cbd and athletes

 No one knows better what it’s like to have to perform their job at the highest level while suffering pain than professional athletes. On the field, as well as during training, athletes get hurt. But you don’t have to play a pro team to suffer injuries or strain a muscle. Anyone participating in sports risks getting hurt.

The positive news is that with concern over the rising use of opioids to mitigate pain and reduce stress, many current and former professional athletes now are enthusiastic about the benefits of cannabidiol (CBD) and are endorsing it. Soccer player Megan Rapinoe, former basketball player Lamar Odon, and football player Rob Gronkowski are among the professional athletes who have spoken out about CBD.[1]

CBD Reduces Inflammation and Pain

CBD offers many benefits that are particularly suited for the physical and competitive demands placed on athletes. It’s one of the over 60 cannabinoids or naturally-occurring chemicals found in industrial hemp and marijuana. Cannabinoids interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is made up of endocannabinoids or neurotransmitters that send chemical messages between neurons, the cells that transmit nerve impulses to affect pain response, lower inflammation and aid injury recovery as well as control other functions of the body such as sleep, appetite and immune response.

CBD Relieves Back and Knee Pain

Back-pain treatment is a good example of the way in which CBD aids pain relief. Lower back pain in athletes can be due to anything from strained muscles and ligaments to bone abnormalities.  

Among the CBD options for back pain relief are topicals – ointments, creams or salves - rubbed into the skin where pain occurs. CBD topical products are absorbed through the skin where they interact with the body’s CB-2 receptors, which play an important role in fighting inflammation.  Once CBD interacts with CB-2 receptors, it has a pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effect on the body.

Knee pain and injury also are common among athletes, often the result of improper exercise form and technique or overexertion. Knee pain may also be the result of a pre-existing condition from a previous injury. By helping relieve pain and inflammation, CBD can be a key part of knee pain treatment to aid in relief and recovery.

CBD Reduces Stress

Athletes are under a great deal of stress, especially before a game. During stress, muscles tense up, which affects performance and therefore increases the chance of injury. CBD may help the body process serotonin, a chemical that has a wide variety of functions in the body and contributes to wellbeing and happiness, thereby reducing stress. CBD doesn’t necessarily boost serotonin levels, but it may affect how the brain’s chemical receptors respond to the serotonin that’s already in your system.[2] CBD therefore can be part of pre-workout prep to enable athletes to train without causing damage to their bodies.  

CBD Aids Sleep

Lack of sleep as well as poor-quality sleep affect performance, so it’s critical that athletes get enough quality sleep when they are training and competing.  CBD increasingly is becoming a go-to solution for improved sleep. Some research on CBD and sleep indicates that CBD may interact with specific receptors in the endocannabinoid system to potentially affect the sleep/wake cycle. Furthermore, by reducing the symptoms of pain and anxiety, CBD may also contribute to a more restful sleep.[3]

CBD Encourages Weight Loss

Besides relieving stress and helping sleep, which can contribute to weight gain, research suggests that CBD may boost metabolic processes.  The endocannabinoid system was recently shown to control several metabolic functions by acting on peripheral tissues such as adipocytes (cells for storing fat), hepatocytes (cells in the liver that control a range of synthetic and metabolic functions), the gastrointestinal tract, the skeletal muscles and the endocrine pancreas.[4]

 Data from other research on obesity also suggests that CBD may be a potentially promising therapeutic agent for the prevention of obesity by turning white fat to brown fat. Specifically, white, visceral fat is the unhealthy fat that accumulates in obesity and the fat that needs to be reduced in weight loss to improve health.  On the other hand, brown fat gets its color from iron-rich mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell. When brown fat burns, a process called thermogenesis happens, and calories in the form of white fat are burned for energy. In one animal model study, CBD was found to increase the expression of multiple genes that are involved in the browning of fat.[5]

 Recognizing the benefits of CBD on the body, in 2018, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed CBD from its prohibited substances list. However, at this time, the legality of CBD for professional athletes depends on the sport.


[1] Chander, Raj, “CBD for Athletes: Research, Benefits, and Side Effects, Healthline, December 13, 2019. https://www.healthline.com/health/cbd-for-athletes
[2] Holland, Kimberly, “How to Try CBD for Depression,” Healthline, July 29, 2019. https://www.healthline.com/health/cbd-for-depression
[3] “CBD: For Sleep and Insomnia, American Sleep Association, accessed July 4, 2020. https://www.sleepassociation.org/sleep-treatments/cbd/
[4] Bellocchio L, Cervino C, Pasquali R, Pagotto U. The endocannabinoid system and energy metabolism. J Neuroendocrinol. 2008 Jun;20(6):850-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2826.2008.01728.x. PMID: 18601709. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1365-2826.2008.01728.x
[5] Lagano, Laura, “How CBD Can Potentially Combat Obesity,” Fresh Toast, February 3, 2020. https://thefreshtoast.com/cannabis/the-connection-between-obesity-and-cbd/