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In medical and athletic circles, the consensus is that CBD offers athletes neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, anxiolytic, and pain-relieving properties. Although legal in the US, local and international sports bodies discourage the use of CBD and marijuana extracts as performance enhancers. 

Quick take: Should athletes use CBD?

  • WADA and USADA allow the use of CBD in and out of competition. 
  • Local and international sports/athletics bodies do not consider CBD as a performance enhancer.
  • It is okay to take CBD before or after a workout. 
  • At low doses, CBD is a stimulant and higher doses have a sedative effect. 
  • If you are travelling outside the country for an athletic event, avoid carrying cannabis extracts. 
  • CBD possess little to risk of addiction or dependence.
  • More studies are needed to support or disapprove the claim that CBD is a performance enhancer. 
  • Many CBD products do not contain THC. We recommend only using CBD products with less than 0.3% THC. 
  • THC may cause sleep disturbance. 

If your primary goal is not competition, there is no harm in using CBD. Unlike other performance enhancers, CBD possesses little to no risk to your health and can help you recover faster from training. Below is everything athletes in North America should know about CBD. 

  • Pure CBD oils or products will not yield positive THC results. We recommend avoiding buying THC products from questionable sources and checking THC percentages. 
  • CBD products with less than 0.3% THC are okay for athletes.

Does CBD Increase Athletic Performance?

In 2021, a study published in the National Library of Medicine claimed that CBD increases athletic performance and may have used as a performance enhancer. The reason for that conclusion was, quote:

Cannabidiol seems to have anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, analgesic, anxiolytic, and pain-relieving properties which can be potential mediators of recovery in athletes during regular training and competition.”

How true are these claims? And considering the legality of hemp and Cannabis CBD -should athletes use CBD as a performance enhancer?

What benefits does CBD offer athletes?

CBD stands for Cannabidiol, one of the many chemicals extracted from hemp and cannabis plants. In matters of legality, it is worth noting that to date, 23+ states, including Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Virginia, have legalized recreational and medicinal use of cannabis. 

In Canada, marijuana, and its extracts, including CBD remain controlled substances, meaning only registered manufacturers and distributors can import or export the product. 

Why athletes should use CBD

As mentioned, CBD offers athletes:

  • Neuroprotective properties. The chemical protects nerve cells from damage, impairment of function, and degeneration. 
  • Anti-inflammatory benefits. Blocks substances that may cause inflammation and reduces, redness, and pain.
  • Anxiolytic benefits. Can be used as medicine for stress and anxiety. 
  • Pain relieving properties.

That means topical consumption and ingestion can help athletes manage pain, heal faster, and maintain cognitive function. But the benefits of CBD for athletes do not end there.

How Does Pain Affect Athletic Performance 

We all experience pain and understand how difficult it can be to concentrate while experiencing it. Pain also affects performance. Over-the-counter pain relievers and prescription medicines may be problematic because they often contain harmful and some cases addictive psychoactive compounds.

CBD, on the other hand, promises non psycho-active treatment for pain, and the risk of addiction is almost nonexistent.

The benefits of using CBD for pain management include:

  • CBD will not impair long-term or short-term memory.  The chemical offers athletes neuroprotective properties and aids neurogenesis (keep reading). 
  • Little to no risk of dependence or addiction. Unlike opioids, the risk of getting addicted to CBD is negligible. 
  • CBD can be used to treat opioid addiction and dependence.
  • Unlike THC, CBD is non-psychoactive, meaning you will not experience a high effect while training. 

Side effects: What risks does CBD pose to athletes

Healthwise, CBD may cause weight changes, it may impact your appetite, and it may cause fatigue in some users at high doses. Consequently, you have few health concerns to worry about. 

What you should worry about is the legality of CBD in the competition you intend to participate in. 

Why you should not use CBD 

For your safety, it is recommended that you do not travel with cannabis and hemp products outside the country. Although legal in the US, cannabis and its extracts remain schedule 1 drugs in the majority of countries on the planet. 

Can you Test Positive for THC after Taking CBD?

It depends on the product you are using. For instance, full spectrum CBD may contain THC. That is also true for CBD products that originate from questionable sources. As an athlete who intends to participate and must undergo drug testing. You should:

  • Avoid contaminated CBD products. The easiest way to do that is to purchase the product from a reliable/certified source.
  • Check THC content. THC is a psychoactive chemical in cannabis plants, the chemical remains illegal in sporting events. The ideal percentage is less than 0.3% THC. 

