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CBD is available in in a dizzying array of shapes and styles: lotions, tinctures, capsules, baked goods, coffee—it’s even in pet food. There are ways for athletes to leverage CBD and THC for recovery. Here are the benefits of each compound, and how to use them post-workout. This plant compound found in marijuana may be able to help drive gains by wiping out pain and boosting recovery.

How CBD Can Improve Your Performance in the Gym, Outdoors, and in Your Daily Life

In the span of just a few years, CBD has exploded in the wellness world. In seemingly the blink of an eye, it went from, “CBD? That’s weed, right?”, to being featured in bougie supplement shops that look like Apple stores all across the country. Today, CBD is available in in a dizzying array of shapes and styles: lotions, tinctures, capsules, baked goods, coffee—it’s even in pet food. The market is booming and you’ve likely heard anecdotal evidence of CBD in one form or another helping someone with pain relief, recovery, sleep, or stress. Athletes, in particular, are increasingly touting its wonder-like properties.

So, what’s the deal with CBD, and should you be considering it as part of your nutritional, training, or recovery regime?

CBD is a cannabinoid, but not the one that creates the high you associate with inhaling or ingesting marijuana—that’s THC. While full spectrum CBD products will typically contain small amounts of THC, to be legally sold across the U.S., CBD oils must contain less than 0.03%THC, which is well below the necessary amount to produce any psychoactive response. Broad spectrum CBD products and CBD isolates have no detectable THC at all.

The CBD you keep hearing about is derived from hemp plants, not marijuana, and the two cannabinoids are only cousins in the big cannabis family tree. Another member of the family? Beer’s resinous bitter-maker, hops—when you tip back a pint that smells vaguely of weed, that’s because hops, marijuana, and hemp all share aromatic oils called terpenes. So, yes, holidays at the Cannabis house are probably a good time.

But none of that explains CBD’s therapeutic qualities. To get at how it can help with such a long list of issues, you need to understand the concept of homeostasis, or balance between all the body’s systems.

Science discovered a few decades ago that the human body naturally produces cannabinoids, and, in fact, has an entire network within the nervous system called the endocannabinoid system (nice work, Science!). CBD binds to receptors in that system and scientists believe they act as a neurotransmitter. Studies show that CBD supports reduced inflammation, calms nervous reactions to stimuli, reduces anxiety, and prompt healthy brain function. There’s even a CBD-based drug approved by the FDA to treat epileptic seizures.

So, CBD is powerful, full stop. But what makes it particularly effective for athletes are the aforementioned anti-inflammatory properties.

If you’re a gym rat, Crossfit enthusiast, or just a lover of bodyweight exercises, you’re familiar with the soreness that comes the day after a particularly butt-kicking workout. CBD capsules and whole body treatments, like Elixinol’s Omega Turmeric CBD Capsules, are purposely designed to calm and support aggravated muscles. Adding a dropper of Elixinol’s Daily Balance CBD tincture under the tongue helps balance a tired body.

Overdo it on a run? Calves barking after a tough hike? A daily CBD supplement can help, but get right to the source with a topical like Elixinol’s Sports Gel, which adds capsaicin, and arnica in a gel form that can be quickly and easily absorbed into the skin. Massage into sore muscles to help you relax.

Even if you’re not crushing it in the gym, trail, or pool every week, the daily wear and tear of sitting at desks or working around the house or chasing kids can still be helped by a full spectrum capsule like Elixinol’s Body Comfort CBD Capsules. Loaded with the herbal extract Boswellia for joint health and muscle support, it—like most CBD products—has the additional benefit of easing occasional stress and anxiety, and supporting sleep hygiene.

Gaining the full benefits of CBD requires an understanding of which products work best for your system. But product lines like Elixinol’s offer a variety of combinations and delivery mechanisms to help you identify what works best to improve your performance at the gym, in the outdoors, or just throughout your day-to-day life.

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The Best Ways to Work Weed Into Your Workout

The newest workout booster isn’t a powder or a drink—it’s a flower. Nearly 82 percent of people who partake in legal cannabis light up before or after exercise (most often both), largely because they say it makes their sweat session more enjoyable and helps them recover faster, reports a new study out of University of Colorado Boulder.

This isn’t that surprising: Among athletes, marijuana was the second most widely used drug after alcohol, per a 2016 study in the American Journal of Addictions. What’s more, a 2012 study found 23 percent of college athletes smoke—and that was before it was legal and far, far more accessible.

Now, getting high probably won’t make you stronger or faster. We have no scientific evidence THC actually improves aerobic performance, according to a 2017 study analysis out of Australia. The majority of people in the UC Boulder study felt smoking had a neutral effect on their athletic abilities.

