Athletes and drugs have never been a healthy pairing – we’re talking about you athletic steroids. But what if the drug consumed was to promote a healthy body, rather than altering its capabilities? Recent studies on CBD and exercise offer great insight into the duo’s health benefits. We teamed with Annabelle St Pierre, M. Sc., Innofibre, to uncover riveting research on the effects of CBD on athletes.
There is a great number of preclinical studies on CBD and its effects on physical exercise. These studies have been so positive that depending on the country, CBD is the only cannabinoid no longer prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency. In fact, CBD is known to help with different health issues related to sport practice [36, 37], and was even accepted by the Canadian Anti-Doping Program. Many preclinical studies that focus on chronic CBD consumption suggest its anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and neuroprotective properties have a positive effect on the body. However, these studies come from animal models rather than humans. While these studies show the great potential of CBD to treat injuries and health problems, especially among athletes, more clinical studies on humans are necessary.
There is ample research on CBD’s ability to aid with muscles, concussions, bones, the cardiovascular system, and thermoregulation in the context of sports practice. However, there is consensus in scientific reviews that a lack of clinical studies on the human body supports these claims [8, 36]. So, we’re going to explore each in great detail.
CBD x Muscles
As mentioned in our piece, Does CBD promote pain relief?, CBD offers pain-relieving effects without the unwanted side effects other drugs may have. This is thanks to the anti-inflammatory properties of the compound. The anti-inflammatory effects of CBD help soothe muscle aches and pains. This is why there’s an interest in cannabinoid-based products among athletes. These findings are based on animal models generally observed at doses ≥10 mg/kg per day. Some studies, although fewer, report an anti-inflammatory effect of CBD at 2,5 mg/kg per day . Basically, there has yet to be a consistent dosage that works for all. Keeping in mind that these tests are done on animals, and just like humans, every body reacts and absorbs CBD differently.
When it comes to specific muscle inflammation, studies have been carried out on mouse models suffering from muscular dystrophy Duchenne, a genetic disease characterised by progressive muscle degeneration. This model is promising for athletes suffering from muscle damage due to exercise. This preclinical research shows that with a high dose of CBD, it’s possible to improve coordination and muscle strength. However, some lower doses have no effect, and research in humans is inconclusive . Again, more studies are needed to determine the perfect dose for humans.
CBD x Concussions
There is data supporting the neuroprotective effect of CBD in treating concussions, which are common in sports and can cause short and long-term damage . We’ve seen countless reports on football players suffering from head injuries. Will Smith even starred in a film all about Dr. Omalu’s (physician, forensic pathologist, and neuropathologist) battle with NFL head injuries. If you haven’t seen Concussion (2015), it’s definitely worth a watch. After reading this article, of course.
But back to Annabelle’s findings.
One preclinical study evaluates the effect of CBD on mice with traumatic brain injury. It was discovered that CBD reduced neurological behaviours associated with concussion such as dizziness, nausea, poor motor coordination, anxiety, aggressivity, and depression [36, 40]. This is a win in terms of discovering the best dose to prescribe for medical purposes.
Results prove how relevant it could be for further research into CBD’s health benefits. And there are reasons to believe that CBD can have a pretty significant impact in reducing repeat head injuries and long-term side effects. While more research is required to fully understand the neuroprotector mechanism of CBD, current studies suggest a significant and positive impact on inflammation, oxidative stress, and excitotoxicity in the nervous system [36, 41]. So, it seems our dear cannabinoid friend could really help with concussions, certain head trauma, and cognitive disorders.
CBD x Bones
Broken bones can lead to broken hearts, so the fact that CBD may help bone recovery is incredible. When it comes to CBD supporting bone health and recovery from fractures, preclinical studies show positive results . One study observed injured rat models (femoral fractures) consuming CBD daily throughout an eight-week period. Throughout this eight-week period, there was a significant increase in the rat’s biochemical properties (internal cells and body tissues). Within the first four weeks, the bone callus size (natural thickening after fracture) drastically decreased . Essentially, CBD appears to have healing powers for the internal body. Another study, focusing on rats with a spinal cord injury also found positive healing results in bone repair. While this is a fascinating discovery, we still need more studies on humans to feel absolute in these findings.
Both studies state that CBD has no effect on the bone homeostasis (bone health) of control subjects, but it does have an effect on bone loss in injured subjects [43, 44]. The action mechanism is not yet entirely understood by scientists, but evidence suggests CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties may help with bone injuries . So, it’s thought that while cannabinoid doesn’t necessarily aid with general bone health, it does have the potential to help with bone injuries.
CBD x Cardiovascular
CBD seems to have an effect on our cardiovascular system. In vitro preclinical studies involving human arteries show that the cannabinoid can help relax the blood vessel’s muscular walls . This allows blood flow to areas of the body that are lacking oxygen and/or nutrients. The same results were found in another study tested on rat arteries [46, 47]. Another preclinical study using a mouse model with type I diabetic cardiomyopathy suggests that CBD has therapeutic potential against cardiovascular disorders. Again, this indicates that the drug has the potential to help with heart issues. This particular study demonstrates CBD’s ability to reduce the effects of myocardial dysfunction and cardiac fibrosis , two debilitating heart muscle diseases. Basically, results show that CBD may help with heart health. However, other clinical studies with different CBD concentrations did not come to these same conclusions [49, 50]. More research is needed to uncover the full range of CBD’s heart-helping abilities.
