CBD For Athletes: What You Need To Know About Cannabidiol


Athletes put a lot of stress on our bodies, to a positive and negative effect. Training stress stimulates adaptation and increased performance, but physical trauma and prolonged wear and tear also lead to injuries and pain. Current methods of pain management are useful, but they’re even killing people. In search of improved sports recovery and safer pain relief, many people ask about cannabidiol or CBD for athletes. Should you?

CBD Basics

Athletes can legally consume cannabidiol, but what is it, what does it do, and why would you use it? To begin with, cannabinoids already exist in your body. Scientists have identified what they call the endocannabinoid system (ECS) that modulates the activity of neurons. Cannabidiol (CBD) is a phytocannabinoid found naturally in the cannabis plant. Unlike THC, which is also found in cannabis, CBD is not psychoactive.

Benefits Of CBD For Athletes

Relieve Pain

Studies have shown cannabis (mostly THC and far less CBD) is useful for reducing pain, including musculoskeletal pain from exercise and stiff joints. There is little research on CBD alone or a 1:1 ratio of THC to CBD. This is an area where anecdotal evidence and biological plausibility are the best we have until research catches up. Despite the lack of hard evidence, CBD does appear to relieve pain effectively for many athletes.

Alternative To NSAIDs

Athletes have been consuming over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen sodium (Aleve) for decades. Still, they may not be as safe as we once thought. In particular, ultradistance athletes are typically advised to avoid NSAIDs during long training sessions and events due to an increased risk of renal damage. But even if your workouts and games are short, long-term or frequent use of NSAIDs may increase your risk for heart attack and stroke.

Some athletes have found that CBD’s pain-relieving effect can reduce or eliminate their use of NSAIDS for exercise-related pain, with minimal side effects. There are no documented deaths from cannabis or cannabinoid-based products. In a systemic review of oral and oral-mucosal cannabis studies for various medical conditions, the majority of adverse events reports were considered non-serious (96.6%).

Reduce Inflammation

A little bit of inflammation can be useful for athletes and help stimulate positive training adaptations. Too much inflammation hinders recovery and hurts performance. There are CB2 receptors in both the brain and periphery, but they are more concentrated in immune tissues. Cannabinoids binding to CB2 receptors may have an anti-inflammatory effect by reducing cytokine (cell messengers) production. In other words, CBD bound to CB2 receptors help dial down the response when your immune system sounds the alarm after hard workouts.

Settle Your Gut

Inflammation in small and large intestines causes a lot of discomfort, and GI distress is one of the leading reasons endurance athletes drop out of the race. CBD won’t solve stomach problems from dehydration and overheating (two significant causes for athletes). Still, if you have underlying inflammation issues contributing to gut issues during or after exercise, CBD may be useful for reducing your symptoms. There are CB1 and CB2 receptors in the colon. Colitis symptoms were inhibited (in mice) when CB1 and CB2 receptors were activated.

Improve Sleep Quality

Getting more and better sleep is one of the most effective ways for an athlete to achieve more significant training gains. Anecdotally, athletes who consume CBD report greater ease going to sleep and a more restful night’s sleep. One potential reason for this could be CBD inhibiting the reuptake of adenosine.

Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) breaks down as your brain burns carbohydrates for energy, and adenosine gradually accumulates in the brain. More adenosine binding to neurons inhibits neurotransmitters’ release, slowing down brain activity, helping you feel calmer, and inducing sleep. Your body metabolizes adenosine as you sleep, and sometime later, low concentrations of adenosine help you wake up, and the process starts again.

By binding to the same receptors adenosine would link to, CBD may inhibit adenosine reuptake, which helps it accumulate more quickly and makes you feel sleepy sooner. CBD may also have a potent anti-anxiety effect for some people, helping them get to sleep and have a more restful sleep.