9 Things Smoking Weed Does to Your Body

But it may help with more nuanced aspects of your workout: “Both THC and CBD, the main compounds found in the cannabis plant, have anti-inflammatory, muscle-relaxing, and pain-relieving effects, which alleviate muscle soreness, muscle spasms, and arthritic joint pain. Athletes may be able to return to intense workouts faster because they feel better faster,” says cannabis clinician Patricia Frye, M.D., chief medical officer at HelloMD, a startup focused on educating people about marijuana.

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Confused? Quick science lesson: There are hundreds of cannabinoids and compounds in marijuana plants, but the two main ones are THC and CBD, which act completely different. Namely, THC gets you high but CBD doesn’t. They’re each helpful for different things, and THC is more high-risk. But there are ways for athletes to leverage each compound for their unique benefits, says Marcel Bonn-Miller, Ph.D., professor and researcher of cannabis and psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Here, the best ways to work weed into your workout.

Use it if You’re Thinking of Skipping Today’s Training

That new study from UC Boulder reports that nearly 50 percent of pre-workout smokers felt getting high helped increase their motivation to exercise. Bonn-Miller says that aligns with what he hears: “Anecdotally, THC seems to help most before and during endurance exercise.”

It sounds counterintuitive thanks to the lazy stoner stereotype, but THC might activate that runner’s high feeling, the researchers say. It works like this: Exercise creates that euphoric feeling by activating your endocannabinoid receptors that are connected to the reward and dopamine pathways in the brain. Since the cannabinoids of pot also activate these receptors, ingesting THC might create an artificial runner’s high, making you crave more of the feeling by way of getting out for a run.

Turn to THC for Repetitive, Long Workouts

Bonn-Miller says he hears about athletes lighting up most to help with endurance. (For what it’s worth, that’s a colloquial liberty: Many athletes ingest their cannabis via an extract or edible, not just smoking or vaping.) That’s partially thanks to the artificial runner’s high—you’re amplifying the feeling by combining both exercise and THC—but also the cannabinoid’s pain-relieving abilities. After all, it’s a lot easier to keep running if your bad knee isn’t aching and your muscles aren’t screaming to stop.

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Physiologically, some research also suggests cannabis causes bronchodilation and may help with exercise-induced asthma.

Marijuana also helps enhance muscle relaxation, increases focus, and alters your perception of time, which can help you get through, say, a dull stationary bike session, Frye adds.

Stay Sober for Heavy or Complicated Workouts

THC definitely has its downsides: Studies show the cannabinoid diminishes strength and speed and likely affects coordination, judgement, spatial perception, and risk assessment—really not ideal for judging how heavy you should load the bar or whether you can clear that box jump. Plus, side effects include poor coordination, slowed reaction time, and poor balance, Frye points out.

Pass on puffing before lifting, HIIT, rock climbing, outdoor cycling—anything requiring motor control and mental acuity.

Save it for Your Long Runs or Rides

THC may help with low-risk endurance exercise, but don’t light up before every workout. “If you use THC every day and in high quantities, it can lead to dependence or full-blown addiction,” Bonn-Miller warns.

Even if you aren’t prone to addiction, you will build a tolerance to the cannabinoid, so using it more often means you’ll have to use more to reach the same effect. (That also increases your chances of dependence, just FYI.)

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Plus, athletes need to protect their lungs: While science hasn’t shown a link between smoking weed and lung cancer, marijuana smoke does still contain a number of carcinogens, says research out of UCLA, and studies link regular weed smoking with chronic bronchitis and respiratory issues like coughing and phlegm production. (We know vaping is safer, but it’s certainly not risk-free.)

Minimize your risk by saving it for days you really need the boost in motivation and pain management, Bonn-Miller advises.

Start Low and Slow

If you want to try getting high pre-workout, do so on a low-risk training day: A 2017 study review in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport found some people couldn’t complete their workout after getting high. And keep in mind everyone responds to cannabis’ hundreds of compounds differently thanks to their own unique endocannabinoid system, Frye points out.

Most important to keep in mind: Your goal is to enhance your workout, not get high. “You want to use the least amount of cannabis necessary to achieve the desired effects,” Frye says.

Look for a strain with low THC (below 15 percent), Bonn-Miller says. And, if possible, higher levels of CBD (1:1 to THC would be most ideal) since the cannabinoids work together and the CBD can help offset the negative effects of too much THC, Frye says.

Then, opt for vaping—it’s safer than smoking, faster-acting than edibles, and will only last a few hours. Most importantly: “You feel the effects of vaping almost immediately, so it’s easier to control your dose,” Bonn-Miller says. Your strategy: Take one puff and wait five minutes to see how you feel. If you need more of an enhancement, take another puff.

