Athletes have been consuming over-the-counter medication like ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen sodium (Aleve) for years, but non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may not be as safe as we once thought. Ultradistance athletes are typically advised to avoid NSAIDs during long training sessions and events, due to increased risk of renal damage. Even if your workouts and athletic events are short, long-term or frequent use of NSAIDs may increase your risk for heart attack and stroke.
In a 2009 study, rats were subjected to a stressful situation that caused their blood pressure and heart rate to increase. A dose of CBD lowered both their blood pressure and heart rate. In a 2017 study, healthy human volunteers were subjected to stress and then given a dose of CBD. The CBD lowered their blood pressure, as compared to volunteers given a placebo.
Some athletes have found the pain relieving effect of CBD can reduce or eliminate their use of NSAIDS for exercise-related pain, with minimal side effects. Cannabinoids affect your endocannabinoid system, which works to keep the body in an even state, or homeostasis. When the body gets out of whack with inflammation or disease, CBD may give your endocannabinoid system a boost to do its job as a body regulator.
CBD has been found to reduce inflammation. For athletes, too much inflammation hinders recovery and hurts performance. There are CB2 receptors in both the brain and periphery, but they are more concentrated in immune tissues. Cannabinoids binding to CB2 receptors may have an anti-inflammatory effect by reducing cytokine (cell messengers) production. High inflammation can also lead to gut and digestive issues. By reducing inflammation, one can ease discomfort in the small and large intestines. (1)
Athletes consuming CBD on a regular basis have reported improved sleep quality. CBD has been found to inhibit the reuptake of adenosine. (2) Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) breaks down as your brain burns carbohydrate for energy, and adenosine gradually accumulates in the brain. More adenosine binding to neurons inhibits the release of neurotransmitters, slowing down brain activity, helping you feel calmer, and inducing sleep. Your body metabolizes adenosine as you sleep, and some time later, low concentrations of adenosine help you wake up and the process starts again. CBD may inhibit adenosine reuptake, which helps it accumulate more quickly and makes you feel sleepy sooner. CBD may also have a potent anti-anxiety effect for some people, which can help them get to sleep and have more restful sleep.
While there is still much to learn from the benefits of CBD, the emergence of cannabidiol could mark a major turning point in how athletes recover from training stress and manage both occasional and chronic pain.
(1) Nagarkatti, Prakash, et al. “Cannabinoids as Novel Anti-Inflammatory Drugs.” Future Medicinal Chemistry, vol. 1, no. 7, 2009, pp. 1333–1349., doi:10.4155/fmc.09.93.
(2) Murillo-Rodriguez, Eric, et al. “Anandamide Enhances Extracellular Levels of Adenosine and Induces Sleep: An In Vivo Microdialysis Study.” Sleep, vol. 26, no. 8, 2003, pp. 943–947., doi:10.1093/sleep/26.8.943.