Cannabis products are rapidly growing in popularity. Here’s a complete guide to CBD for athletes. Intrigued about CBD and how it can help your running and recovery? Here's our round-up of products to help you do just that CBD oil is now in everything from muscle balms to pillow sprays, but can it really help runners to recover faster? We look at the best CBD oils on the market
What Is CBD and Can It Help Your Performance?
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 new federal legislation, you’ll probably be hearing a lot more about CBD over the next few years.
Already, a growing number of athletes, including many in the trail running and ultramarathon community, consider CBD a key part of their regimen. And because of these early adopters, my interest piqued on CBD and its proposed benefits. Could CBD help my running? Can it help yours? I decided to find out.
But before we explore how runners and other athletes use CBD, here’s what you need to know.
What is CBD?
CBD is shorthand for cannabidiol, one of the more than 100 cannabinoids found in cannabis. CBD products are said to deliver their many claimed benefits by boosting the body’s endocannabinoid system, which is a system that “is a unique signaling pathway that controls the function of a variety of systems throughout the body, including the cardiovascular system,” says Nicholas DiPatrizio, Ph.D., a professor of biomedical sciences at the University of California, Riverside School of Medicine. (More on the endocannabinoid system later.)
Endocannabinoids are familiar to runners because of their theorized role in running-induced mood boosts. That euphoric phenomenon is thought to be from activation of the same receptors in the brain that the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in marijuana acts upon. CBD “works through distinct—albeit not definitively identified—signaling systems than THC,” DiPatrizio says. CBD is non-psychoactive, which means it doesn’t produce a high.
Here are some other common questions to think about:
Is CBD legal?
The Athlete’s Guide to CBD: Treat Pain and Inflammation, Maximize Recovery, and Sleep Better Naturally
The Athlete’s Guide to CBD: Treat Pain and Inflammation, Maximize Recovery, and Sleep Better Naturally
Almost all commercially available CBD products are made from industrial hemp, a cannabis plant that, by definition, contains not more than 0.3 percent THC. In December, President Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalizes industrial hemp. It had previously been federally classified as a Schedule 1 drug; its production and distribution were prohibited. The upshot: The federal Drug Enforcement Administration can’t interfere with the interstate commerce of industrial hemp. CBD products made from hemp are as legal as most other commercial nutritional supplements.
In terms of athletics, hemp-derived CBD was removed from the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of prohibited substances earlier this year. Hemp legalization and more companies targeting athletes should further separate CBD from its cultural association with marijuana.
How Do You Take CBD?
CBD products come in a variety of forms, including tinctures, gel caps, and topical applications. One athlete-focused company, Floyd’s of Leadville, offers a protein recovery powder and a carb drink that contain CBD. (That’s Floyd as in Floyd Landis, the former professional cyclist who was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title for failing a drug test and who helped to expose Lance Armstrong’s doping.) Another athlete-focused company, PurePower Botanicals, offers capsules that combine CBD with herbs and other purported medicinals, such as turmeric. PurePower says that the non-hemp-derived ingredients increase the effectiveness of the products’ CBD.
How Popular Is It?
In 2017, U.S. hemp-derived CBD sales totaled an estimated $190 million. At this point, companies offering CBD products are more akin to craft breweries than large corporations. That has been the case because of hemp’s previous federal legal status; banks and other financial institutions under federal oversight couldn’t be involved. Now that hemp has been legalized, look for bigger players in the health industry to enter the CBD market and for sales to increase dramatically.
What Claims Are Made About CBD?
Advocates say it helps with a wide variety of conditions, from anxiety and insomnia to inflammation and nausea. Because of the workings of the endocannabinoid system, there’s at least a theoretical basis for these claims.
“The endocannabinoid system is found in every organ throughout the body and controls many physiological processes, including food intake and energy balance, learning and memory, and pain processing, to name a few,” says DiPatrizio.
“It can affect everything from emotion to pain to appetite to energy metabolism to brain function to even the immune system and inflammation,” says Hector Lopez, M.D., a consultant to PlusCBD Oil, one of the top-selling brands. “When you have a system that crosstalks with all those pathways, then there are very few things the endocannabinoid system does not influence.”
So far, though, there’s scant clinical evidence for the claimed benefits of CBD. In June, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first CBD drug, Epidiolex, for treating seizures associated with two rare forms of epilepsy. Otherwise, the FDA doesn’t consider CBD products to be dietary supplements—manufacturers can’t claim the products will diagnose, treat, or cure any diseases. Instead, CBD product literature contains phrases like “restore vitality,” “relax and recover,” and “may keep healthy people healthy.”
