Cannabidiol (CBD) is unlike its counterpart tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in many ways that make it very applicable to medicinal use. CBD is non-intoxicating and offers many therapeutic properties that may be beneficial to many, but specifically athletes in sports performance. There are currently no studies that directly investigate cannabidiol in sports, but many studies and preclinical trials that highlight the effects of CBD relevant to sports performance. CBD has shown significant potential to be beneficial to athletes suffering from inflammation, pain, bone fractures, muscle damage, GI tract damage, anxiety, and more.
Pain is inevitable for most athletes pushing their bodies to the limits. High-performance athletes are always looking for the best way to manage and cope with this pain. CBD may bring a new option for athletes suffering from neuropathic or nociceptive pain. Nociceptive pain is a result of tissue damage that leads to inflammation. Neuropathic pain originates from damage to the somatosensory nervous system (spinal cord injury, etc.). Many studies have found that administered CBD gives an analgesic effect to nociceptive or neuropathic pain, regardless of the differences between the studies. Some studies suggest that CBD’s analgesic effect may be mediated by the TRPV1 channel, which plays a role in inflammatory muscle pain and delayed onset muscle soreness (De Gregorio et al. 2019). The effect CBD has on pain depends on the type of pain, the dosages, and much more. This displays the importance of doing more research to determine therapeutic doses of CBD.
Exercise-Induced muscle damage (EIMD) is caused by intense exercise which results in an inflammatory reaction that limits muscle performance. Inflammation helps heal muscle damage, but an excess of inflammation leads to prolonged soreness and slower recovery time. CBD encourages anti-inflammatory properties by the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines. In terms of muscle-specific inflammation, a study done on dystrophic MDX mice showed that CBD treatment improved muscle strength, coordination, and reduced degeneration (Iannotti et al. 2019). There are differences between muscle dystrophy and EIMD, but it is likely that CBD could provide similar benefits.
Exercise-induced gastrointestinal (GI) damage can be caused during strenuous exercise when the blood is directed to the muscles in use along with the cardiopulmonary system and skin. Therefore, other organs including the GI tract may have reduced oxygen and nutrients. GI distress can cause nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, and reduced nutrient uptake. CBD’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties may be helpful to managing GI damage. It has been reported that CBD can improve healing of tissue damage, necrosis, and restore intestinal permeability after inflammation (Alhamoruni et al. 2012).
Bone health in athletes is a significant factor as there is potential for injuries during sport. Most studies regarding CBD and bone health have used non-athletic animal models, but one study shows significant relevance. Kogan N.M. et al. (2015) reported a significant improvement in healing femoral fractures in rats with CBD treatment. 4 weeks post-fracture the callus size was decreased compared to non-treated rats, and 8 weeks post-fracture the CBD treated rats had improved mobility and strength of the bone. Clarification is still required to determine exactly how this effect works. Current suggestions include CBD may inhibit the expression of RANK and RANK-L and decrease pro-inflammatory cytokine production. This effect of CBD could be game-changing for athletes recovering from a bone fracture injury.
Sports Performance Anxiety (SPA) can seriously lower athletic performance and there is a lot of pressure on athletes in high performance. The effects of SPA can include high anxiety, tenseness, loss of sleep, and decreased nutrient intake which all interfere with an athlete’s ability to perform. Moderate doses of CBD have been reported to have anxiolytic properties in stressful situations such as the studies done on public speaking and social anxiety disorder (Bergamaschi et al. 2020). If CBD could be used as a treatment along with behaviour therapy, athletes may not have to worry about their anxiety taking over pre-competition.
More investigation into the effects of CBD is needed. Right now, we know that CBD has extreme potential for healing and calming. The findings of physiological and psychological effects are preliminary and promising. The research available gives hope to future studies that will pave the way for CBD to help the lives of many athletes, humans, and animals.
Alhamoruni A, Wright K, Larvin M, O’sullivan S. Cannabinoids mediate opposing effects on inflammation-induced intestinal permeability. Br J Pharmacol. 2012;165(8):2598–2610.
Bergamaschi M, Queiroz R, Chagas M, et al. Cannabidiol reduces the anxiety induced by simulated public speaking in treatment-naive social phobia patients. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2011;36(6):1219–1226.
De Gregorio D, McLaughlin R, Posa L, et al. Cannabidiol modulates serotonergic transmission and reverses both allodynia and anxiety-like behavior in a model of neuropathic pain. Pain. 2019;160(1):136–150.
Kogan N, Melamed E, Wasserman E, et al. Cannabidiol, a major non-psychotropic Cannabis constituent enhances fracture healing and stimulates lysyl hydroxylase activity in osteoblasts. J Bone Miner Res. 2015;30(10):1905–1913.
McCartney, D., Benson, M.J., Desbrow, B., Irwin, C., Suraev, A., McGregor, I.S. 2020. Cannabidiol and sports performance: a narrative review of relevant evidence and recommendations for future research. Sport. Med. Open.