggests that CBD consumption could stimulate the endocannabinoid system to modulate the sleep-wake cycle. More specifically, CBD acts by allowing more adenosine to bind to neurons while inhibiting the release of neurotransmitters, so that brain activity slows down.
Since CBD decreases the number of catabolic hormones in the body and regulates cortisol levels, it helps the body avoid the breakdown of lean muscle tissue. Cortisol is a stress hormone that breaks down muscle tissue to supply the body with the blood sugar needed to sustain its energy needs.
The legality of CBD for athletic events
Since 2018, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), as well as the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), have removed CBD from the list of prohibited substances in or out of the competition. However, there is an important caveat: CBD was the only one removed from the list and not the psychoactive component of marijuana, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).
Since it is difficult to isolate pure CBD, WADA has set a urinary threshold of 150 nanograms per milliliter for THC. This threshold is meant to lower the risk of athletes testing positive for THC due to casual use outside of competition. CBD isolate from reliable sources should not normally cause a person to test positive, but contaminated or mislabeled CBD products may have increased risk.
How to use CBD
CBD may exist as an isolate or full spectrum. Unlike isolates, full-spectrum CBD products contain traces of other compounds (THC included) found in the original plant. According to standards, those manufactured from industrial hemp must have less than 0.3% THC.
CBD products come in many forms—capsules, tablets, oil, and edibles. Depending on the manner of consumption, the beneficial effects may be experienced in varying delays. For example, capsules and edibles require a longer time to take effect because they have to be digested first, while drops and topical creams take effect more rapidly.