DiPatrizio says, “There may be some benefits outside of improving epilepsy outcomes, but a lot more research is required.” Any research on athletic claims would almost certainly come from the industry; there are more urgent public health CBD topics to investigate than whether it reduces runners’ knee pain. For the foreseeable future, runners interested in CBD’s effectiveness will have to rely on anecdotal, subjective reports.
What Are Athletes’ Experiences With CBD?
Some of those anecdotal reports are impressive. One of my training partners, Erin Dawson-Chalat, M.D., of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, says that her persistent plantar fascia pain went away within a few days of applying topical CBD balm to the area.
“I don’t like to take stuff like ibuprofen or prescription medications. I’m always looking for natural alternatives.”
Like many athletes I’ve spoken with, Dawson-Chalat appreciates 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.”
Elite ultramarathoner Avery Collins doesn’t mind any associations with marijuana; his Instagram handle is @runninhigh. But he also takes CBD daily, despite some of its claimed benefits overlapping with those attributed to marijuana.
“THC products are more for the psychoactive effect, which may not be for everyone,” the Steamboat Springs, Colorado, resident says. “CBD use is for more health-minded people.” Collins says CBD products “are a big part of my daily routine,” and credits them with boosting his energy levels, speeding his recovery from long trail runs, and improving his sleep.
My Trial With CBD
Given reports like these, I decided to conduct an (admittedly flawed) experiment of one: For one month, I would take CBD daily while changing nothing else—mileage, intensity, strength training, other aspects of self-care—in my routine.
What did I experience? As was the case for Talansky, my sleep improved almost immediately. It wasn’t that I slept more; I felt like I slept better—more soundly, less waking during the night, more often getting out of bed feeling refreshed. By the second week, I noticed less overall creakiness while going about daily activities; CBD advocates would say the products had lowered systemic inflammation. Those two changes made me feel like I was recovering better from training, which led to being more eager to train, and feeling better while doing so.
Most acutely, the discomfort and stiffness I’d felt for months from a meniscus tear (confirmed by MRI) went away. The occasional twinges I had been getting on runs stopped. More significantly, what had been the tear’s near-constant presence in daily life, such as when getting up from sitting, has disappeared. For now, I’ve postponed surgery on the tear. It’s impossible to know if CBD was the key factor in any of these changes. Still, at the end of the month, I decided to keep taking CBD daily.
All that said, CBD isn’t an athletic cure-all. After my initial month-long experiment, I wrenched my lower back while lifting weights. Increasing my CBD intake, primarily through frequent self-massage with salves and creams, didn’t seem to help. Rest and prescription muscle relaxants were the keys to resuming normal activities, including running.
My experience meshes with how some health professionals who work with athletes view CBD.
Dan Frey, a physical therapist in Portland, Maine, says that his patients report the most success using CBD to treat long-term trouble spots rather than acute injury sites. Frey, who doesn’t prescribe medication or supplements, says his conversations about CBD are initiated by patients. Many also tell Frey they find it helps with pain management, especially when used in conjunction with other treatments such as massage and a targeted strengthening and mobility program.
“CBD coupled with stretching, icing, and foam rolling is a common treatment plan for tendonitis injuries about the knee, such as iliotibial band syndrome,” says Charles Bush-Joseph, M.D., a professor of orthopedics at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. “Many patients like the fact that CBD is a natural substance. While specific research on the use of CBD in this instance is lacking, many believe that it helps prevent muscle and collagen breakdown.”
How Should You Take CBD?
In addition to how to take CBD—tincture, gel, topical cream, drink powder—there are the matters of how much and when.
“One of the intricacies of CBD is that effective dosing can be much different between two people,” Lopez says. “There’s no way to know what dose is right for you until you try it, but in general, if you’re someone who is sensitive to most medications, start at the lower end of typical doses.” By that, he means a daily dose of 5 to 15 milligrams—a few drops of a tincture, depending on a product’s strength. “If you’re feeling no effects, adverse or beneficial, after three to five days, add another serving of the same amount.”
Runners pushing themselves daily might want to try more. Floyd’s of Leadville owner Bob Bell says that the company’s 50-milligram soft gels are its top seller. Talansky says his baseline is a 25-milligram gel, plus applying a strong topical cream three to five times a day if a specific body part is bothering him. He takes more on his hardest training days to speed recovery.
