Cannabinoids, Clinical Research
how topical CBD works

CBD and Sport: How Topical CBD Works to Improve Performance

Written by
Hayden Kempton

Market Coordinator at Simply Green


Can CBD aid athletic performance? Or, if you’re a casual gym-goer, can CBD help with recovery and give you a boost when it comes to getting fit? We’ve all heard about the benefits of cannabidiol (CBD) when it comes to relaxation of the mind and body, but research shows that it can also be useful when you want to be active. Based on this, CBD isn’t banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Moreover, it’s available as an over-the-counter nutraceutical product (i.e. it provides health benefits).

Therefore, from general use and sporting perspectives, CBD topical supplements are safe and legal. It’s important to note from the outset that studies into the effects of CBD in sport are limited. In fact, a 2020 narrative review by McCartney et al sought to outline the potential benefits of CBD in sport and, in turn, suggest future research. As such, you’ll notice that a lot of the marketing surrounding CBD and sport is tentative. In practice, you’ll see conclusions derived from research looking at CBD in general use.

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The Link Between CBD and Sport

For example, a 2019 study by Atalay et al found that CBD can reduce oxidative stress which, in simple terms, means it can reduce inflammation. CBD sports companies have taken this as a positive because a lot of common injuries, such as muscle strains, illicit an inflammatory response. Athletes will often use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin to relieve pain in these situations.

Reducing the inflammatory/pain response allows athletes to continue some form of exercise which, in turn, can help speed up the healing process. Thus, what you’re getting here is a connecting of the dots. Those interested in CBD and sport look to the general benefits in order to aid their athletic endeavours. What McCartney et al would like to see is specific research into the CBD use in sport and what particular benefits there might be in context.

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However, while it’s important to note that CBD in sport is an emerging field, that doesn’t mean it isn’t useful. In fact, through a combination of empirical and anecdotal evidence, there’s a lot of potential in topical CBD use, regardless of whether you’re an athlete or someone trying to get fit. With this in mind, let’s see how topical CBD works to help you in sport or any type of physical activity:

Reduce Inflammation and Pain

Inflammation and pain are positives in small doses because they stimulate adaptations in the body. However, if we’re in too much pain, it’s a hindrance. Therefore, anyone wanting to get fitter or improve their performance needs to manage pain and inflammation. One potential way to do this is through the use of CBD creams.

Applying a CBD cream, particularly on the site of an injury, can help reduce inflammation. Why? Well, as a study by Nagarkatti et al shows, CBD binds to CB2 receptors. This can reduce the production of cytokines. Reducing the production and transmission of cytokines can help reduce inflammation which, in turn, may reduce pain and allow you to continue your physical activity.

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Improve Sleep

Anyone engaged in any semi-serious amount of physical activity will know the benefits of sleep. A poor night’s rest will not only affect your cognitive abilities, but your physical ones. The fact is that a large percentage of your recovery occurs while you’re asleep. Therefore, if you’re trying to build muscle or reset yourself ready for another day of training, you need high-quality sleep.

One way CBD creams can help you sleep is by inhibiting the reuptake of adenosine. We know that adenosine triphosphate (ATP) breaks down as your brain burns carbs for energy. This means adenosine can build up in the brain and inhibit the release of neurotransmitters.

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These neurotransmitters slow down brain activity and help you sleep, so slowing down their release isn’t ideal. Research suggests that CBD can help the release of neurotransmitters and, therefore, help you relax. This, in turn, can help you sleep, recover and become a better athlete. This, combined with the reduction of pain, can all assist in your efforts to become fitter, stronger, and better at your chosen sport.

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