From runners to gym rats, more and more people who work out are incorporating CBD (cannabidiol) into their fitness regimen—primarily to increase stamina, help with muscle recovery, manage inflammation, and for pain management from mild to severe injuries. Even the pros are CBD-curious: CBD has gained popularity among athletes since the World Anti-Doping Agency removed it from its prohibited list as of 2018.
To be clear, using CBD doesn’t mean you’ll be altered when working out. CBD is one of more than 100 cannabinoid compounds in the cannabis plant known for its feel-good factor. But unlike THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive cannabinoid that gets you high, CBD has no mind-altering effects, though it has many proven medicinal benefits.
CBD works with our body’s own endocannabinoid system, which is responsible for essential functions including our response to stress, pain, and pleasure. It’s why our natural endocannabinoids are believed to be responsible for “‘runner’s high,” when runners hit a point where they feel naturally euphoric and unstoppable.
Every time we work out, we’re causing microscopic damage to our muscles and tissue, especially during vigorous regimens when we push our body to its limits. As well as causing muscle and joint aches and pains, this microscopic damage causes inflammation, which in turn prompts the muscle repair process.
This is where CBD comes in to help. CBD has scientifically been proven to have anti-inflammatory properties, which is why many people who exercise frequently take CBD either before working out, to manage the muscles’ inflammation response, or after working out to aid in muscle recovery. Think of it like taking Ibuprofen for the very same reasons.
Another way that CBD can help is that it acts as an anti-catabolic and sleep promoter. Catabolic hormones — including the stress hormone cortisol — play a big part in breaking down tissues and certain muscles. Cortisol does this by preventing protein synthesis, which is necessary for muscle repair and building our muscles. If you take part in a marathon for example, this can result in a breaking down of protein in order to find an energy source. This will usually happen if you do not replace the loss of energy afterward. CBD can reduce the effects of catabolic hormones by retaining muscle strength.
A Brazilian study on human volunteers reported by the National Institutes of Health suggests that CBD works with our endocannabinoid system to disrupt cortisol release. This disruption can help to decrease muscle breakdown and promote muscle growth.
In addition to this, CBD can help in repairing the muscles as it has anti-catabolic properties. These properties aid in regulating healthy sleep patterns. It’s vital to get enough sleep, as this is is when our body recovers from stress and muscle damage following a workout. Our cortisol levels are at their lowest in the night — it peaks in the morning and fluctuates throughout the day — which is why sleep is so important in aiding protein synthesis for muscle recovery. CBD supports this process by working with our endocannabinoid system to ensure a deep REM sleep.
We can get ‘runner’s high’ from any long endurance exercise that’s cardio focused. Especially when we feel like we have all the stamina in the world to keep going. Until now, endorphins — neurotransmitters in the brain that reduce our perception of stress and pain — were thought to be responsible for facilitating the euphoria of ‘runner’s high’.
Research now shows that a natural endocannabinoid compound known as anandamide is the one accountable. What’s more, is that CBD can help to regulate anandamide which can increase endocannabinoid levels. This helps to normalize our breathing, prevents muscle cramps, and increases our energy level. Combining this, it increases our stamina and ability to keep going during a workout.
Anecdotally speaking, people who use CBD for working out state that they don’t feel many effects apart from being more focused and less anxious. Although CBD can impact different bodies in different ways — some have a higher tolerance and need more — while others have a lower tolerance and don’t require much at all.
The recommended way to incorporate CBD into your workout is to begin with a small dosage. This is to ensure that you do not take too much too soon and you can “test your way” into a proper dosage and learn what your body needs in order to get the most out of your workout.