Whether you’re an avid gym-goer or a professional athlete, there’s no denying that sporting injuries are a major setback. We know that rest and rehabilitation is the key to physical recovery, but is there anything we can do to fast-track the process?
In recent years, CBD has captured the attention of researchers for its ability to reduce inflammation. For this exact reason, CBD has become a hugely popular supplement in the health and wellness world, trumpeted by many as a therapeutic godsend. But does it actually work? Here’s what the science says.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of over 100 natural cannabinoids from the Cannabis sativa plant. It is a non-psychoactive compound; unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the mind-altering molecule in cannabis, CBD cannot get you high.
In recent years, scientists have discovered the powerful therapeutic properties of CBD, either alone or in combination with other cannabinoids. CBD is now a recognised treatment for rare forms of epilepsy and shows huge promise in the treatment of countless other clinical conditions – anxiety, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, among others.
How does it work?
CBD interacts with our body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), a complex signalling network that orchestrates a myriad of biological functions. The ECS effectively oversees our biological systems, aiming to keep everything in balance. For this reason, it is often termed our ‘universal regulator’.
The ECS contains cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2, which span the brain and body. These are typically activated by endocannabinoids, but if we supplement the ECS with cannabis-based products, their activity can be modulated by other cannabinoids. CBD, in particular, is thought to indirectly activate cannabinoid receptors, which has a knock-on effect on our mood, immune activity, sleep, pain perception, and more.
How CBD could help a sporting injury
Exercise, when particularly strenuous or unfamiliar to the body, can damage our muscles and the surrounding area. Common sporting injuries include strains, sprains and spasms that cause aches and pains all throughout the body.
Exercise-induced injuries are hugely debilitating; not only can they write you off sport for weeks – months, even – but they can make everyday life far more uncomfortable. Since most mild physical traumas are characterised by inflammation, CBD could help to make recovery a little more bearable.
Expert treatment is fundamental to a speedy recovery, so CBD should not be used as a substitute for seeing a doctor or physiotherapist. However, CBD can definitely be a helpful addition to a recovery plan, and here’s how.
Through interactions between the ECS and the immune system, CBD has potent anti-inflammatory action. In numerous studies, both experimental and clinical, CBD has been shown to reduce inflammation and alleviate some of the symptoms of inflammatory conditions.
In an animal model of muscular inflammation, a high (60 mg/kg) dose of CBD significantly reduced levels of inflammatory markers, improved muscle strength, and reduced tissue degeneration. Though it should be noted that these observations were seen after a dose much higher than many commercially available CBD products. Further study is needed to determine the optimum dosage.
So far, there have been no studies that explicitly investigate the effect of CBD on exercise-related muscle inflammation, so this is clearly an area for further research. But the testimonial evidence certainly claims that CBD can help to reduce inflammatory pain, with approximately three-quarters of people living with arthritis – an inflammatory condition – reporting improvements to their symptoms with CBD use.
Various trials of cannabis medicines, containing both CBD and THC, have yielded positive results in the treatment of chronic pain, suggesting a role for cannabinoids in pain management. Although there is far less research into CBD alone, some studies have suggested that it has pain-relieving action.
There are several ways in which CBD could reduce pain. Firstly, by indirectly increasing the signalling of the anandamide, an endocannabinoid, CBD can activate CB1 receptors in the brain and subsequently alter our pain threshold. It is also thought that CBD could desensitise TRPV1 receptors, which are involved in pain perception.
The results are varied in humans, with the effectiveness of CBD dependent on the dose administered and the cause of pain. In the future, placebo-controlled studies are necessary, but CBD is already proving to be a popular, natural way to manage pain. In a survey of 2409 CBD users, pain relief was the most commonly reported reason for using CBD.
Promote muscle recovery
The anti-inflammatory properties of CBD can also assist the restoration of muscle fibres and reduce muscle soreness. For this reason, CBD is becoming an increasingly popular post-workout supplement amongst athletes and fitness enthusiasts. It has therefore been suggested that CBD could enhance the recovery of muscles after an injury.