In short, if the event requires drug testing, you may want to avoid CBD products. That raises the question, how long does CBD remain detectable in humans?

How long does CBD remain in your system? 

There are varying estimates, but medical experts claim that it may take anywhere from three days to a week to eliminate CBD. THC may remain detectable in the human body for up to a month. 

Going by that, if you intend to participate in an event that requires drug testing, we recommend discontinuing use for at least two months to competition/testing -especially if you sourced the product from a questionable source. 

Can Pro Athletes use CBD?

According to WADA (Word Anti-Doping Agency), yes. It is lawful for athletes to use CBD products. But the country, state, or event may have restrictions. That is why we advise against traveling with CBD outside the country. 

What you need to remember:

  • WADA removed CBD from the list of prohibited substances in 2018.
  • US’s anti-doping agency USADA removed CBD from the list of prohibited substances, meaning athletes in the states can use CBD in and out of competition. 
  • WADA’S urinary threshold is 150 nanograms per millimeter of THC. 

Download WADA’s list of prohibited substances here. 

Tip. Check competition requirements and rules to be sure. 

Can CBD affect Muscle Performance?

Building and maintaining muscle is a daily struggle for the majority of athletes. You have to endure the pain, get enough rest, eat a balanced diet, and exercise. The question is, how can CBD help you through this?

Post-workout, you will experience two sensations -one is pain, and the other is inflammation. The longer you experience both, the more you may want to avoid training or lack the energy. There is also the issue of muscle fatigue.

According to the National Library of Medicine, more research is needed to verify the claim that “CBD affects muscle mass.”

What we do know, based on medical research is:

  • CBD can help manage and prevent joint inflammation. 
  • CBD can help improve pain and mobility. 

CBD, Exercise, and Recovery

During periods of heavy training, it is a common occurrence for athletes to experience acute upper respiratory tract infections. On top of that, you must be in tip-top shape for competition. That means you must get enough rest, and your body must recover from exercise-related damage. 

There is some evidence that CBD can help relieve upper respiratory tract infections, boost energy, and aid recovery. 

According to one study, CBD can, quote:

Present findings propose a potential immunotherapeutic role for CBD in the treatment of severe respiratory viral infections and ARDS. The current data support the notion that the anti-inflammatory function of CBD may reduce cytokine storm and mitigate the effects of exaggerated inflammation”

How does CBD aid Athlete Recovery?

CBD consumption and topical application can help athletes recover in the following ways. 

Lack of sleep affects athletic performance: CBD can help athletes get better sleep

Not getting enough sleep, as explained in a recent article, is problematic in that it will affect concentration and energy levels, and your heart will not get enough rest.

What you should remember is:

  • Your heart needs rest post-workout to allow tissue and cell repair. 
  • The body needs enough sleep to fight off infections.

By interacting with the hypothalamus, CBD can improve athlete sleep quality. Cannabidiol also suppresses the body’s stress reaction. A review of literature on cannabinoids and sleep concluded that CBD has therapeutic potential in the treatment of insomnia. Unlike THC, CBD does not impair sleep quality in the long run. 

What to remember:

  • Misaligned internal clock. Circadian rhythm disorder is a condition that affects human sleep and wake cycles. If the “clock” is misaligned, CBD, through interactions with cannabinoid receptors can help you get better sleep by ensuring that your body progresses through normal sleep stages and REM sleep without interruption. Circadian rhythm sleep disorders may be caused by time zone changes, medications, and changes in routine. 
  • Anxiety. Anxiety will keep you up at night, it will affect your cardiac health, it can increase blood pressure, and it will affect concentration. There is vast evidence to support the claim that CBD reduces anxiety. Combine that with getting better sleep, and CBD becomes a must-have for competitors. To relieve anxiety, CBD interacts with endocannabinoid receptors in the limbic system. The human limbic system plays a role in controlling emotions, sexual arousal, smell (olfaction), and memory storage.
  • Chronic pain. Pain will keep you up at night, and it will affect performance. CBD promises pain relief without intoxication. That means no opioids or pain relief medicines that present the risk of dependence or addiction. You can use it topically or ingest it. 

Is CBD a Performance Enhancer?

CBD has shown potential as a performance enhancer, but more research is needed. What we do know is CBD helps athletes get better sleep and fight anxiety, it helps the body recover post-workout, and the risk of dependence or addiction is almost nonexistent. 

However, marijuana products remain illegal in the majority of countries outside North America. Consequently, if you intend to compete in the region, you should avoid traveling with CBD products.