Take CBD ASAP for Recovery

While we don’t have any studies looking specifically at cannabis and the pain and inflammation of a hard workout, preliminary research does suggest cannabinoids reduce general pain, muscle spasms, stiffness, and inflammation in humans. And there’s some science to support the idea that the compounds reduce some of the pro-inflammatory cytokines specifically released in exercise, like IL-6 and TNF.

CBD is probably the most helpful compound for recovery since it helps reduce inflammation, which can allow you to get up and moving again faster, Bonn-Miller says. We don’t really know how it works—CBD acts through so many avenues and we haven’t been researching it long enough—but studies have found it helps with inflammatory pains like osteoarthritis in animals and IBS in humans.

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Pretty much all our research is on pure CBD with max 0.3% THC. Frye points out that both THC and CBD have anti-inflammatory, soreness-easing effects, so CBD with a small amount of active THC, like a 15:1 or 20:1, may help an athlete return to intense workouts faster.

In short: Reaching for a CBD isolate or a 20:1 formula is the athlete’s choice.

Cannabidiol: Marijuana’s Other Magic Ingredient

But get it in your system ASAP, Bonn-Miller says. You want the anti-inflammatory compounds in your body as close to the time you injure or stress yourself as possible, and most CBD comes in an extract, which takes some time to get to circulate, he explains.

Dosing is hard—most products recommend somewhere around 10 to 25 mg, while science uses upwards of 50 mg at a time, typically more in the 250 range (of pure CBD). The good news: You can’t really overdose on CBD (studies have shown minimal side effects up to 1,000 mg), so you just risk not taking enough for effect, Bonn-Miller says.

Skip gummies and sports topicals—the CBD takes too long to reach inflammation, and science says the CBD variety isn’t much more effective than the regular topical pain relievers.

Bonn-Miller recommends starting with 25 to 50 mg of CBD, then work your way up, especially if you’re using a formula with THC (which will add up with every dropper you take) or don’t know the quality of your extract. (Considering there’s no federal oversight on product quality and efficacy right now, that pretty much applies to everything: An often-cited 2017 study in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that nearly 70 percent of the CBD products tested didn’t contain the amount of cannabidiol indicated on the label.)

The best you can do right now is reach for brands with solid reputations, which for CBD extracts includes Charlotte’s Web, Elixinol, Lazarus Natural, and Medterra.

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7 Things You Need to Know About CBD

This plant compound found in marijuana may be able to help drive gains by wiping out pain and boosting recovery.

While everyone knows that a few tokes of weed will get you high, revival of research from the ’70s has found that some compounds in the plant can help with a wide range of ailments, like chronic pain, depression, symptoms from chemotherapy, and multiple sclerosis. That’s one reason that the plant is now legal in 10 states (as of press time) and allowed to be consumed for medical purposes in another 22. The other: Huge amounts of tax money from marijuana sales are filling up state coffers—Colorado alone took in more than $247 million last year. Put simply: The marijuana market is blowing up.

But it’s cannabidiol (CBD)—the straitlaced brother to the chemical in marijuana (THC) that gets you stoned—that’s been taking the nation by storm. This seemingly miraculous compound has been found to jump-start healing in your body by regulating the immune system and reducing inflammation, all without any harmful side effects. Below, we go over what you need to know about CBD oil.

What Every Guy Should Know About THC and CBD in We.

Get familiar with the compounds in marijuana with this explainer.

How CBD Helped Me

Last summer, I hurt my hand trying to yank up some stuck luggage. The excruciating pain, and the advice from an orthopedist, meant that I had to stop lifting anything heavy, pretty much avoiding any exercise that required my hands.

After six weeks, my hand was feeling fine, so I started deadlifting again. Two weeks later, I tried to hoist my old working weight, but on my fourth set, a burst of pain radiated through my lower back. The next morning, I could barely roll out of bed without experiencing a wave of throbbing pain—I’d hurt my back before, but this was next-level. Struggling to even put socks on, I hobbled into the bathroom, pulled open a drawer, and grabbed some CBD cream that was sent to me for review months ago. I squirted two pumps in my palm and slathered it on my back and forgot about it. I did that twice a day for the next two days.

On the third day, I woke up feeling great, rolled out of bed with little to no pain, and was able to function normally. I was shocked. I expected a long recovery full of frustration, but I was pretty much healed after only three days. I waited one more week before going back into the gym and then did some light squats and deadlifts with hardly a twinge or notion of pain. Anecdotal evidence or not, a bottle of CBD cream or oil will now always be a part of my training regimen.

Does CBD Oil Actually Work?

Or is the recent buzz much ado about nothing?

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What is CBD?

The human body has a specific biological network called the endocannabinoid system, which is made up of neurotransmitters and receptors specifically attuned to cannabinoids. These compounds can produce healing effects on our cognitive and physical processes when they bind to specific receptors.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is probably the most well-known cannabinoid—and most prevalent in recreational weed—as it’s what gives you that stereotypical, euphoric high when smoked or ingested.

