By Jenny Menzel, H.C.
Whether you’re a high-level athlete or stepping up your exercise routine to improve your health, supportive supplementation may be a regular part of your routine. Climbing to the top of the list of reparative supplements promoting speedy muscle recovery and pain relief is the legalized cannabis compound, cannabidiol — better known as CBD. Unlike intoxicating THC, CBD isolate has been permitted for use by the World Anti-Doping Agency, creating a legal game-changer for professional and recreational athletes. But what do researchers say? This article peers into the science of CBD and how it may assist with rigorous or gentle exercise routines alike.
What The Research Says about CBD
1. It Reduces Muscle Soreness.
Avoiding exercise is common due to a dreaded shared experience of post-workout soreness. While this type of inflammation after exercising is key to regenerating and strengthening muscles, exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD) can be induced by excessive inflammation — delaying recovery and increasing the risk of injury by impairing muscle function. A recent review published by Sports Medicine found CBD can modulate this inflammatory response by attenuating immune cells, stimulating the production of “good” anti-inflammatory cytokines, and inhibiting “bad” pro-inflammatory cytokines. This can significantly benefit athletes training in endurance sports where prolonged exercise can cause too much inflammation.
2. It Improves Digestion.
Science is discovering more and more about how CBD positively influences and balances the gut microbiome. When we exercise, our body gets stressed, which requires a need for increased nutrient intake that we don’t easily get from our food — especially if our gut is impaired due to increased inflammation. Our gastrointestinal tract is sensitive and can be imbalanced by even healthy stress, such as exercise. CBD promotes a calm and balanced gut, leading to enhanced ability to absorb needed nutrients for muscle repair and growth.
3. It Supports Bone Health.
While more research is needed to monitor CBD’s effect on bone structure in relation to exercise and sports activities, some animal models point to CBD’s ability to speed up femoral fractures, decrease calluses in post-fracture patients, and defend against osteoporosis induced by chemotherapy. Current studies point to CBD being worthwhile for human studies to determine its efficacy as a supplement to prevent or help recover from bone fractures.
4. It Decreases Performance Anxiety.
CBD has known anxiolytic effects and may assist with managing sports performance anxiety, according to the Sports Medicine review. Soothing anxiety is key to optimal functioning of the body, especially to avoid damaging sleep loss that can lead to decreased performance. However, even if you aren’t an athlete, you can still benefit from calming anxiety to promote reparative sleep and optimal digestion to fuel the body.
5. It Improves Mental Focus.
When post-workout inflammation reaches the brain, it has potential to impair cognitive function — decreasing the ability to focus and retain information. CBD has been shown to increase cerebral blood flow to the hippocampus — a part of the brain that assists in memory recall and processing emotions.
6. It Guards Against Brain Injury.
Up to 36% of American contact sport athletes will experience at least one concussion — a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) capable of temporarily disrupting neurological, cognitive, and behavioral function. According to one study, CBD has neuroprotective properties showing promise of targeting mild TBI symptoms like depression and aggression. Although more studies are needed, researchers hypothesize CBD can mitigate neuronal damage to the prefrontal cortex and inhibit brain-damaging oxidative stress and excitotoxicity.
7. It Fosters Restorative Sleep.
Good sleep hygiene is imperative for post-workout recovery, especially for athletes expected to endure rigorous training. A published study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise confirmed periods of high-volume training led to what was called “overreaching” — a decline in performance resulting from sleep disturbances and consequent illness. Research has discovered CBD enhances restorative sleep through its influence on the endocannabinoid system (ECS) — a complex system proven to have a bidirectional relationship with our circadian rhythm, promoting wakefulness and sleepiness at the appropriate times.
As a newly legalized supplement, CBD has a library of research backing its ability to assist in decreasing inflammation to support muscle recovery, ease performance anxiety, induce reparative sleep, and improve cognitive focus, however — mass human trials directly looking at CBD as an athletic enhancement supplement have yet to be conducted.References:
- Belardo C, Iannotta M, Boccella S, et al. Oral Cannabidiol Prevents Allodynia and Neurological Dysfunctions in a Mouse Model of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury. Frontiers in Pharmacology. 2019;10. doi:10.3389/fphar.2019.00352
- Booz G. Cannabidiol as an emergent therapeutic strategy for lessening the impact of inflammation on oxidative stress. Free Radic Biol Med. 2011;51(5):1054–61. doi:10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2011.01.007
- Crippa JA, Derenusson GN, Ferrari TB, et al. Neural basis of anxiolytic effects of cannabidiol (CBD) in generalized social anxiety disorder: a preliminary report. J Psychopharmacol. 2011;25(1):121-130. doi:10.1177/0269881110379283
- Fatouros IG, Jamurtas AZ. Insights into the molecular etiology of exercise-induced inflammation: opportunities for optimizing performance. J Inflamm Res. 2016;9:175-186. doi:10.2147/JIR.S114635
- Greco T, Ferguson L, Giza C, Prins M. Mechanisms underlying vulnerabilities after repeat mild traumatic brain injuries. Experimental Neurology. 2019;317:206-213. doi:10.1016/j.expneurol.2019.01.012
- Hausswirth C, Louis J, Aubry A, Bonnet G, Duffield R, LE Meur Y. Evidence of disturbed sleep and increased illness in overreached endurance athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014;46(5):1036-1045. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000000177
- Mccartney D, Benson MJ, Desbrow B, Irwin C, Suraev A, Mcgregor IS. Cannabidiol and Sports Performance: a Narrative Review of Relevant Evidence and Recommendations for Future Research. Sports Medicine - Open. 2020;6(1). doi:10.1186/s40798-020-00251-0
- Rossi F, Tortora C, Punzo F, et al. The Endocannabinoid/Endovanilloid System in Bone: From Osteoporosis to Osteosarcoma. Int J Mol Sci. 2019;20(8):1919. doi:10.3390/ijms20081919
- Vaughn L, Denning G, Stuhr K, De Wit H, Hill M, Hillard C. Endocannabinoid Signalling: Has It Got Rhythm? Br J Pharmacol. 2010;160(3):530-543. doi:10.1111/j.1476-5381.2010.00790.x
Jenny Menzel, H.C., is a Certified Health Coach and branding specialist for various alternative healthcare practices, and volunteers her design skills to the annual grassroots campaign, the Lyme Disease Challenge. Jenny was diagnosed with Lyme in 2010 after 8 years of undiagnosed chronic pain and fatigue, and continues to improve by employing multiple alternative therapies, including Āyurveda, Chinese Medicine and Bee Venom Therapy.