CBD x Thermoregulation
Thermoregulation (the process that allows your body to maintain its core internal temperature) is crucial when it comes to good physical performance. This is why we’re deep-diving into the effects of CBD on thermoregulation and sweating in sports.
When we exercise, our body activates heat loss mechanisms, which is why we sweat. This happens for thermoregulation purposes and helps prevent us from overheating . However, excessive sweating (which is called hyperhidrosis) could negatively affect performance in sports.
A 2022 study on patients with excessive sweating disorders states that following chronic CBD consumption, they found lower levels of sweating . This could be due to CBD’s mellowing, anti-anxiety benefits.
Other scientific research shows that CBD has a low effect on body temperature. So, as you can imagine, the contradicting studies cause confusion and uncertainty for researchers. Some studies show the drug cooling down the system, while others show a rise in body temperature. These speculations are from rat and mouse models . As mentioned above, more research on humans is needed to validate these studies.
The cannabinoid is wildly popular among the sports community for other health issues resulting from exercise as well. Let’s dive into studies including gastrointestinal and neuropathic pains.
CBD x Gastrointestinal Pain
Studies have shown the benefits of CBD and athletes suffering from gastrointestinal disorders. Athletes who regularly practise their sport for an extended period of time can develop digestive system issues. This is because intense physical activity can lower oxygen and nutrient supply to gastrointestinal tract tissues, which sometimes results in oxidative stress and inflammation. Oxidative stress and inflammation can be both painful and debilitating, with symptoms such as vomiting, abdominal ischemia, and even diarrhea with bleeding. This is why studying CBD’s ability to help reduce gastrointestinal tissue lesions and necrosis is vital [57, 58].
Preclinical studies prove CBD relieves colitis (colitis: inflammation of your colon caused by an infection or virus) in mice. A separate study implies that patients suffering from ulcerative colitis (ulcerative colitis: not caused by an infection or virus, but both more severe and lifelong than colitis) may benefit from CBD. This study found positive preliminary results about cannabidiol’s role in curing this gastrointestinal disorder. Ultimately, CBD may have the ability to reduce pain and inflammation in the colon/large intestine.
However, some biases impede conclusions about the exact effect of CBD on this disorder . Meaning, more research is required. Another preclinical study carried out on mice shows that CBD regulates intestinal motility (the movement of digestion). In mice where hypermotility was induced, the consumption of CBD led to the regulation of this syndrome . Mice were able to digest food with much more ease than before consuming CBD.
Another positive impact of CBD on intestinal tissue permeability has been proven after inducing pro-inflammatory agents (aka, inflammatory fighters) . This demonstrates CBD’s potential to cure diseases related to intestinal hypermotility. Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel and acute bowel disorders in athletes to name a few [62, 63]. With enough research, this discovery could be a game changer for anyone suffering from said diseases.
CBD x Neuropathic Pain
CBD is being studied for its neuropathic pain-managing properties, i.e. pain related to the peripheral nervous system (the spine). Chronic neuropathic pain is recurrent for athletes suffering from spine injuries, recovering from surgical intervention, or struggling with repeated irritation on peripheral nerves. This isn’t uncommon for those who practise endurance sports.
Clinical trials with Sativex ®, a THC and CBD medication, revealed promising results. However, clinical studies on the effects of CBD on its own are limited . More research is needed to determine if CBD alone can help with neuropathic pain.
Trials on spinal cord contusion-injured mice revealed lowered thermal sensitivity and reduced pro-inflammatory agents . Most in vivo preclinical studies reported an analgesic effect with CBD, much more than THC . So, with this information, it does seem that CBD has the potential to aid with neuropathic pain. However, we need more studies on humans to have a better understanding.
In comparison to THC or CBD-THC blends, research finds CBD on its own best for minimising the side effects of neuropathic pain. This is actually proved in a study on mice with chronic constriction and neuropathic pain; it was found that CBD helped reduce allodynia (a condition in which a person is extremely sensitive to touch, like feeling pain while combing hair) without any side effects . Studies suggest that a cannabis extract over pure CBD or THC is more effective for neuropathic pain . Should more studies come through, this remedy could be incredibly beneficial for those struggling with chronic pain.
Overall, it seems that CBD has the means to relieve athletes of pain due to sports-related injuries. The drug’s anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, and analgesic properties have great potential. Nonetheless, more clinical studies are needed to prove CBD’s abilities to help prevent injuries during/post physical exercise and sport. Further studies on the safety of CBD and its low probability of side effects would be extremely beneficial to the sports community. The positive results thus far and the absence of serious side effects during preclinical studies support the interest in further research .
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