Depending on where you live in the US, you may or may not get a whiff of marijuana while you’re out and about. The legal status of this common drug is state-dependent in the eyes of the government but not sports associations.
Whole cannabis is currently prohibited in competition by the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA). However, in 2018 WADA removed one of the major phytocannabinoids within cannabis- CBD.
Consequently, its interest in sports has grown exponentially. Supplementation in athletic populations has grown due to its purported effects on athletic performance and recovery. Here I’ll cover what the research says about specific categories of purported benefits of CBD for Athletic Performance.
Athletes training at high volumes and/or intensities often report sub-optimal sleep quality and quantity. So, CBD seems like a good idea if you’re in peak training and trying to get more shut-eye.
Unfortunately, any potential positive effects of CBD on sleep are primarily limited to diseased populations, such as Parkinson’s disease. A recent study by Linares and colleagues showed no significant effects of CBD (300 mg) on either subjective sleep quality or objective polysomnography measures. Although CBD shows promise in sleep quantity and quality, well-designed randomized controlled studies in athletic populations are necessary and non-existent at the moment. Basically, we don’t have enough evidence to suggest that it’s beneficial for sleep quality or quantity.
Around a dozen studies have found that CBD reduced anxiety when taken an hour before an anxiety-inducing event. Case report summaries found that almost 80% of patients given CBD for anxiety saw reductions in one month.
Pain, Inflammation, and Muscle Function
Everyone knows you get sore as an athlete, but does CBD help reduce soreness or even improve muscle function?
Physiologically it would make sense that CBD could help lower inflammation because of its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity.
One study with rugby players found that only 14% of players reported any beneficial effect. It might not all be a loss, though. Low vs. high doses (10 vs. 500 mg) have shown differing pain relieving results in patience experiencing high levels of gut inflammation. There’s a catch, though. Although higher doses significantly relieved pain, it resulted in issues with the gastrointestinal tract or the central nervous system.
What about soreness from weight lifting? One study looked at 150 mg (2x 75 mg) given immediately after the workout, 24 and 48 hours after weight lifting. They found no beneficial effects on either muscle function or perceived soreness. Collectively, the evidence to date on the effects of CBD on muscle function following exercise makes it impossible to reach any form of conclusion.
Proceed with caution
An issue with CBD is possible contamination with other substances that may be banned in sports. Most supplements are not third-party tested, so it’s a gamble to take something that’s not NSF certified or tested for banned substances. Moreover, there seems to be no regulation on CBD, so the purity/potency of what you buy may be a bit dubious.
So Does CBD aid Athletic Performance?
While exciting and seemingly cutting edge, we need more research on athletic populations to draw conclusions about its efficacy. Preliminary data hint that there theoretically could be some benefits when it comes to anxiety, but they don’t come without downsides. For now, the tried and true methods of eating well, staying hydrated, having healthy sleep habits, and working on stress management are your best bet for optimal recovery and performance.
Want to learn more about blood testing for athletic performance? Read the Athlete Blood Test Knowledge Hub