How much is too much? Lopez says no significant adverse reactions have been reported for the more than 1 million doses that have been sold in the United States. There is, however, a personal threshold at which the products stop being effective, and maybe even become less effective.
I found I was too groggy during work hours if, on a typical day, I took CBD in the morning and at night. A dose of 25 milligrams an hour before going to bed, plus occasional topical use, has become my norm. The main exception is after an especially long or hard weekend run when I have an additional 25 milligrams if I’m planning to mostly lounge about the house.
Lopez recommends that most people start with a pre-bed dose. Capsules allow you to know exactly how much you’re taking at once. Tinctures, which are the industry’s sales leaders, allow you to customize a day’s dosage.
What Should You Look for When Buying CBD Products?
Knowing how much CBD you’re taking can take a little math. Again, capsules are straightforward—the bottle will say how much CBD each one contains. For tinctures, you need to know the total amount of CBD in the container and the container’s size to calculate how much CBD is in each serving. I found 1-ounce tincture bottles, which contain roughly 30 servings, that ranged from containing 100 milligrams of CBD to 1,000.
The CBD products that can help running recovery
Intrigued about CBD and how it can help your running and recovery? Here’s our round-up of products to help you do just that
The medicinal benefits of the cannabis plant have been used for centuries to heal and restore health. In ancient times, herbalists and physicians cultivated cannabis extracts to help cure everything from the common cold to indigestion, and in the last few years the active ingredient cannabidiol (CBD) which is found in the plant has created a major buzz in wellness circles.
There are so many health concerns that CBD is thought to help address. From helping you to sleep better after a long run or before a big race to melting away post-workout pain, this wonder ingredient can help to turbocharge training.
Here’s our round-up of some of the latest CBD products to help running recovery.
1. Cheerful Buddha CBD Infused Chocolate
Your perfect post-run healthy indulgence. Made with the finest sustainably sourced single origin cacao and precision infused with UK hemp-derived CBD oil, Cheerful Buddha’s 70% dark CBD chocolate is the ultimate go-to recovery snack. A Great Taste award winner, it delivers all the benefits of high-quality CBD in a deliciously smooth and rich luxury chocolate. Buy it online or from WHSmith Travel stores nationwide.
Available in Plain, Mint and Orange flavour.
2. Ardoa CrossPro CBD Muscle & Joint Recovery Cream 50ml
High in CBD, anti-inflammatory and 100% plant-based, CrossPro Topical is specially formulated to aid in sports related muscle, joint and skin recovery. It combines 18 nourishing botanicals, selected for their therapeutic benefits, with 750mg of pure CBD isolate to create a powerful addition to your post workout routine.
Get £5 off + free shipping with code WRUNFIVE at the checkout.
3. Mission C Pre-Workout + CBD Heating Muscle Balm
Mission C’s Pre-Workout + CBD Heating Muscle Balm is the perfect way to prep your leg muscles before any training run or big race day. Infused with Pure Isolate CBD plus Arnica, Camphor, Menthol and natural essential oils, this luxurious balm intensely heats the muscles, stimulating blood flow while reducing inflammation and providing the required energy boost for your best performance yet.
4. Fourfive CBD Thermal Joint Gel
Designed to keep you moving, this CBD Thermal Joint Gel is the perfect post run saviour. Combining 300mg of premium CBD with active ingredients such as glucosamine, arnica and menthol, this innovative formula is 100% natural and paraben free. Apply the joint gel as and when needed and feel the warming effects on aching joints.
5. Runk CBD Foot Cream
Our feet are what keep us going throughout the miles, so why wouldn’t you want to look after them? They’re often forgotten about, so it’s time to put them on the front foot (pun intended). Runk’s CBD Foot Cream is thick and buttery, and full of natural oils, to provide an intense moisturising treatment for dry and cracked heels. Use after a run to keep your feet in tip top condition! The CBD element can help relieve pain with its anti-inflammatory elements.
£14.95 | runk.co
6. Holistic Herb CBD Oral Drops
Holistic Herbs THC Free CBD Oral Drops use a unique delivery technology, Total Bioavailability™, to enable better absorption into the bloodstream. Model, racing driver and TV personality Jodie Kidd uses these drops as an alternative solution to treat her anxiety and pain. She takes the drops each morning and evening, and through the day as necessary when she has an important meeting or she’s travelling through crowded areas. If it works for Jodie!
