CBD and Athletic Performance: Exploring the Science Behind How Athletes Can Use CBD to Manage Pain, Reduce Inflammation, and Improve Recovery Time

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a non-psychoactive compound found in the cannabis plant, which has gained popularity in recent years for its potential therapeutic effects. Many athletes are turning to CBD as a natural alternative to over-the-counter pain medication or prescription opioids, as well as a way to reduce inflammation and anxiety.

In this article, we will explore the science behind how athletes can use CBD, including its potential benefits and risks, how it works in the body, and the different forms it can be consumed.

The Science Behind CBD

CBD works by interacting with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), a complex cell-signaling system that plays a crucial role in regulating various physiological and cognitive processes, including pain, mood, appetite, and sleep.

The ECS is composed of three main components: endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes. Endocannabinoids are naturally occurring molecules that bind to cannabinoid receptors, which are found throughout the body. Enzymes are responsible for breaking down endocannabinoids after they have fulfilled their function.

CBD works by interacting with the ECS in a variety of ways. For example, it can inhibit the breakdown of endocannabinoids, allowing them to remain active in the body for longer periods. It can also bind to receptors that are not part of the ECS, such as the serotonin receptor, which is involved in regulating mood and anxiety.

Potential Benefits of CBD for Athletes

Reducing Pain and Inflammation: Pain and inflammation are common issues among athletes, whether from injuries, overuse, or intense training. CBD has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, which may help reduce pain and inflammation in the body. In a 2020 study, CBD was found to reduce joint pain and inflammation in rats with osteoarthritis.

Improving Recovery Time: Recovery time is critical for athletes, as it allows the body to repair and rebuild muscle tissue after exercise. CBD may help improve recovery time by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. In a 2015 study, CBD was found to reduce oxidative stress in liver cells, suggesting it may have similar effects in other tissues.

Reducing Anxiety: Anxiety is a common issue among athletes, whether from performance pressure, injury, or other factors. CBD has been shown to have anxiolytic properties, meaning it may help reduce anxiety and improve mood. In a 2019 study, CBD was found to reduce anxiety and improve sleep in patients with anxiety and sleep disorders.

Different Forms of CBD

CBD can be consumed in various forms, including:

  • Oil Tinctures: CBD oil tinctures are one of the most popular forms of CBD. They are typically taken orally, either by placing drops under the tongue or mixing them with food or drinks.
  • Capsules: CBD capsules are another common form of CBD. They are convenient to use and provide a pre-measured dose of CBD.
  • Edibles: CBD edibles are foods or drinks that contain CBD. They can be a tasty and discreet way to consume CBD, but it’s important to note that the effects may take longer to kick in compared to other forms of CBD.
  • Topicals: CBD topicals are creams, lotions, or balms that are applied directly to the skin. They may be useful for reducing localized pain and inflammation.
  • Vaping: CBD can also be consumed through vaping, which involves inhaling CBD-infused vapor. Vaping may provide fast-acting effects, but it’s important to be aware of the potential risks associated with vaping, such as lung damage and respiratory issues.

Risks and Precautions

While CBD is generally considered safe, there are some potential risks and precautions to be aware of, especially for athletes. Some CBD products may contain more THC than advertised, which could

result in a positive drug test. Therefore, it’s essential to only use CBD products that are third-party tested and have a certificate of analysis (COA) available.

Another potential risk is the interaction between CBD and other medications. CBD can affect the way the body metabolizes certain drugs, including some pain medications, blood thinners, and antidepressants. Athletes should consult with a healthcare professional before using CBD if they are taking any medications.

It’s also important to note that the long-term effects of CBD use are not yet fully understood. More research is needed to determine the safety and efficacy of CBD, especially for athletes who may be using it regularly.


The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed CBD from its list of prohibited substances in 2018. This means that athletes are now allowed to use CBD products, as long as they do not contain any other banned substances, such as THC.

However, it’s important to note that some CBD products may contain trace amounts of THC, which could result in a positive drug test. Athletes should only use CBD products that are third-party tested and have a certificate of analysis (COA) available to ensure they do not contain any prohibited substances.

Athletes should also be aware that WADA still considers all other cannabinoids, including THC, to be prohibited in competition. This means that athletes should avoid using THC-containing products during competition periods to avoid a positive drug test.


CBD has the potential to provide a natural and effective way for athletes to manage pain, reduce inflammation, and improve recovery time. However, it’s essential to use high-quality, third-party-tested CBD products and to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement regimen.

While more research is needed to fully understand the effects of CBD on the body, the available evidence suggests that CBD may be a valuable tool for athletes looking for a natural way to support their health and performance.