Cannabidiol (CBD), which is found in high concen­trations in hemp or industrial marijuana, is the next most common cannabinoid. It doesn’t produce any psychoactive effects, so, up until recently, it was thought to not act on the human body at all. Well, we were wrong.

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Ian Cuming / Getty

What Does CBD Do?

CBD binds to receptors, called CB1 and CB2—which are found in your brain, nervous system, muscle tissue, and even some organs—and has been shown to boost functioning of the immune and nervous system as well as better manage pain.

“CBD tends to regulate and normalize these receptors in your muscles, in your immune system, in your spleen, in your kidney, your liver,” says Bomi Joseph, Ph.D., director of the Peak Health Foundation and a noted plant compound researcher.

How is it Used?

A 2018 meta-analysis of multiple studies on the compound published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology concluded that CBD “has clearly shown” effects for reducing and treating anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and psychosis. There are also CBD-THC hybrids, which have been used to treat multiple sclerosis, a disorder that turns the immune system against the nervous system, damaging nerves and affecting balance and muscle control. Some medications using CBD have helped to treat epilepsy in children and teens, with studies showing the compound can reduce and even eliminate seizures altogether.

Other studies show that CBD can boost and support brain health. Additional research published in the journal Cell Communication and Signaling found that CBD could spur the growth of new neurons in the brain and protect brain cells. And another review from 2017 found that CBD has antioxidant effects that also help keep the brain from degenerating from the effects of old age or mental disorders like schizophrenia.

Sally Anscombe / Getty

What is the Correct Dosing?

The short answer is, we don’t know. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate the compound, so formulations, dosages, and quality control are all over the place. And since the consumer market is exploding and regulations are almost nonexistent, there is a glut of CBD products coming from overseas that aren’t quite kosher.

“Most of the CBD products that are flooding the market now are synthetic,” Joseph says. “Though we can come close, we can’t completely mimic nature.” Joseph compares synthetic CBD to the margarine form of vegetable oil—you can hydrogenate it so it is similar to butter, but at its core it’s not the same thing. Synthetic CBD won’t work as well as the natural stuff.

General Dosing Guidelines

It’s hard to give the optimum dose, as it depends on the concentration and other environmental factors. It’s best to start out with a low dose and see how you feel, but here are a couple of guidelines.

  • 10 milligrams a day for a 5’9″ male
  • 15 milligrams for someone 6’2″ and athletic

What Should You Look For in CBD Products

When buying a CBD product, make sure that it’s plant-derived, whether it’s from hops or hemp or feverfew. Some of the better brands out there, like Extract Labs, Medical Marijuana, Nanocraft, Real Scientific, and Green Helix, produce products that have clear, third-party lab-tested results available and are some of the highest-quality plant-derived CBD products around. And currently—the laws are still a bit murky and evolving—you can legally get CBD products in all 50 states, though there are some minor restrictions depending on where you live.

Congress is working on legislation right now that would make industrial hemp legal in the U.S., which would mean any CBD derived from hemp would also be legal nationwide. Right now there are numerous shops online that can legally sell you CBD products, and brick-and-mortar stores are popping up all over the place, so check your local listings.

Since CBD products aren’t regulated by the FDA, there are no clear instructions on what kind of product to use and how to properly dose yourself. But taking CBD isn’t the same as taking a drug, so you don’t need to worry about overdosing or getting sick, says Prudence Hall, M.D., medical director of the Hall Center in Santa Monica, CA. “I’ve talked to almost 400 patients in the last year who’ve been using CBD, [and] I haven’t heard anyone say anything negative—sometimes a few people will mention that they feel a little more fatigued.” A 2018 study from the University of Wisconsin stated that twice-daily use of CBD was “generally well-tolerated” and any adverse effects were “mild in severity.”

James Baigrie / Getty

Can CBD Help My Gains?

Though taking CBD to enhance performance is not well-studied, there are some athletes out there who use CBD and THC extracts to help with recovery and pain management. A few well-known athletes, including UFC fighters Yair Rodriquez and Nate Diaz, ultramarathon runner Avery Collins, and Tennessee Titans linebacker Derrick Morgan, have come out and said that they use CBD to help with recovery, heal sore muscles and achy joints, and tamp down general inflammation. Using CBD in your own athletic endeavors can help you with your gains, but not by making you directly stronger or giving you more energy, like steroids or stimulants.

Where CBD will benefit the weekend warrior is by making recovery from intense exercise and minor injuries faster. “What happens when you pull a muscle or get injured is that there’s an immediate inflammation of that area because your body is trying to confine it,” Joseph says. “CBD tells that inflammation signal to go down. That’s what everybody feels initially, but CBD actually speeds up the recovery.”

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