Professional skateboarder Andy Macdonald has spent nearly 35 years skating, and almost as long coping with the lingering pain of injuries. He’s now a spokesperson for Extract Labs, a CBD company, and promotes the substance’s healing benefits for athletes.Brittney McGuire, a Spartan Pro Team athlete, credits a CBD and exercise cream for helping her run farther and longer without hip pain. The product’s manufacturer, Elevate CBD, has partnered with Spartan, an obstacle-course racing company.
NFL players, martial arts competitors and everyday athletes are also turning to products said to contain CBD – one of the many chemicals found in the cannabis plant that, unlike medicinal and recreational marijuana, doesn’t deliver the “high” that’s attributed to THC – to relieve post-workout soreness, speed recovery from injury and otherwise up their game.”I use it at night after I work out because my feet and legs get really sore and I can’t sleep,” says Gloria Yang, a beauty publicist in Los Angeles, who also used CBD with her physical therapist’s blessing to help her sprained knee heal faster. Isa Herrera, a pelvic-floor physical therapist in New York City, finds “it’s awesome for IT band pain,” or exercise-induced irritation of the tissue that runs from the outside of the hip to the outside of the knee. And Danielle Jenkins, a nonprofit manager in Telluride, Colorado, credits CBD for preserving her leg muscles after getting injured playing hockey.
“Over the past three years, I’ve noticed an enormous rise in public awareness and acceptance of CBD,” says Sean Kuechenmeister, a certified athletic trainer at the Sports Science Lab in Staten Island, New York.
Is that a good thing?
What Is CBD?
CBD, which is short for cannabidiol, is well-known in the medical community as an effective treatment for certain rare seizure disorders. Animal research has shown promise for its potential to ease pain. Some even see it as a solution to the opioid epidemic or at least a safer alternative to those powerful pain narcotics, as well as preferable to over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen, which come with risks to the kidneys, digestive system and heart. Still, Kuechenmeister points out, “many of the studies that suggest pain modulation are conducted via animal studies or involve doses much higher than commonly recommended by brands you can buy in a store.”
Other preliminary research suggests it may be used in the future to treat a variety of medical conditions, including anxiety, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, psychosis and Parkinson’s disease. Much of its appeal in all such cases are its minimal side effects and, according to the World Health Organization, non-addictive nature.
“Those who are on long-term pain management regimens or long-term antidepressant therapy can attest to the fact medications lose potency after time,” says Scott Keatley, a registered dietitian and track and field coach in New York City. “CBD oil has been found to reduce this loss in potency.”
Exercise and CBD: Benefits and Risks
There’s no specific research yet, though, on how CBD can improve exercise recovery or fitness results, though there’s reason to believe it would help. If it can ease pain, why not sore muscles? If it can fight inflammation, why not the inflammation that running, weightlifting, high-intensity interval training or other types of exercise cause?
“Athletes are limited by the extent to which they can train and how much time their muscles need to recover,” says Dr. Murdoc Khaleghi, an emergency medicine physician by training who serves as senior medical adviser for Elevate CBD. “CBD, through its ability to decrease pain and inflammation, helps accelerate recovery.”
But to Kuechenmeister, who has used CBD on and off for more than two years with “negligible levels of effectiveness with regard to exercise recovery,” that’s too much of a leap. “There is a well-documented connection between the body’s endocannabinoid system, pain management and exercise,” he says. “We just don’t know exactly where and how CBD plays into that role, and it likely needs to include several, if not all, of the cannabinoids present in cannabis.”
And, while athletes may find CBD enhances the effect of painkillers since the chemical helps substances cross the blood-brain barrier, it’s that very trait that’s kept Keatley – who can run a 5K in 16 minutes – from trying it himself. “We generally want to limit foreign substances from being able to move between the blood and the brain easily,” he says.
Health professionals also caution that the CBD industry is not well-regulated, and a CBD product may not even be legal in your state if it’s derived from marijuana, not hemp. Plus, there’s no way for consumers to really know if what they’re purchasing truly contains the amount of CBD it says it does. Worse, it could contain harmful substances. “We’ve seen reports now of over-the-counter CBD products contaminated with heavy metals and pesticides, and even adulterated with opioids, benzodiazepines or other chemicals,” says Dr. Jordan Tishler, a Harvard physician and CEO of InhaleMD, a Boston-area practice specializing in cannabis therapeutics.
A CBD product could also potentially contain more than trace amounts of THC, which, in addition to safety concerns related to its psychoactive effects, could jeopardize some athletes’ careers, Kuechenmeister says. “Because many athletes’ livelihoods rely on their ability to compete in their sport,” he says, “I cannot ethically suggest the use of CBD products at this time.”
What Athletes Should Know About CBD
If you are dedicated to giving CBD a shot, Keatley suggests checking with your doctor first since the chemical can interact negatively with other medications. Do as much research as you can, too, to find a reputable brand, while keeping in mind that the industry isn’t well-regulated. “The most responsible way to (experiment with CBD) is to make sure the company you’re choosing is American-made, lists the specific milligrams of CBD per serving and contains no mystery proprietary blends,” Kuechenmeister says.
Finally, consider a trial round with CBD exactly that: a temporary experiment, not a lifelong solution, since the substance’s long-term effects have yet to be seen. “There are more economical and evidence-based practices to enhance your recovery, including taking every step to optimize your sleep quality, being diligent about hydration, eating a diet that meets your micro and macro nutrient requirements and managing stress,” Kuechenmeister says.
By: Anna Medaris Miller