Available in single & double strength in 15ml, 30ml & 60ml.
7. Papilio CBD Tiger Balm
For centuries, Tiger Balm has been used to bring relief to tired and aching muscles, to ease headaches or as a decongestant. Combining the wisdom of this ancient recipe with the beneficial properties of CBD, this premium quality balm quickly soothes by massaging just a small amount at the point of discomfort. The perfect addition to any runner’s recovery kit!
Get 20% off CBD Tiger Balm with code RUN20 at checkout.
Valid until 31st December 2022.
8. Runk CBD Joint Relief Cream
Made with natural ingredients to provide pain relief, Runk’s CBD Joint Relief Cream is designed for runners to help the post-run issues. Created with CBD which has anti-inflammatory elements, use this cream to help ease tired muscles and joints post-exercise.
The best CBD oils for runners
CBD oil is now in everything from muscle balms to pillow sprays, but can it really help runners to recover faster and sleep better? We look at the evidence – and at some of the best CBD oils on the market
CBD oil now appears in everything, from muscle balms to pillow sprays to ice cream. It promises everything from helping us sleep better, to improving our recovery from long runs and easing our aches and pains. And the CBD oil marketing machine is clearly working: according to independent research, between 8 and 11% of the UK population have tried it in the last year.
But what is it, and does it really work for those muscle aches and pains? CBD is short for cannabidiol, one of many compounds found within the marijuana plant. Another one of these compounds is THC – tetrahydrocannabinol – and this is the compound that is psychoactive, changing the way your brain works to produce a high. CBD, however, has no psyschoactive effect and – the World Health Organisation agrees – is safe to take.
However, while it may be safe, there’s relatively little information yet about how it works. Graeme Close, Professor of Human Physiology at Liverpool John Moores University, who studies CBD, explains that ‘The scientific literature is a long way behind, because it’s been under prohibition for many years. There is some evidence that it can help with pain management, with anxiety, and with sleep, and obviously those are three really important things from a sports performance perspective,’ says Close. ‘There certainly is a mechanism for all three of them scientifically. It’s just that at the moment I would say the research evidence needs to catch up, to explore these claims better.’
What’s the best way to take it?
As CBD oil is now in everything, you might wonder what’s the best way to take it – oil, capsules, balm or spray? As you’d probably expect, the science shows ingesting it is more effective than rubbing it into your skin. ‘If we looked at a sort of hierarchy,’ says Professor Close, ‘well, I would absolutely by no means want to advocate vaping or smoking, but that appears to be the most effective way to get it into the system. Then it’s the drops under the tongue, then tablets. Even less is known about the balms and things.’
And how much is a good dose to take? It’s hard to say, because research suggests that CBD may react differently in different people. ‘We know that the European Food Safety Authority have set the safe upper limit at 70 milligrammes a day,’ says Professor Close. ‘But we don’t know that’s an effective dose. Also, if a label on a bottle states that a CBD oil contains ‘1,000mg of CBD’ that refers to how much is contained in the entire bottle, So what percentage will be in a few drops?’
One reason the experts are cautious is also issues around quality control. One recent study tested 25 products and found only three of them had anywhere near the CBD content claimed on the label. Another US study looked at 84 samples and found only 26 contained the amount of CBD claimed. More worryingly, 18 of them contained more THC than they said. CBD products sold in the UK must contain no more than 0.2 per cent THC content, but even that would be more than enough to get you banned as an elite athlete. So anyone wanting to avoid THC must be careful to get CBD from a source that tests each and every batch properly. As Grayson Hart, who set up PureSport CBD, says, ‘All our products are tested by BSCG [The Banned Substances Control Group], which tests for all banned substances and contaminants, and certifies that the product is exactly the strength it claims to be. Unfortunately the CBD world is riddled with brands that don’t take that seriously, and are out to make a quick buck’.
In January 2019 the Novel Foods Act included CBD for the first time. This means that to stay on the market, CBD products had to apply for authorisation. This process is ongoing, and products are allowed to stay on the market until examined, but a large number could well be removed. ‘Hopefully then we will get rid of the cowboys, which will just leave the credible brands on the market,’ says Professor Close.
‘At the moment, you could end up spending a lot of money without really knowing what you are getting, and how to take it. But there are some really credible brands who are funding research and doing their best to answer these questions.’