Wellness

How Taking CBD Affects Your Workouts

Here's the deal.

What to know about CBD and working out.
Getty Images/ Cavan Images

You’re looking for something to take your workouts to the next level, and your eyes fall on your CBD oil. CBD, aka cannabidiol, the non-psychoactive component of cannabis, is an omnipresent ingredient that’s reputed to deliver a slew of wellness benefits. So what’s the deal with CBD and working out?

Dr. Sophie Vergnaud, M.D., a medical expert at prescription company GoodRx, tells Bustle that CBD’s links to pain and inflammation relief have made it popular among fitness enthusiasts. This doesn’t necessarily make it a game-changer for your sweat routine, though. “Unfortunately, there’s not much direct scientific evidence yet for the use of CBD as a workout supplement,” she says, though notes that medical experts consider it safe to take. “That’s not to say that there aren’t benefits, just that the existing research is too imprecise to be able to make definitive recommendations.”

Here’s a guide to what science does and doesn’t know about how taking CBD can affect your fitness game — and why it probably won’t hurt, but it might not make the slog through your 5-mile run any more fun.

CBD And Working Out

1. It Can Help With Muscle Recovery

You can pick from countless CBD-based lotions and creams that claim to relieve muscle soreness, and that’s because of the ingredient’s anti-inflammatory prowess. “CBD may help muscles relax,” says Vergnaud. That comes in handy since your muscles are tensed up after vigorous exercise.

According to a study published in Frontiers in Physiology in 2021, CBD was shown to boost exercise recovery due to its neuroprotective, analgesic, anxiolytic, pain-relieving, and anti-inflammatory properties. When you work out, your muscles engage in an inflammatory response to repair the damage that just occurred (this is how you get stronger). So applying CBD topically is purported to calm things down so that it’s easier for your body to recover.

Vergnaud’s take? There’s a good basis in fact for these claims, but there aren’t enough studies to make definitive judgments about how it can really help.

2. It Can Reduce Stress & Anxiety

A study published in Sports Medicine in 2020 found that when it comes to CBD and sport, a lot remains to be understood. Vergnaud says that CBD can lower stress and anxiety, and make people enjoy their workouts a little more, and some studies have indicated this to be true.

“CBD may help you get in the right mental state for a workout by improving motivation, and can help you focus on your body and be more mindful in your workout or practice,” she says.

3. It Can Improve Sleep

Because CBD works to alleviate stress and anxiety, it can offer the added perk of improved sleep quality. And good sleep is fundamental to not only your athletic performance but your overall health. A study of professional rugby players and CBD published in International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism in 2020 found that 40% of players who used CBD felt it helped them sleep better. Other research has linked CBD as having therapeutic potential for sleep apnea, insomnia, and other sleep issues.

The Verdict

The TL;DR? There still is a lot of research needed to fully understand CBD’s relationship with exercise. Part of the issue with CBD, according to Vergnaud, is that it’s tough to study because so much of the science is based on “subjective recollections.” If somebody thinks their CBD product made them more relaxed or decreased their pain, it could be a placebo effect, not the CBD itself.

There’s also the issue of spiked products. Even if you’re not an Olympic athlete, a study published in Sports in 2019 cautioned, unregulated CBD products could have added ingredients, like THC. That’s a problem if you’re doing something that requires a lot of focus and potential injury, like weightlifting.

“If you choose to use CBD as a workout supplement, make sure you understand the potential health risks and side effects and talk to a healthcare professional about determining a safe dose,” Vergnaud says. “Remember that only a few CBD products have been approved by the FDA thus far, so It’s important to use cannabis products from trustworthy brands that publish their lab test results to avoid health risks.” Be safe and have a chill workout.

Studies referenced:

Babson, K. (2017). Cannabis, Cannabinoids, and Sleep: a Review of the Literature. Curr Psychiatry Rep. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28349316/

Cerquiera, E. (2020). Inflammatory Effects of High and Moderate Intensity Exercise—A Systematic Review. Physiol. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2019.01550/full

Dolezal, B. (2017). Interrelationship between Sleep and Exercise: A Systematic Review. Advances in Preventative Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5385214/

Kasper, A. M., Sparks, S. A., Hooks, M., Skeer, M., Webb, B., Nia, H., Morton, J. P., & Close, G. L. (2020). High Prevalence of Cannabidiol Use Within Male Professional Rugby Union and League Players: A Quest for Pain Relief and Enhanced Recovery. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 30(5), 315–322. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijsnem.2020-0151

Lachenmeier, D. W., and Diel, P. (2019). A Warning against the Negligent Use of Cannabidiol in Professional and Amateur Athletes. Sports 7:251. doi: 10.3390/sports7120251

McCartney, D., Benson, M.J., Desbrow, B. et al. Cannabidiol and Sports Performance: a Narrative Review of Relevant Evidence and Recommendations for Future Research. Sports Med - Open 6, 27 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40798-020-00251-0

Rojas-Valverde D. (2021). Potential Role of Cannabidiol on Sports Recovery: A Narrative Review. Frontiers in physiology, 12, 722550. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2021.722550

Schubert, M, Hibbert, J, Armenta, R.; Willis, E., Ogle, W. (2021) "Cannabis and Cannabidiol Use in Active Individuals: A Survey of Timing and Reasons for Use," International Journal of Exercise Science: Conference Proceedings: Vol. 14 : Iss. 1 , Article 53.

Shannon, S. (2019). Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Sleep: A Large Case Series. The Permanente Journal. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6326553/