Can CBD Help Athletes Perform Better?

Can CBD Help Athletes Perform Better?

Published on 6/2/21

Cannabidiol (CBD) is all the rage these days. Now, drug stores, dispensaries and even big box stores like Wal-Mart began stock the popular substance. As its popularity continues to rise, CBD is moving beyond its already impressive status as an effective remedy for a wide array of ailments and is becoming embraced by athletes as a means to accelerate recovery time, streamline muscle function and increase performance. What exactly is CBD, though, and how does it work to improve athlete performance?

How CBD Interacts with the Body


CBD is a cannabinoid and is the second most common active ingredient in cannabis after tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Unlike THC, CBD on its own does not produce any type of high or psychoactive effect. Additionally, while THC is mainly found in marijuana, CBD is found in both marijuana and hemp plants. Hemp is botanically the same species as marijuana but normally contains less than 0.3% THC (in contrast, some marijuana strains can exceed 30% THC). The CBD products found on shelves or online use CBD derived from hemp.

CBD does its good work by interacting with the endocannabinoid system to maintain bodily homeostasis via millions of cells throughout the body. When absorbed by the human body, CBD modulates several non-cannabinoid receptors and ion channels (essential membrane proteins) in the immune system and central nervous system. It produces several effects through multiple molecular pathways that are still being studied and identified.

CBD can also act through various receptor-independent pathways to delay the reuptake of key endogenous neurotransmitters like adenosine and anandamide and enhance or inhibit the binding action of certain G-protein coupled receptors. As CBD influences the naturally occurring levels of endocannabinoids in the body it provides the medicinal benefits that make CBD so popular: it is widely used to treat issues like chronic pain, anxiety, insomnia, epilepsy, and depression.

CBD and the Law

In 2018 The Farm Bill became law and hemp was removed from the Controlled Substances Act. The plant (as long as it contains less than 0.3% THC) is now considered to be an agricultural product and CBD from hemp can be legally sold if certain guidelines are followed. The legalization of hemp by the Federal Government has resulted in the CBD wave that is sweeping across the country. According to a report from September 2020 released by New Frontier Data, the CBD market is big and will only get bigger.

  • $14.9 billion = Estimated 2020 annual spending on CBD in the U.S.
  • $318.88 = Estimated per capita annual spending among CBD consumers
  • $121 billion = Estimated total cumulative spending between 2020 and 2025
  • 29% = CBD consumers who spend $50 or more per month on CBD

CBD for Athletes


Much as The Farm Bill opened the door for mass CBD production and use, so too did the decision made in 2017 by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to lift any restrictions around CBD within sports and competitions. WADA deemed CBD to be a naturally occurring substance that works by mimicking our bodies' molecules. If the CBD is a legal form of the compound, athletes are allowed to use it. With the legalization of a substance that has proven to be so effective for so many physical issues and ailments, athletes of the highest caliber are inevitably getting involved with CBD. 

Several current and former NFL players are using CBD to help them recover from injuries and soothe aches and pains. Many retired players have found relief from the horrific symptoms of the degenerative brain disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) that is presenting at an alarming rate among former professional football players, along with soccer, rugby, and hockey. Terrell Davis and Ron Gronkowski are two former Pro Bowl players who use CBD regularly for migraines and joint pain. Davis formed a partnership with a CBD-infused sports drink in 2019. Leonard Marshall and Derrick Morgan are two other players who are outspoken about CBD benefits for athletes.

On the PGA Tour, Bubba Watson has endorsed CBD products and accepted a sponsorship. Tour pros Charley Hoffman, Lucas Glover, and Morgan Hoffmann have endorsed CBD products from Medterra.

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) competitors Nate Diaz and Gina Mazany are also proponents of CBD use to combat the damage done to their bodies in the ring. In fact, Diaz and his Nick brother recently launched their own CBD products company that sells CBD oil for athletes and the general public.

Benefits of CBD for Athletes


We've already touched on a few of the reasons why athletes are attracted to CBD but let's take a closer look at some of the specifics.

Pain Management

The use of CBD oil for injuries has skyrocketed thanks to legalization and access, but also because of the greater understanding of the dangers of taking opiates for pain. Aching muscles can sideline athletes from their training regimes and the anti-inflammatory and soothing properties of CBD can decrease recovery time. 

Strengthened Immune System

The properties of CBD help strengthen the immune system and protect the body against the unique stresses that athletes face that can lead to infections and illness. 

Better Sleep

Studies suggest that CBD imbues a calmness that helps promote the regenerative and relaxing sleep that athletes require to feel prepared and rested for elite performance. 

Reduced Anxiety

UFC fighter Mazany claims that CBD before an event helps keep her nerves steady and her brain focused. It can also assist with training regimens. The body experiences stress and anxiety during intense training and athletes can become exhausted. CBD and exercise go well together because CBD helps the body to limit the stress response to workouts by creating the right amount of anti-stress and anxiety hormones in the brain. The anxiety reduction is also linked to the improved sleep noted above.

Rapid Recovery

The anti-inflammatory effect of CBD is useful in alleviating the pain and cramps associated with recovery. 

Brain Injury Protection

A 2012 study found that giving rats CBD after a brain injury reduced the volume and extent of the brain damage, reduced inflammation in the brain and prevented the impairment of neurological behavior. This is possibly why athletes suffering from CTE report getting some measure of relief from CBD use. 

Are you an athlete who competes at a high level? Do you use CBD to help enhance your performance or combat issues that arise from intense training and competition? Let us know in the comments section below!

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