Whether you’re a professional athlete or just someone who works hard to stay fit, you know chronic inflammation and pain are bad news. When it hits, resolving it quickly and getting back to business is job one. When injuries occur due to overuse or trauma, you’re probably quick on the draw with tried and true treatments: rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE).
If you’ve already added quality CBD oils, creams, and ointments to that anti-inflammatory and pain-easing arsenal, you’re probably a CBD evangelist.
But the recovery benefits of CBD for athletes don’t stop at helping the body reduce chronic inflammation and mitigate pain. Curious about how high-quality CBD (cannabidiol) products can help up your game -- without running afoul of anti-doping regulations? Read on.
CBD and THC are just two of over a hundred cannabinoids found in all varieties of cannabis. Cannabinoids are not exclusive to cannabis, though. We (humans and nearly every other animal on Earth) manufacture our own, and we have a complex endocannabinoid (“inner cannabinoid”) system that makes excellent use of them.
Comprised of endocannabinoids, enzymes, and receptors located throughout the body, the endocannabinoid system works to maintain homeostasis (balance) through regulation of a variety of processes, including metabolism and digestion, brain and immune function, pain modulation, nerve health, reproduction, learning and memory, and more. [source][source] Cannabinoids like CBD work on your body’s endocannabinoid system to help it function at peak performance.
Our bodies have a natural affinity for cannabis -- and for good reason! Who knew?
CBD and Athletic Recovery
Inflammation and NSAIDs
NSAIDs such as ibuprofen are widely used (and widely overused) to treat inflammation and pain. These anti-inflammatories indiscriminately hijack the body’s natural processes to defeat any and all inflammation -- including the mild inflammation that helps muscles repair and grow, readying them to take on bigger challenges.
An 8-week 2017 study in the Acta Physiologica journal concluded that ibuprofen taken at the nonprescription maximum recommended dose--1200 mg. in 24 hours--resulted in seriously impaired muscle growth.
So, although powerful anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen may temporarily help you feel better, they may also cut muscle recovery off at the pass. The oxidative stress at the root of inflammation remains, pushing the problem down the road. What’s more, NSAIDs come with a long list of potential side effects and health warnings.
Bottom line? For normal soreness that stays with you for a couple of days following a workout, leave the Advil on the shelf. If you must take them, do so sparingly.
If you have inflammation and associated pain that sticks with you longer than it should, or if you’re recovering from an injury, look for effective treatments that work with your body, not against it.
Inflammation and CBD
Unlike NSAIDs, CBD works with the body’s healing mechanisms, helping it address the root cause of inflammation and pain, rather than just making inflammation “go away.” Your body already knows what to do. Antioxidant-rich CBD, which mimics the body’s own cannabinoids, is a powerful ally in the effort.
What’s more, some research suggests CBD may contribute to muscle growth--not directly, but by hindering the breakdown of muscle mass for energy, making it a wise choice for relief from inflammation and pain in athletes.
Whether in the form of oil, creams, or ointments, CBD partners with the body to assist in recovery from inflammation and pain.
Stress and CBD
The NIH defines stress simply as the brain and body’s response to demands. It isn’t always a bad thing. The key is to be mindful of how our minds and bodies are responding to stressors. That’s especially true for competitive athletes and others constantly bombarded by physical and mental stressors beyond the usual.
In response to challenging stress, the brain releases chemicals like cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine that prepare us for “fight or flight,” whether we’re being chased by a bear, a deadline, or a stopwatch. The body can even perceive intense muscle exertion during a workout as a sign of stress. [source]
When stress and all those “helpful” hormones get out of control, the avalanche starts: sleepless nights, a nutritious diet out the window, low energy, pain, lack of motivation, and impaired focus. Stress can even lead to an increased chance of injury in athletes.
Unchecked stress can also pave the way for anxiety, and persistent anxiety can lead to a long list of serious health issues, including increased inflammation.
If stress or anxiety are impacting your game or recovery, there are a number of body-friendly practices and aids you can add to your routine to help restore balance. Although research on CBD’s effects on stress and anxiety in humans is still limited, the studies that exist are promising. Anecdotal evidence also abounds, with a growing cadre of professional and other elite athletes who use CBD oil lauding its effectiveness.
In 2018, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) approved the use of CBD for professional athletes and other elite competitors, with THC allowed in trace amounts. That’s a huge win!
Still, hemp’s other cannabinoids remain a regulatory no-no, and it’s hard to know whether regular use of accurately-labeled CBD products may push you over the allowable threshold for THC. For many professional athletes, that makes using most CBD products too risky.
Full-spectrum CBD contains all the cannabinoids in hemp, along with those cannabis overachievers, terpenes. Studies suggest that all of these compounds work synergistically to magnify each one’s effectiveness -- the famed “entourage effect.”
High-quality CBD isolates are a crystalline powder (often mixed with a carrier oil for consumption), the result of extracting only CBD from hemp, leaving elements prohibited under anti-doping regulations behind. It’s the purest form of CBD available.
If you don’t have to worry about WADA restrictions, by all means, reach for full-spectrum CBD. (“Broad-spectrum,” with only THC removed, is available as well.) For professional athletes and other elite performers under WADA’s watchful eye who want access to CBD’s benefits, CBD isolates are an ideal solution.
CBD Labeling -- What You Should Know
CBD product labels can be misleading. In 2017, the American Medical Association tested CBD products from several brands and found product labels inaccurate in many cases, discovering lower CBD and higher THC content than claimed.
So, how can you know for sure what’s in your CBD products?
Look for brands that participate in third-party testing -- testing done by a lab that has no stake in a company’s products. Third-party labs provide “certificates of analysis” for CBD companies upon request, detailing everything found in a product. If a CoA isn’t available on the company’s website, ask for one. If they can’t provide it, move on.
There are no standardized dosing recommendations for CBD products, including isolates. Check the label, do your research, and start slowly to arrive at the dose that’s right for you.
CBD is an essential part of any athlete’s recovery cabinet. And now, with options even professional athletes can trust worry-free, every athlete can benefit from CBD’s remarkable ability to unlock one of the body’s most critical systems for addressing inflammation, pain, anxiety, and more, helping your body restore balance -- and getting you back in the game.