CBD and Sport – Why Are Athletes Incorporating CBD To Better Their Sports Performance

Exercise can put a lot of physical and mental strain on your body and, for professional athletes, the stakes are much higher. It’s for this reason that athletes from a cross-section of sporting disciplines are advocating the use of CBD for its myriad of health benefits. From MMA to American football, and golf to rugby, CBD covers all areas of the sporting realm.

But what is the reason for this incredible sports-related growth in CBD’s popularity?

The answer, it seems, is quite straightforward. While current pain management strategies work, they can also cause long-term damage which is why there continues to be a search for, and exploration of, alternatives to aid in sports recovery and safer pain relief. CBD is a naturally-derived substitute which sports professionals are using, and many have been very vocal in their support of the cannabinoid.

Is CBD allowed in sport?

First things first. Is CBD even allowed to be used by athletes?

Yes, it is! In 2018 the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) made a historic move as they removed CBD from the list of prohibited substances (both in and out of competition). This stance was then followed by the US Anti-Doping Agency, who have provided a Marijuana FAQ for added clarity as THC and synthetic cannabinoids are still prohibited.

The urinary threshold is now 150 nanograms of THC per millilitre, up from the previous limit of 15 nanograms. So, even if you are using full-spectrum CBD (which can contain up to 0.2% THC), you are unlikely to have a positive result. The change was enacted by WADA because they found that “many cases do not involve game or event-day consumption. The new threshold level is an attempt to ensure that in-competition use is detected and not use during the days and weeks before competition.”

Professional athletes who are tested regularly may consider using broad-spectrum CBD instead of full-spectrum CBD, which offers the same benefits including the entourage effect, but contains 0% THC, so there is no chance of a positive result on your drug test.

Which sporting disciplines are using CBD?

From horse-riding to swimming, there are reports from all corners of the sporting world that continue to raise awareness for the health-promoting benefits of CBD. Four of the most vocal disciplines are:


MMA fighters are among the leading proponents of CBD for sport, with the Diaz brothers, amongst others, praising CBD for its pain-relieving properties (and they have even gone on to launch their own CBD brand.)


In the UK, many rugby players are using CBD to “help put their bodies back together”. The cannabinoid has received a lot of positive publicity recently as Saracens teammates Dominic Day and George Kruis have launched their own CBD brand after experiencing the positive impact of it for themselves for both injury rehabilitation and post-game recovery.

American Football

Retired NFL stars were amongst the first to start talking about CBD, many of whom struggled with injuries sustained over the course of a long, gruelling career. Proponents of CBD include Lofa Tatupu, Kyle Turley, Terrell Davies, David Ahrens and Rob Gronkowski.


CBD is being used by a number of golfing greats including Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Charley Hoffman and Bubba Watson. While golf may not be as physically challenging, the mental acuity and concentration required, along with high levels of stress, have led many to turn to CBD for its anti-anxiety and calming effects.

Why do athletes take CBD (and how can it benefit your training)?

To relieve pain

The body’s endocannabinoid system works to bring the body back into homeostasis and, amongst other actions, helps your cells to respond to stimuli. This creates pain-relieving effects and can benefit those with chronic pain (including back pain, nerve damage, joint pain and muscle pain.)

To reduce inflammation and speed up recovery

CBD is well-known for its anti-inflammatory properties which make it ideal for athletes. While some inflammation can be helpful in stimulating positive training adaptations, an excess of inflammation slows down recovery and has a negative impact on performance. In essence, every time you work out, your body breaks itself down in order to rebuild itself, and this process can often leave you feeling sore and lethargic. Post-workout inflammation is a common issue, but CBD can help. CBD interacts with CB2 receptors in the body’s endocannabinoid system, thereby reducing cytokine and chemokine production, and increasing the body’s T-regulatory cell production, for a powerful anti-inflammatory response.

To improve sleep quality

Sleep is one of the keys to achieving greater progress in training. Adequate sleep has been proven to aid in motivation to stick to training routines while a lack of sleep makes exercise feel harder and reduces endurance performance.

CBD is linked to improving sleep quality by making it easier to go to sleep and stay asleep. This is thought to be because CBD inhibits the reuptake of adenosine. Adenosine slowly accumulates in the brain as your brains burns carbohydrates for energy. As the level of adenosine rises, it binds to neurons and inhibits the release of neurotransmitters which slows down brain activity (making you feel calmer and drowsier. CBD binds to the same receptors as adenosine, ensuring the accelerated accumulation of adenosine, so you feel more tired, more quickly. CBD is also thought to have an anti-anxiety effect, which makes it easier for people using CBD to fall asleep.

To reduce stress and anxiety

Pre-event stress and performance anxiety can be managed with CBD. In both human and animal studies, physiological (such as an increased heart rate) and behavioural symptoms of anxiety were reduced with CBD use, and it may also help treat anxiety-induced insomnia.

To control weight gain

For some people, CBD acts as an appetite suppressant, making it easier for athletes to stick to their strict eating plans. It is particularly important for athletes who compete in specific weight classes, such as MMA fighters.

As an alternative to pain medication

NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are not as safe as was originally thought, and, for long-term users, can have a number of side effects including an increased risk of renal damage, heart attacks and strokes.

CBD offers a safe, effective alternative to help athletes reduce their reliance on other medication for exercise-related pain. As was reported by The Essentials of Pain Medicine, 4th Edition, “There are no documented deaths from cannabis or cannabinoid-based products. In a systemic review of studies of oral and oral-mucosal cannabis for various medical conditions, the majority of adverse events reports were considered non-serious (96.6%).”

It is also an alternative to opioid medication such as morphine and oxycontin, which are highly effective but come with significant risks in terms of addiction and overdose. In the UK, opioid deaths continue to climb so, while CBD may not offer the same relief for acute, high-intensity pain, it can be effective for long-term pain management and comes with a much lower risk profile.

How can CBD help with your exercise and training?

Whether you like to hit the gym hard or are a dedicated endurance athlete, the research is clear: CBD can help your performance while you’re working out and as you recover after. Whether you experience pain, inflammation, poor sleep quality, or even anxiety, CBD can help to modulate your body’s response allowing you to get the best results from your training.

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