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Community  |  Mind & body

Why Are So Many Athletes Taking CBD?

Why Are So Many Athletes Taking CBD?

First CBD was used by those with epilepsy and other neurological ailments. Then it was used for improving sleep, pain relief, and other common problems that impact our daily lives as humans. 

But now it’s 2020, and CBD’s been adopted by a whole new demographic: athletes

And not just one type of athlete, either—golfers, swimmers, footballers, personal trainers all swear by it. Knowing what we do about its many benefits, it’s no big surprise that athletes have found CBD to have a positive impact on their performance...

CBD vs. Inflammation

Many of us face a common enemy—  one that acts so subtly that its effects often go unnoticed at first, but can lead to all sorts of problems if left to its own devices.

The enemy we’re dealing with? Inflammation. 

Inflammation is bad for athletes, too. It can cause sore muscles, slow recovery, and poor sleep. Inflammation is a performance blocker, and it’s probably standing between you and your future athletic goals. 

That’s the bad news. The good news is that nature provides us with plenty of simple, natural ways to reduce inflammation—including the use of cannabinoids like CBD.

Cannabinoids are potent anti-inflammatory agents and they exert their effects through induction of apoptosis, inhibition of cell proliferation, suppression of cytokine production and induction of T-regulatory cells,” asserts one study. CBD may reduce the levels of a particular cytokine called interleukin-6, and “IL-6 suppression can decrease tissue injury,” explains another

CBD doesn’t seem to shut down the inflammatory response entirely, a shutoff that actually impairs one’s response to training over the long run. Instead CBD may help athletes keep their inflammation levels in the proper range by working with both the immune and endocannabinoid systems. 

And all this inflammation-regulation means good things for those who want to recover faster. 

CBD vs. “Burnout”

Not every athlete out there manages to keep their inflammation levels in check, however. For many athletes it can be all too tempting to forgo recovery days and push their training to the max. Hey, working out is fun! And besides, more training = more results, right?

But athletes who outpace their body’s innate ability to recover run into a big problem. It goes by many names: overtraining syndrome, adrenal fatigue, “burnout.” Regardless of what one decides to call it, overdoing it can set an athlete back by months or even years. 

Can you guess what’s behind overtraining? Likely the same pesky, highly inflammatory cytokines we mentioned earlier,

That’s what some researchers think, at least:

“ [...] High volume/intensity training, with insufficient rest, will produce muscle and/or skeletal and/or joint trauma. [...] In turn produc[ing] large quantities of proinflammatory IL-1beta, and/or IL-6, and/or TNF-alpha, producing systemic inflammation [...] and inducing a set of behaviors referred to as "sickness" behavior, which involves mood and behavior changes that support resolution of systemic inflammation.”

Catch all that? Basically, overtraining  leads to cytokines, which cause  inflammation, resulting in physical and behavioral sickness. It’s a vicious cycle,but CBD may help. “Adding exogenous CBD may help [an] overloaded [endocannabinoid] system get your neurotransmitters back under control and help athletes maintain homeostasis,” says veteran cycling coach Chris Charmichael

CBD & Runner’s High

CBD isn’t just useful preventing and treating negative effects like chronic inflammation or overtraining syndrome. It can also be useful for athletes who want to take their training’s mental benefits to the next level. 

The reason is subtle but powerful: runner’s high is actually caused by our body’s internal equivalents of THC and CBD, the endocannabinoids. 

For those unfamiliar, runner’s high is that post-workout euphoria that sometimes occurs after long, intense workouts. Coloradoan ultramarathon runner Avery Collins likens it to “a spiritual happening.” When under the influence of runner’s high, he explains, “everything is perfect, everything is pure bliss.”

But runner’s high is a high you have to work for, and the fitter you get, the harder it usually gets to attain. 

Studies show CBD may boost endocannabinoid levels, which means it may also boost endocannabinoid-mediated mental states like that post-workout bliss you’re seeking. 

Another reason CBD is loved by so many runners and other endurance athletes? Its potential ability to inhibit pain without weird side effects. “[...] NSAIDs like ibuprofen are good analgesics for pain control after exercise, but may interfere with the normal inflammatory process that helps the muscle heal after activity,” says Runner’s World

Even heavy CBD use doesn’t seem to cause this type of interference. Plus,contrary to a few isolated, dubiously-crafted reports,it’s safe for the liver.  And did we mention CBD is effective? Apply an infused topical post-workout and you’ll see exactly what we mean.

The Athletes Using CBD

If CBD really works, then it’s only logical to expect that elite athletes are using it. And they are! Some names you might recognize include:

Rob Gronkowski

“I was like, ‘Whoa, whoa, this stuff works!’”

- Gronk, speaking to CNBC last year

Rob Gronkowski has become quite the CBD advocate since he retired from the NFL. And it all started when he tried using a CBD topical on his stubbed toes. “I knew right then and there, I was like, ‘Dang, this stuff works.’” 

“[I’d been] looking for something like that to help me relieve the pain that I’m in from doing activities and sports,” Gronkowski added, and CBD proved to be the perfect fit. 

Eddie Hall

World-record deadlift holder Eddie Hall calls CBD “the ultimate recovery tool.” It’s helped him with everything from sleep to recovery to appetite regulation. If CBD is good enough for a man who once lifted 500 kilograms up off the floor, it’s probably good enough for you! 

Bubba Watson

Champion golfer Bubba Watson calls CBD’s value “a no brainer.” In addition to the performance-enhancing benefits, he explains to CNN, CBD is helping him play the long game. “For me it was about how I create longevity in the game of golf and [spend] time with my kids running around. CBD was easily a fit for me."

Nate Diaz

MMA fighter Nate Diaz has been one of the UFC’s most vocal CBD advocates. Apparently he favors a versatile approach to dosing, too, having been seen smoking hemp flower during training sessions and vaping CBD after a brutal fight against Connor McGregor. 

And while Diaz once seemed a little too far ahead of his time, UFC officials are finally coming around to CBD’s fighter-friendly benefits.  Last year Dana White announced the UFC’s decision to partner with Aurora Cannabis and investigate CBD’s impact on “the well being of our athletes.”