CBD for Athletes: Effects, benefits, and legal status

Whether you’re a weightlifter, a runner, a gymnast, or just love a good workout, your training puts a lot of stress on your body.  Some of this is good: that stress stimulates your muscles to adapt to your workout and become stronger, increasing your performance and giving you those gains.  That said, physical trauma (such as an injury or muscle tear) and prolonged repetitive use can lead to injuries and cause significant pain. That pain is familiar to athletes, who often use NSAID or even opioid pain relievers to cope enough to continue training.

While these methods are effective, they’re also potentially harmful:  in addition to carrying a high risk of addiction and dependence, opioid painkillers were responsible for nearly 30,000 deaths in the US in 2017 alone, a number that has risen exponentially since 2014.  NSAIDs are generally considered safer, but long-term use can cause liver problems and even death.

Effects of CBD on Athletes

Since many of the first-line pain management options available to athletes can cause harm at the doses needed to be effective in bodies that routinely push themselves to their physical limits, many athletes are curious and even eager for a rising star of the pain management sphere:  CBD. Cannabidiol (CBD) has been shown to be a potent anti-inflammatory and analgesic while carrying virtually zero risk of abuse or overdose, making it ideal for athletes dealing with chronic pain or simply trying to aid athletic recovery.

So, could CBD be right for you?  Here, we’ll unpack what exactly CBD is, give you a rundown on how it works with your body, cover the legality of CBD for athletes, and discuss how CBD might benefit you.  We’ll wrap up with some points to consider before diving into CBD, and how to find quality products.

What Exactly Is CBD?

So first – what is CBD? Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a cannabinoid (a catch-all term for a group of chemicals found in plants in the cannabis family) found alongside its better-known (and still federally illegal) counterpart, THC, in marijuana.  However, the hemp plant (a distinct sub-category of the cannabis family) produces very high concentrations of CBD with very low concentrations of THC. Hemp makes it possible to extract CBD that’s usable for health purposes without the risk of the high produced by THC.

Cannabinoids are already present in your body, and work through what scientists call the endocannabinoid system, or ECS, a group of receptors and other tissues that modulates the activity of neurons (the cells that make up your brain and nervous system).  Unlike THC, CBD is non-psychoactive, meaning it won’t get you high at any dosage. Preliminary studies have shown that CBD acts on the body to reduce inflammation and pain, decrease anxiety, and act as an antioxidant, though the exact mechanisms of these actions are still poorly understood.  That said, we do know a little bit about the action of CBD on the nervous system.

Your ECS contains two main types of receptors (that we know of so far), CB1 and CB2.  CBD binds to both these receptors, producing different effects depending on which receptor it binds to; CB1 binding produces more analgesic and anxiolytic effects, while CB2 binding acts more on reducing inflammation.  The primary purpose of the ECS appears to be to promote homeostasis, or a condition of well-being and physical balance, and CBD appears to act as a soothing compound that helps bring your body back to baseline.  In this way, consuming CBD can be viewed as “supplementing” this system, helping you restore balance to your body more quickly.

Is CBD Legal for Athletes to Consume?

Yes!  Beginning in January 2018, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed CBD from its list of prohibited substances, both in and out of competition.  The US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) followed suit — CBD is completely legal for athletes to use.  More generally, the 2018 Farm Bill declared hemp an agricultural commodity and not a controlled substance, which means that both hemp and hemp-derived CBD are legal for purchase and consumption at the federal level.  That said, it’s still a good idea to check your local laws before proceeding.

Benefits of CBD for Athletes

CBD for Pain Relief:

While we’ve known for awhile that THC possesses strong analgesic (pain relieving) properties, there is evidence to support the action of CBD to reduce pain without the psychoactive effects.  While more studies are needed to confirm this property and understand the mechanism behind it, there exists a growing movement of people abandoning pharmaceutical pain relievers in favor of CBD.

Alternative to NSAIDs:

Many athletes have relied on over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen or naproxen sodium for decades, but they may not be as safe as once assumed:  NSAIDs have been associated with renal and liver damage, and may increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.  Many athletes have found that CBD can reduce or even eliminate their need for NSAIDs for post-training pain, without the risk of side-effects or overdose.

Alternative to Opioids:

Opioids carry a massive risk of addiction and dependence, not to mention the thousands of overdose deaths they cause annually.  Cannabinoids may actually be more effective than opioids at managing long-term, chronic pain without the risk of dependence or accidental death.

CBD to Reduce Inflammation:

While a little inflammation helps stimulate your muscles to adapt and grow stronger, too much can hinder recovery and hurt your performance.  Cannabinoids may help reduce inflammation by decreasing cytokine (a chemical messenger that promotes inflammation) production.

Settle Your Stomach:

CBD can soothe inflammation in the digestive tract, easing the GI distress often felt by endurance athletes.  While it won’t help you outrun dehydration or overheating, CBD can help treat underlying inflammation and reduce symptoms of GI irritation through the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the colon.

CBD for Sleep support:

Getting quality sleep is one of the single best ways to improve your recovery and achieve more gains from training.  There are a variety of potential reasons for this, but CBD has been shown to mildly improve sleep quality and may help fight insomnia.

How much CBD to use? Dosage and Quantity.

While many athletes wonder how much mg of CBD to use when they first buy CBD, the answer isn’t always straight! The first thing to consider when it comes to CBD dosage is what are you using CBD for? If you’re looking at a pain management option, you might obviously need slightly more CBD than for just relaxation or muscle recovery. That being said we always recommend to start low then increase if needed. People would usually use a drop or two (for CBD Tinctures) and wait for effects. They would then adjust the quantity up or down as needed. Listening to your body is our best recommendation!

Conclusion, With A Caveat

There’s a growing body of evidence to support the use of CBD for treating a variety of conditions, including aiding athletic recovery and management of chronic pain.  The potential benefits of CBD for athletes are exciting, and many people are incorporating CBD into their health regimen. However, CBD is currently not regulated by the FDA, which means that it’s exceedingly important to know what’s in the bottle you’re buying.  We recommend you to do some researches first and carefully choose your brand if that one hasn’t been reviewed yet online. Check out the top 10 CBD brands if you’re looking for a safe and solid option.

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