How CBD Helps with Recovery

How CBD Helps with Recovery

Fatigue is a common outcome of exercise, training and competition that often precedes inflammation and pain.  Mobility, strength, vital signs, activity and attention levels can also be negatively impacted.  Everyone from highly trained athletes to the weekend warrior can attest to at least some personal experience with these effects.

Athletes and active individuals generally have their own recovery regimen. This can include minimalist approaches such as simple rest and mere acceptance, i.e. “no pain = no gain.” Active recovery approaches can include a managed diet, various physical therapy methods (e.g., hot/cold treatment or therapeutic massage) and dietary supplementation with nutrients and compounds not normally found in someone’s diet.

 What is Cannabidiol (CBD)?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a phytocannabinoid found in Cannabis sativa, which includes both “marijuana” and hemp. Unlike THC, CBD does NOT possess inebriating effects, even at large doses, since it does not effectively activate CB1, a receptor found predominantly in the nervous system and part of the pathway that leads to the psychoactive effects of THC. But CBD does effectively activate CB2 receptors, which are predominantly located outside of the central nervous system and involved with immune and parasympathetic activity. Perhaps more importantly, CBD interacts with other receptor systems in the body including those for serotonin, one of our body’s chemicals involved in, among other things, mood, sleep and immune response.

CBD also activates TRPV receptors, which are involved in sensing pain. In addition, CBD inhibits the breakdown of endocannabinoids, the cannabinoids our own body makes. This in turn leads to a longer duration of the “runner’s high” effect, the pleasant feeling one gets from exercise. CBD also interacts with adenosine receptors, which are involved in the release of inflammatory molecules called cytokines and may partially be responsible for the lowering of cortisol seen with CBD administration. The breadth and depth of CBD pharmacology remains an active research question, but there is enough mechanistic data to begin to understand some of the effects related to recovery in the clinic.


CBD: Inflammation and Pain

Muscle damage from training and competition initiates an inflammatory cascade that reverberates in the region of damage, but also throughout the body. Downstream actors in the inflammatory cascade include macrophages and other immune system cells meant to clean-up damaged tissue that are drawn into service as early as two-hours after muscle damaging activity and can remain active for days after. CBD appears to alter the inflammatory response allowing muscle repair to occur while avoiding runaway inflammation that leads to unnecessary pain.

 Athletes commonly report that CBD can be effective in lessening the occasional soreness associated with post-exercise recovery without slowing down recovery. While we don’t know exactly how CBD does this, we do know that it impacts several related systems as described above and it seems likely that the impact of CBD is due to a combination of these effects and maybe some yet to be discovered. For example, the modulation of TRPV receptors and longer half-lives of endocannabinoids may decrease the perception of pain. While CBD pharmacology impacting sleep and mood may have an impact in supporting normal recovery processes.



CBD is no longer on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) list of prohibited substances for good reason. It does not appear to have any clear effect on actual performance, but only on repair and recovery.  As world class athletes continue to experiment with new regimens to keep their bodies operating well and recovering swiftly, the rest of us can benefit from what they find to augment our own exercises in recovery.

Back to blog