A growing number of athletes and fitness enthusiasts are turning to cannabidiol (CBD) as a quasi-performance enhancement supplement due to its many purported therapeutic properties, such as quicker muscle recovery, pain relief and improved sleep. For now, CBD is still considered A-OK by the US Anti-Doping Agency, so it makes one wonder if product claims that CBD enhances performance are true.
Though most studies on CBD have promising results, findings are still mixed and not many studies to date are high quality. Plus, the hype around CBD overstates its benefits, and concerns about the purity of CBD products abound. In any case, it's worth looking at the available evidence to determine if CBD can actually boost your workouts, or if you should steer clear of it.
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How CBD could possibly make your workouts better
A growing body of evidence points to possible connections between CBD and physical performance, although these possible connections are indirect. Here's what the science currently says about CBD and its properties that could relate to fitness.
CBD might relieve pain and inflammation
Studies show that CBD has positive effects on bodily inflammation. According to a 2020 review of studies, CBD has direct anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Inflammation is the body's natural response to injury and distress, and reduced inflammation usually equates to reduced pain. However, studies on the direct relationship between CBD and pain are lacking.
Also in 2020, researchers concluded that CBD may in fact have anti-inflammatory properties that could possibly be useful in the treatment of joint diseases, but that "there is a lack of high-quality, novel research investigating the use of CBD in human musculoskeletal diseases."
One large-scale review of studies from 2018 looked at research from 1975 to 2018 and concluded that overall, the evidence for CBD as a pain reliever is promising. However, most research on this topic concludes with the sentiment that more research in humans is needed to determine the effects of CBD on pain and inflammation.
CBD can help you sleep better
Like research on CBD and pain, research on CBD and sleep has yielded mixed results. A 2017 review found that CBD may be helpful in the treatment of sleep disorders, such as REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD), a condition that causes people to act out their dreams during sleep.
Because CBD might decrease cortisol levels, it might help people with anxiety to wind down and fall asleep at night. Raw cannabis flower has been shown to induce sleep, but raw cannabis contains THC, so CBD alone likely doesn't have the same effect.
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CBD may aid muscle recovery
Because CBD can help you get better sleep and may reduce inflammation, it may also aid in the muscle recovery process. Most of the tissue repair process occurs during sleep, so more sleep combined with the anti-inflammatory effects of CBD make this cannabis-derived compound a strong contender for a muscle recovery supplement.
CBD can alleviate stress and anxiety
If you tend to get anxious before games or competitions, when you're going for a new one-rep max, or embarking on a black diamond bike trail, CBD can help calm your nerves and give you the confidence you need to tackle your next big challenge.
Though more research is needed (no surprise here), a case series from 2019 concluded that CBD holds potential as a treatment for anxiety. Lots of other research reiterates this finding, and it's worth trying if you feel like your nerves hold you back from your greatest athletic potential.
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Can CBD actually improve workout performance?
This is where things get a bit fishy. While there's a growing body of evidence supporting the four potential CBD benefits above, there's little scientific evidence to back up the claim that CBD directly improves fitness performance or athletic abilities.
Because CBD was so recently legalized (federally -- many states still have a ways to go), it was challenging for scientists to research and study CBD. Even now, nearly three years after the government removed the Schedule 1 label from CBD, it hasn't been extensively studied for its performance enhancement properties. "Extensive" is even a stretch to describe the evidence we have on other aspects of CBD, such as its effects on sleep or pain.
The point is, there isn't enough research to outright say that CBD improves fitness or athletic performance.
Be skeptical of CBD products that claim to improve athletic performance. Do your research on CBD products you're interested in to make sure you buy a pure and potent product, as diluted CBD is a waste of money and impurities could set you up for drug test failure. Also keep in mind that clinical trials often use higher doses of CBD than what you can find on the market, so products you buy may not have the same effects as the findings you see in research studies.
All in all, CBD is proven safe, but not necessarily effective, as a fitness supplement. If you think CBD enhances your performance and you don't experience adverse effects, it can be a valuable tool for health and fitness.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.