Cannabidiol, commonly known as CBD, is all the rage as the next big player in the natural health industry. You can find it as CBD oil or in tinctures, topicals, capsules and even food. Although CBD comes from hemp, it appears to have none of the psychoactive effects of THC, the compound responsible for the “high” associated with marijuana. Instead, CBD interacts with the body’s natural endocannabinoid system to produce a variety of potentially beneficial health effects.
Some athletes are turning to CBD hemp oil to take advantage of these effects for recovery. Here’s what you need to know about the research before trying it out as part of your own regimen.
1) CBD Reduces Inflammation
Some inflammation after exercise is normal and is a necessary agent in repair. However, for athletes routinely engaged in heavy training, inflammation can become excessive and begin to cause problems or lead to injuries. Anti-inflammatory drugs may offer relief but don’t address the underlying issue.
A review of studies on how CBD affects inflammation suggests the compound’s interaction with the endocannabinoid system may ease inflammation by changing the way cells communicate during the inflammatory response. You can’t yet go out and get CBD-based drugs to help with inflammation, but more research is underway to help scientists understand exactly how CBD works so that the effects can be harnessed for future treatments.
2) CBD Can Aid in Injury Recovery
If you’ve ever had a workout- or training-related injury, you know the standard rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE) protocol. Doctors also typically suggest NSAIDs to minimize pain, but these drugs can cause unpleasant gastrointestinal side effects and deplete important nutrients. They also interfere with the beneficial effects of natural inflammation and may slow the recovery process.
Because of CBD’s natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects and the way it appears to work with your body instead of against it, evidence suggests it could be used as an alternative to NSAIDs. This may allow you to get back to return to training sooner, but it’s still important to work with your doctor or physical therapist to determine the best timeline for resuming strenuous activity.
3) CBD May Change the Way You Perceive Pain
A 2017 study examining the effects of CBD on a specific type of postoperative pain in rats showed the compound could block the brain’s perception of pain. Using CBD to influence “different dimensions” of the pain response during injury recovery could make it easier to maintain a consistent regimen of physical therapy without excessive discomfort.
However, if CBD does actually change how you perceive or experience painful sensations, it may be tempting to use it to “train through” an injury. Doing so can make the problem worse because dulling the pain doesn’t support healing.
4) CBD Oil Could Help You Sleep Better
Restorative sleep is an integral part of exercise recovery. Failing to get enough rest doesn’t give the muscles the time they need to recover and makes it difficult to give your all during workouts. Most doctors and trainers recommend sleeping seven to eight hours per night, but the sleep must be restful for you to see benefits.
In one rodent study, CBD increased the “total period of sleep” experienced by the animal test subjects, meaning it could be used as a sleep aid when sleep is quality is poor or you have difficulty sleeping through the night. CBD should not be used as a substitute for good sleep hygiene.
5) CBD Has the Potential to Curb Cortisol
Stress from intense exercise triggers the release of several hormones, including cortisol. Cortisol has many beneficial roles in the body, but excessive secretion can lead to problems like muscle breakdown and weight gain. CBD affects cortisol secretion, although it’s unclear as of yet how this action may benefit athletes. Part of the mechanism seems to involve a modulation of the natural rhythm of cortisol release in the body.
Other studies show CBD’s interactions with the endocannabinoid system can affect neurotransmitter signaling in the brain, leading to better moods and less anxiety.
CBD hemp oil isn’t currently legal in all 50 U.S. states. If you live in Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska or South Dakota, you can’t purchase or use CBD products. Other states require you to have a prescription to use CBD. Check your state’s laws to make sure it’s okay to try CBD for exercise recovery.
As with any supplement, don’t start using CBD without talking with your doctor or another trusted health professional. Little evidence is available regarding the long-term effects of CBD, so although it may be safe in the doses delivered by common CBD-infused products, it’s important to be cautious and monitor your health during use.