There is also evidence to suggest that CBD can be used as a natural sleep aid. Scientists aren’t entirely sure how it works, but CBD appears to increase the time spent in REM sleep, helping us to sleep longer and better. Since our body undergoes most of its reparative processes during sleep, CBD provides the optimum bodily conditions for rest and repair.
Assist the healing of broken bones
Although rarer than muscular sporting injuries, bone fractures and breaks aren’t uncommon in those who play contact sports. CBD has also been shown to play an important role in bone health and could even promote the healing of broken bones.
One animal study, published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research in 2015, found that CBD “makes bones stronger during healing, enhancing the maturation of the collagenous matrix,” according to Dr Yankel Gabet, one of the lead researchers. “After being treated with CBD, the healed bone will be harder to break in the future.”
In a more recent review, researchers also found that CBD can enhance bone healing, but further study in humans is needed. If you’re recovering from a bone injury, it’s certainly worth adding CBD to your daily routine.
Is CBD legal in professional sport?
As a competitive sportsperson, sustaining an injury can be hugely disruptive. Not only is forced time away from the sport a huge mental challenge but there is also the added complexity of finding pain relief that complies with drug testing regulations.
CBD is not on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) prohibited list. It will not show up on a drug test, but THC will. Be sure to read the label properly when sourcing a CBD product, especially when buying online. This is because, in regions with looser restrictions on cannabis, some full-spectrum CBD oils can contain THC. To be safe, ensure that your chosen product contains less than 0.2% THC. Anything above this level would no longer be legal in the UK.
Unlike some strong painkillers, CBD is non-psychoactive; it does not hinder athletic performance. If anything, the therapeutic benefits of CBD would improve sporting ability, without acting as a prohibited stimulant. For this reason, CBD is proving to be hugely popular in the sporting world, with a rate of use of 28% amongst professional rugby players.
How to take CBD
The growing popularity of cannabis-based products has resulted in the widespread availability of CBD. There are countless ways to take CBD. Each method of administration has its own benefits, depending on your needs or the nature of your injury. Here are just a few of our favourites:
Oils and tinctures are a popular way to take CBD. By placing a few drops under the tongue, CBD quickly enters the bloodstream and the benefits can be felt almost instantly. There are a wide variety of CBD oils available, some with added ingredients for your benefit. But if the taste of CBD oil isn’t for you, they are also available in water-soluble forms, meaning they can easily be added to any drink or shake.
CBD balms & creams
CBD-infused topical products are a fantastic option for those seeking direct pain relief. When applied to the skin, CBD provides local anti-inflammatory action right at the source of the injury. However, CBD balms and creams tend to contain lower doses of CBD, so be sure to read the label properly and choose a product with a higher potency.
Capsules allow you to get a dose of CBD oil, without the strong taste. They’re a great way to get a consistent, daily dose. They do, however, take slightly longer for the effects to kick in – between 30 minutes to 2 hours. And be sure to take the capsules with food to ensure that the CBD can be absorbed properly.
Similar to capsules, CBD gummies are another great way to get an oral anti-inflammatory dose – and they taste delicious too! They tend to contain slightly lower doses than oils, so take more if necessary.
CBD protein powder
Proteins are the building blocks of the body; they are essential for the growth of our muscles. When recovering from a hard gym session or a sporting injury, you may wish to supplement your diet with protein powders.
Seeds from the hemp plant are naturally high in protein, making hemp protein powder a great plant-based alternative to whey protein. These products don’t typically contain CBD, since this cannabinoid is found in the plant’s flowers. But some brands have developed CBD-infused protein powders, giving your body an extra push in the recovery process.
Is it safe?
Even at high doses, CBD is a safe and well-tolerated substance. In rare cases, CBD can have mild side effects. These include nausea, fatigue, and appetite changes, though these are typically remedied with the correct dosage. In comparison to the majority of prescription painkillers, CBD has a much better safety profile and far fewer side effects.
Always speak to your doctor before taking CBD, especially if you’re on any other medication. This is because CBD has been shown to have mild drug interactions, which can harm the liver over time.
By supporting both your mental and physical wellbeing, CBD can give the body a helping hand in the recovery process. If you’re resting and recuperating after a sporting injury, it’s certainly worth giving CBD a go.