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An Athlete’s Guide to CBD

“A natural alternative to ibuprofen. An antidote to anxiety. A sleep aid. A post-workout recovery booster“

Those are some of the claims about cannabidiol (CBD) oil. You may have heard about this cannabis extract, which is said to provide widespread health benefits without the drawbacks of marijuana. And because of potential legal changes, you’ll probably be hearing a lot more about CBD in the next few years.

Already, a growing number of athletes, including many in the trail running/ultramarathon community, consider CBD a key part of their regimen.

What Are Athletes’ Experiences With CBD?

Many athletes appreciate that CBD is a natural product.

“I don’t like to take stuff like ibuprofen or prescription medications,” says Andrew Talansky, a professional triathlete from Napa, California, who, as an elite cyclist, rode in the Tour de France. “I’m always looking for natural alternatives.” When Talansky heard an increasing number of athletes talking about CBD, “I went from skepticism to being interested to asking advice on how to use it,” he says.

Talansky says that his sleep improved almost immediately when he started taking CBD daily. Soon after, he was also less anxious about transitioning from pro cycling to his new sport, felt that he recovered more quickly from hard training, and had fewer flare-ups of his old cycling injuries. Now he encourages other athletes to try CBD, in part “to get rid of the association with smoking weed,” he says. “It’s completely different.”

Why Should Athletes Use CBD?

In a world where opioids are being abused more than ever, CBD could easily be a safe alternative to alleviating athletes’ conditions. CBD does not leave the consumer intoxicated, addictive and does not endanger the liver or kidneys after prolonged use. It is a natural compound that is as effective as pills, without the disadvantages that these pills can create. CBD can be administered by topical ointments, isolated powder (pure crystalline form), oil, beverages, capsules and more.

A large number of patients prefer to use cannabinoids such as CBD for improvement over prescribed opioids. Many are able to reduce or even eliminate prescribed medications from their routine, reducing the risk of overdose or addiction. Even mild improvement can be managed more safely with CBD, rather than with NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, which when given frequently can lead to an increased risk of heart failure and internal bleeding.


Relieves pain

Studies have shown that cannabis extract is effective in reducing pain, including exercise-related musculoskeletal pain, and stiff joints, so CBD appears to effectively relieve pain for many athletes.

Alternative to NSAIDs

Athletes have been using non-prescription anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen sodium (Aleve), for decades, but they may not be as safe as is known. Ultra-distance athletes, in particular, are usually advised to avoid NSAIDs during long training sessions and events due to the increased risk of kidney damage. But even if your training and events are short-lived, long-term or frequent use of NSAIDs may increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Alternative to opioids

According to the CDC, in 2016, opioids were involved in more than 42,000 deaths in the United States. Opioid pain medications (ie morphine, codeine, oxycontin) are very effective in managing pain, but have a significant risk of addiction and death from overdose. Cannabinoids are not as effective as opioids in relieving acute, high-intensity pain, but they can be effective in managing long-term pain – either alone or in combination with other medicines – with a much lower risk of addiction or accidental death.

Reduces inflammation

A little inflammation can be good for athletes and can help stimulate positive adaptations to training. Excessive inflammation impedes recovery and impairs performance. There are CB2 receptors in both the brain and the periphery, but they are more concentrated in the immune tissues. Cannabinoids that bind to CB2 receptors may have an anti-inflammatory effect by reducing the production of cytokines (cellular messengers). In other words, CBD bound to CB2 receptors helps reduce the response when your immune system sends alarm signals after heavy workouts.

Relieves gastrointestinal problems

Inflammation in the small and large intestine causes a lot of discomfort, and gastrointestinal distress is one of the main reasons why endurance athletes give up running. CBD will not solve the stomach problems from dehydration and overheating (two major causes for athletes), but if you have underlying inflammation problems that contribute to intestinal problems during or after exercise, CBD may be effective in reducing symptoms. There are CB1 and CB2 receptors in the colon. Colitis symptoms were inhibited (in mice) when CB1 and CB2 receptors were activated.

Improves sleep quality

Sleeping longer and better is one of the most effective ways in which an athlete can gain more from training. Anecdotally, athletes who consume CBD report greater ease of sleep and more restful sleep. A possible reason for this could be CBD inhibiting adenosine reuptake. (7)

Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) breaks down as your brain burns carbohydrates for energy, and adenosine gradually builds up in the brain. More adenosine binding to neurons inhibits the release of neurotransmitters, slowing brain activity, helping you feel calmer and inducing sleep. The body metabolizes adenosine while you sleep, and after a while, low adenosine levels help you wake up and the process begins again.


Before using any CBD-based product, we recommend that you consult a physician so that you do not interact with other medications and treatments.



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