CBD For Muscle Recovery: Everything You Need to Know

Sarah M

Does CBD for muscle recovery work? Many athletes would answer this question: yes! In one study on athletes who worked out 5 or more hours per week, 33.2% used cannabis products (either including THC or CBD only) within 1 hour after working out, to help in workout recovery (75.4%), for help with pain (67.9%) and sleep (65.7%). While that study did not differentiate CBD-only users from general cannabis use, another study of athletes found 76.3% of those using CBD only reported recent or ongoing pain, 1/3 of whom were cyclists.

There’s no formal research on CBD’s effectiveness for post-workout aches and pains, but many athletes and exercise enthusiasts are trying it anyway – and at least some are having positive results. A survey of general CBD users found chronic pain was the top medical reason for using CBD. Almost 36% felt CBD treated their medical conditions (all conditions) “very well by itself” and close to 30% felt it worked “moderately well by itself.” The vast majority of remaining participants, just over 30%, felt CBD worked “well in combination with conventional medicine”.

Clearly, many athletes and people in general are finding CBD beneficial for pain and discomfort, so what’s going on here?

What Causes Pain and Discomfort From Working Out?  

Stiff, achy and sore muscles are common after working out – almost everyone has experienced this at some point.  Even your average couch potato has overdone it at least once!  So why does it happen?

Exercise creates microscopic tears in the muscle and connective tissue. What’s interesting is that these tears themselves don’t cause pain, but repairing them does! That’s why you don’t typically feel soreness right away. Its technical name is actually “delayed onset muscle soreness” (DOMS). Sort of how eating a really big meal doesn’t feel bad while you’re doing it, but as you start to digest you can get a nasty stomach ache. After muscles are damaged, inflammation occurs and pain sets in. DOMS usually starts 1-2 days after exercising and can last 3-5 days.

For an athlete or fitness buff, soreness and discomfort can interfere with the next workout, which can be a major buzzkill for exercise lovers. Can CBD help you get back into the gym sooner? We can’t say for sure, but there’s at least some scientific reason to say: maybe!

CBD for Workout Recovery

How Might CBD Help?

Nobody has explicitly studied this – YET. But, we do have some research that can give us a clue as to why many people are finding relief, at least anecdotally from their own self-experimentation.

Since we know exercise can cause inflammation, research showing CBD benefits inflammation is very interesting for this discussion! Most studies have been performed in mice so far, and aside from the fact that we walk on two legs and talk, there are some important differences between mice and human physiology. That means even though researchers have found benefits of CBD, it still needs to be studied in humans to know how it affects us for certain.

Thus far, CBD has been shown to be anti-inflammatory in mice, when they injected a substance called carrageen to create inflammation in their little furry bodies. It’s not exactly the same effect on the body as weight lifting, but does suggest there’s promise here!  Similarly, colitis is a disease whereby the colon becomes inflamed, and CBD has reduced this inflammation in affected mice.  

“No pain, no gain?” Apparently, Jane Fonda popularized this phrase in her workout videos from the 1980s. Unfortunately, most studies on pain and CBD also include THC, so we can’t scientifically know how CBD helps alone. There is one study, however, that was a case study of three individuals (humans!) who used CBD for a painful skin condition called epidermolysis bulls. All three reported that CBD reduced their pain and promoted faster healing of wounds. One patient even discontinued opioids for pain after beginning CBD use.

While laboratory-induced inflammation, colitis and painful dermatological conditions aren’t exactly a run on the track, we at least have some basic understanding of why athletic types may be finding it useful.

Who is Using CBD for Workout Recovery?

Among the professional athletic world, some well-known users include Mike Tyson and UFC fighter Nate Diaz.

Among the more “everyday” fitness fiends, we know a bit from a few studies that have looked at athletes using CBD and cannabis more generally.  

Thus far, it appears that athletes using CBD (without THC also) tend to be older and using medicinally. These folks tend to be over age 40 (80.6%), with an overwhelming majority (98.6%) using it less than twice a day and for less than three years. Some older users also combine CBD with THC for medicinal purposes, while younger athletes appear to use cannabis more recreationally. Older users also tended to use oils, tinctures and topicals more often than younger users, who preferred edibles, smoking and vaporizing cannabis-based products (including THC).

Longer-term athlete-users tended to also incorporate THC into their regimens, though it is unclear why. This study suggested CBD and THC in combination provides greater pain relief, so the authors are unsure whether athletes add THC because CBD alone is not enough relief. Other authors have reported THC can enhance CBD’s pain-relieving effects, that the two cannabinoids work together synergistically.  

Obviously, THC carries its own risks, including those of drug testing, so that approach will certainly not work for everyone!

CBD Post Workout

Are There Risks for Athletes From CBD Use?

Generally speaking, CBD has been found safe at fairly high doses, though obviously everyone’s body is different and your own mileage may vary.  

Among athletes, CBD-only users (without THC) experienced the fewest side effects – 55% of this group had no adverse experiences at all! A study of general CBD users found 1/3 of users reported adverse effects but the vast majority were non-serious. These included dry mouth, euphoria, hunger, red eyes and sedation or fatigue. This particular study, however, did not differentiate between CBD derived from hemp versus from marijuana, which may account for some of these effects. 

Cannabidiol is allowed in professional sports according to the World Anti-Doping Agency, though THC is still prohibited. Hemp-based CBD is unlikely to trigger a positive drug test, as it can only legally contain less than 0.3% THC, but everyone’s body is different and it’s hard to say for certain what yours will do. In addition, VERY high doses (1000-2000mg) may trigger a “false positive” from other compounds in the plant. Most people don’t take nearly this much, and most fitness fanatics aren’t going pro – but the risks of CBD use and your job are important to consider before diving in.

So, CAN CBD Help With Workout Recovery?

Well, there’s really only one way to know for sure – try it yourself. If you’re comfortable with the risks, and feel the benefits outweigh any potential drawbacks, some experimentation may be in your future. Many athletes are currently enjoying the benefits of CBD and while much, much more research is needed, it is pointing in the right direction!


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Sarah M.

Sarah has a Ph.D in Sociology with a minor in Women’s Studies from the University of Arizona. Her current research spans the fields of trauma, psychology, neurobiology and sociology.

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