CBD-infused activewear doesn't have science on its side -- yet
Acabada claims its activewear gives you a dose of CBD as you move, but there's not enough research to prove it works.
Mercey LivingstonCNET Contributor
Mercey Livingston is a health and wellness writer and certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. She's written about fitness and wellness for Well+Good, Women's Health, Business Insider, and Prevention.com among others. When not writing, she enjoys reading and trying out workout classes all over New York City.
The wellness industry is notorious for plenty of trends and fads, but none have quite topped the sheer craze and popularity of CBD, or cannabidiol. It's being marketed as a virtual "cure-all" for everything from anxiety to pain and inflammation and it's sold practically everywhere. One of the latest products to add to the CBD craze? Activewear infused with CBD oil. (Yes, really.)
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Clothing brand Acabada, which launched this year, claims to be the first CBD-infused activewear brand in the world. The company infuses its workout clothes like leggings and sports bras with CBD and markets the clothes as a form of "prerecovery" or "proactivewear" -- a preventative measure of sorts against workout-induced muscle pain and soreness. In a way, they are similar to recovery clothing, which uses far infrared radiation to soothe sore muscles while you sleep following a tough workout.
I had the opportunity to test out the CBD-laced workout gear for myself and have to admit, I was intrigued by the product idea. I've used other CBD products on and off (a tincture, which I found helpful for stress and anxiety) CBD gummies, a protein bar, and a variety of topical CBD products marketed to help with post-workout muscle soreness. But I was pretty skeptical about the clothes, since the only products I've found truly helpful are the more potent CBD tinctures.
So is there any weight behind CBD-infused activewear claims and how exactly does it work? Keep reading to find out more about the products and what science has to say.
Disclaimer: My results are subjective to my own experience and in no way are they clinically efficacious.
How does CBD activewear work?
So, how exactly you can get CBD into clothes? Well, it's not that easy. Acadaba says it "strategically" infuses the clothing fabric with up to 25 grams of CBD. The company uses a process called microencapsulation (which is not a new technology) where the CBD is infused into tiny microcapsules that are layered into the fabric. Once you start to move your body and create friction, the microcapsules break open, and then the CBD is said to be released into your skin.
Seth Baum, the CEO of Acabada, told CNET that microencapsulation works well for activewear because most activewear items are made of stretchy knit fabrics, which have more fibers than woven fabrics.
"If you look at a knit under a microscope you're going to see thousands of fibers, and the microcapsules bond to these fibers. And they're at all different levels within the fabric. These different levels hold the microcapsules and as you're moving you're actually breaking the ones that are the highest, or on the surface," Baum said. According to Acabada the CBD lasts for about 40 wears and washes (and this is also subject to how long you work out and wear the clothes after.)
So the idea is that every time you wear the Acabada clothes, another layer of microcapsules is released and activated in the fabric. Once that happens, the product absorbs into your skin and works essentially the same way as another topical product, like a CBD salve or cream.
What does the science say?
Depending on what you're looking for, you can find CBD in everything from supplements and drinks to beauty products and even pet products. It's being marketed as a "magic cure-all" for anxiety, pain, insomnia and inflammation. And Acabada's site specifically implies that the CBD in their product has the same "anti-inflammatory, calming and muscle relieving benefits" as a topical CBD product. But, there's actually not that much solid science to back up these claims.
Dr. Ziva Cooper, research director of the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative, said that there's limited research on the therapeutic effects of CBD alone. However, there's more research on CBD with THC or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (which is not legally allowed in consumer products at a higher concentration than 0.3%). This is perhaps one of the reasons why CBD claims are so confusing, because we know more about the efficacy of products with both CBD and THC, but the vast majority of CBD products sold contain only CBD. It's important to know that products with just CBD and CBD with equal parts THC are totally different products.
And the research on topical CBD? It's even more limited, at best. "We don't have evidence of a topical product right now that demonstrates that it permeates the skin in any meaningful way. And we also don't have evidence for topical cannabidiol or other cannabinoids from rigorous studies (placebo, double-blind controlled studies) at this point has therapeutic effects for any end point," Cooper said.
When I asked Cooper about her opinion on if CBD clothing could work in theory, she seemed skeptical. "Given that we don't even know if topical CBD can permeate the skin and have meaningful effects on the body, we definitely don't know if CBD in clothing would have that effect."
So where are all of the claims about CBD products coming from? According to Cooper, people are reporting benefits from CBD use, which is anecdotal evidence, but in terms of scientific evidence -- it's not the most solid type. "What we do have evidence of are from people's reports that when they use topical cannabidiol they have alleviation of certain symptoms, especially related to pain and muscle soreness," Cooper said.
Since there isn't much solid research on how CBD products with low THC concentrations can help people, what about studies conducted on animals? "We have evidence in animal models that CBD might help decrease inflammation, but that is very different from the indications for which people might be using this athletic wear," Cooper said.
Ultimately, there needs to be far more research into CBD's pain-relieving claims before anyone can definitively prove that it does or doesn't work.
What happened when I tried it
I decided to test out the Acabada product (the Astor leggings, $180) during two consecutive days. The first was during a barre class, which typically makes me super sore the day after. The following day, I wore the leggings for a dance cardio class that doesn't leave me as sore as barre, but is a real endurance challenge for my lower body since it involves lots of jumping. Both workouts are challenging and intense -- but very different. Dance is more cardio intensive, while the barre class is more taxing on my muscles.
I will say I noticed a bit of a difference during the barre class. I have been going to barre classes on and off for years, and typically during the leg- and seat-work sections of class, my lower body is shaking and burning so much that I don't know if I can do one more rep of the exercise. And while my muscles were definitely shaking (which is the goal in barre class since you're trying to "fatigue" the muscle) I did notice that my legs weren't burning as much as they normally do -- usually at this point in class the burn can get pretty intense.
While wearing the leggings, I was able to power through more reps than usual because my legs weren't hurting as much. Can I say if this was due to the leggings or some other factor? Not really. But it was noticeable. The next morning I also noticed that my lower body wasn't as sore as it would normally be after taking a barre class.
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When I wore the leggings for my dance cardio session, I honestly didn't feel any different. As I mentioned before, this class is more of a cardio and endurance challenge, and I can't say my legs felt any difference during class. I don't get as sore from the dance classes either, so the next day I didn't notice a difference. But it was nice not being as sore from the barre class, and I feel like that helped me perform better during the dance class.
At this point you may be wondering if CBD-infused clothes are any different than, say, a topical CBD cream that you slather on your body. And the answer is no, not really. It's basically like taking a much more complicated route to get to the same destination: CBD on your skin which can absorb into your muscles. If you currently find CBD helpful for workout recovery and want to add an extra element to your CBD-routine, by all means try the leggings if you're curious. Otherwise, I would say to stick to what's already working for you.
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.