CBD oil is a hot health trend. For many years, people have used it for major health complaints, such as preventing rare seizure conditions in children. Recently, it’s popping up in supermarkets, health-food stores, pharmacies, and gas stations for more everyday concerns such as improving fitness outcomes. It’s available in capsules, tinctures, gummies, oils, and salves as well as cookies, coffee, beer, and cocktails.
Athletes, such as professional skateboarder Andy Macdonald, tout CBD as a way to reduce inflammation, recover more quickly from workouts, and increase stamina. But before you start rubbing it on to power up your fitness routine, let’s dig into what the research says about its effectiveness. And first, here’s a quick primer on what CBD oil is and some of its research-backed benefits.
What’s CBD Oil and Is It Legal?
CBD stands for cannabidiol. It’s one of more than 100 chemical compounds in the Cannabis sativa, or marijuana, plant. But manufacturers usually extract CBD from the hemp plant, a cousin of marijuana that contains less than 0.3 percent THC (the high-inducing chemical compound in marijuana).
Broadly speaking, the 2018 Farm Bill legalized the growth, distribution, and sale of hemp. But the legality of CBD is a complicated conversation which continues to create confusion. Regardless of the legalities, the availability of CBD continues to grow and some professional athletes even use it, especially since the World Anti-Doping Agency removed it from their prohibited substances list.
Does it Work?
To understand how CBD may work, you need to know a little about the body’s endocannabinoid system. The body produces its own cannabinoids, compounds related to the chemicals in cannabis. One of them is anandamide, a neurotransmitter involved with appetite, memory, and other functions. It’s the chemical that makes you feel blissful after an intense workout.
Because our bodies produce endocannabinoids, we have cannabinoid receptors all over, including our nervous and immune systems. CBD is believed to interact with these receptors and may elevate the body’s endocannabinoids. But scientists are still researching how CBD impacts the endocannabinoid system and the rest of the body.
Researchers have yet to study whether CBD oil improves fitness outcomes. But related research suggests it may help. In one study, when researchers applied CBD oil to arthritic rats’ skin, it lowered inflammation and seemed to relieve pain. In other studies, an extract of CBD and THC reduced pain and muscle spasticity in patients with multiple sclerosis and helped relieve pain for patients with cancer. Studies also suggest CBD oil may help people overcome short-term sleep problems.
Since CBD may reduce pain and inflammation and may also improve sleep, it makes sense that it could help the body recover from exercise. Muscles grow and repair while we sleep, and getting enough sleep helps people improve athletic performance. In studies, college tennis players, basketball players, and other athletes have improved their games when they increased the number of hours they slept. But so far, no studies directly link CBD oil with improved workout recovery or stamina.
Most government health regulators do not regulate products that contain CBD oil. Thus, it’s hard to know what you’re getting. It’s difficult for manufacturers to extract only CBD without extracting other cannabinoids in the process, so you may be ingesting more than CBD oil.
In a study, Penn Medicine researcher Marcel Bonn-Miller discovered that only 30 percent of CBD products contained the amount of CBD listed on the label. And 20 percent of the products contained more than trace elements of THC.
If you’re taking a prescription, over-the-counter medication, or supplements, check with your doctor before trying CBD oil because it could interact with certain medications. A few patients report side effects, usually tiredness, diarrhea, or changes in appetite and weight, from taking CBD oil.
If you want to try CBD oil, it probably won’t hurt to do your own experiments and see if it helps you meet your fitness goals. Opt for products made with hemp grown in the United States because American companies are subject to state and federal testing for THC and pesticide contaminants. Also look for a company that measures the CBD levels and tests for contaminants in its finished products. As a final note, avoid products that make sweeping or grandiose health claims. CBD likely isn’t a cure-all, but it may provide significant benefits, including those related to exercise and fitness outcomes.