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Cannabis & Athletes: Recovery

by | May 10, 2021 | Athletes | 0 comments

Athletes spend a lot of time preparing their bodies and minds for competition, but after the event has ended it’s just as important that they care for their bodies with as much dedication as before. If athletes want to keep their performance at optimal levels they must also learn proper recovery techniques to ensure effective healing post-workout. This applies not only to actual competitive events, but also to training. Injuries born out of practice are just as common as those coming from competition after all, and caring for their bodies before, during, and after competition is key to making sure they can sustain their performance levels [1]. 


Athletic Recovery

Recovery takes many forms. Some of the most common include hydrotherapy, active recovery, stretching, compression devices, and massage. Overall, athletes are encouraged to try a variety of different recovery types and mix and match what works best for them. As athletes at all levels continue to push themselves further into high performance sports and activities, it becomes especially important that they also practice high level recovery. By investigating a variety of recovery methods, athletes at all levels can discover more about their effectiveness on muscle fatigue, injuries, and performance. 


When properly recovered, an athlete has the added benefit of both physiological and psychological restoration, giving them an advantage against the competition who may not have achieved the same level of recovery. This can be achieved by managing both the mind and body, especially since the mind is something that is often overlooked when it comes to active recovery. This is where cannabis really shines when compared to other types of recovery products. 


Cannabis Products

Individual athletes will each have their own preferred method of using cannabis for recovery, but often they will include a full spectrum or an isolate product, depending on what their lifestyle needs are. Cannabis can help athletes with anything from relief of temporary acute pain to a more steady and systemic anti-inflammatory treatment. Cannabis works well to provide quick relief to fresh bruises, abrasions, and even muscle strains. It even has the ability to help with pain relief on more dramatic injuries like sprains [2]. 


There are a variety of products that work well for athletes, depending on their needs. Some of the most popular are tinctures, edibles, and topical salve treatments. Which one is best will depend entirely on the person using the product and the type of care they are trying to achieve. If they are working towards a daily systemic advantage, a tincture or edible might be the best solution. If temporary relief of tired or sore muscles is needed, a salve is an excellent option. 


How Does it Work

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the most popular and used cannabis products in the world, especially in the athletic field. CBD is a chemical compound found in the flower of the marijuana plant with a long list of possible benefits for people of all activity and health levels. Unlike THC, it doesn’t have any intoxicating effects, making it especially powerful for athletes who would need its benefits before or immediately following competition. In recent years CBD has quickly become a preferred treatment for a number of issues, some of which are important to an athlete in training. But how does it work?


Since CBD doesn’t bind to the endocannabinoid system (ECS) receptors it’s able to keep the endocannabinoids from being broken down, allowing them to maximize their effect on the body. Experts are still researching how exactly CBD interacts with the ECS system, but the current research suggests that CBD has a beneficial impact on almost all systems within the human body [3]. The endocannabinoid system has many functions within it.


The Endocannabinoid System

The ECS is responsible for maintaining homeostasis in the body, making it one of the most important systems in the body. The ECS is important because all our internal systems need to be in balance to work effectively. If any trouble is registered, the ECS kicks in and focuses on the location of the issue in order to stabilize it. 

There are three primary elements in the endocannabinoid system: 

    1. Endocannabinoids. Chemical compounds the human body naturally produces. These are structurally similar to endocannabinoids, the chemical compounds found within cannabis and are the key to cannabis interacting with the endocannabinoid system.
    2. Cannabinoid receptors. Endocannabinoids and cannabinoids are both able to attach to these receptors allowing them to communicate with a variety of systems inside the body. This specific communication is what enables the ECS to detect and correct any noticed instability. 
    3. Enzymes. Proteins that work to break down the cannabinoids and endocannabinoids after they’ve attached themselves to the receptors and achieved homeostasis. Enzymes are there to make sure the cannabinoids do not create an overcorrection once the risk has been effectively corrected. 


What Does it Help




Studies performed on rodents noticed that giving the subjects cannabis helped increase the amount of food they ate. This could suggest that it works as a powerful appetite stimulant much, as is commonly known with THC. However, unlike THC, CBD and other cannabinoids do not contain psychoactive properties that cause intoxication. Potentially meaning they could be used for those seeking an alternative way to increase appetite without feeling high [4].


Pain Relief

Especially important for athletes is the ability to ease any pain they may have to deal with after competition. While it usually involves rest and healing, it could also involve powerful medications that have the potential to derail an entire training program or even cause a dangerous dependency. Cannabis is an alternative treatment for pain without dependency or training interference. 


CBD may be effective at reducing chronic pain, but it’s also effective at easing musculoskeletal pain commonly felt after exercise [5]. While many people turn to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs after a sports injury, those drugs can have negative side effects after prolonged use, such as renal damage and increased risk of heart attack and stroke [6]. 



Besides its anti-inflammatory benefits of CBD, scientists believe its analgesic effect makes it useful in treating sore and tired muscles. With the added benefit of pain relief, CBD can go a long way to help relax and ease the discomfort of those with sore overworked muscles, especially the type of pain athletes experience regularly [7]. Athletes who enjoy high-intensity workouts may want to try CBD prior to a workout. Some believe this helps ease muscles into and out of anaerobic mode. Combined with proper stretching and massage, some people notice an apparent difference in muscle recovery [8].



Athletes are no strangers to skin ointments and salves. A big part of their normal recovery will usually include using some sort of healing or soothing salve on their injured skin or sore muscles. Recent studies have shown CBD to be a powerful antibacterial compound. Researchers tested CBD and found it to be a potent treatment for the types of bacteria that cause issues on the surface of human skin. This is especially important for athletes who may come into contact with any number of substances during an activity. This also opens up the possibility that perhaps in the future CBD will be helpful in treating conditions otherwise untreatable by traditional antibiotics [10].



After a rigorous workout or competition, there are few things more important than a restorative night’s sleep. But often the adrenaline of the activity or remaining pain may cause the athlete to have a restless or incomplete sleep. Studies have found that cannabinoids can be used as an effective treatment for those suffering from insomnia or other sleep conditions. These studies show up to a 66% increase in the quality of sleep in people who had previously struggled with a full night of rest. This is a huge improvement and a number that all athletes should consider before they struggled through a restless night fraught with remnants of their competition [11]. 


What’s Next

After an athletic competition or event it’s important to immediately help the body restore itself back to a healthy place in order to avoid any lasting effects or possible injuries. But what happens if an injury is acquired during competition? Regular recovery will not necessarily be enough in that case, so what’s the best course of action? In our next article we’ll go over how cannabis can assist in injury management.