Cannabis for Recovery: How THC and CBD Can Help Athletes Succeed

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“Struggle is the enemy, but weed is the remedy” - Kid Cudi

Author: Samantha M., Pe Marketing Lead

Cannabis and its derivatives are useful for finding relief from a wide variety of friction sources in life - be it stress, depression and anxiety, physical ailments, or just a dip in your mood. But one growing sector where people are finding great efficacy in cannabis medicine is the world of health and fitness. Career athletes are known for sourcing supplements that help them reach their peak performance without endangering their bodies and long-term health, so it makes sense that more and more athletes are taking note of the many medicinal benefits of CBD and THC.

The science behind how and why cannabis compounds are so effective at treating common athletic issues like muscle pain and chronic fatigue is still in its infancy, but enough is now known about the biological action of THC and CBD for us to understand the basic principles of why athletes may benefit from incorporating cannabis products into their routines. Let’s a take a look at a few of those mechanisms, and the best types of cannabis products for athletes to try.

How Cannabis Can Enhance Athletic Performance

In order to get a good look at specifically how cannabis can help athletes, let’s examine the biological mechanisms of the 2 most abundant phytocannabinoids - THC and CBD - individually to understand how cannabis products rich in these compounds can impact athletic performance from many facets.

THC may be infamous for its psychoactive effects, but the molecule is capable of so much more. Firstly, THC is a known vasodilator, meaning it causes blood vessels to expand and increases blood flow - this is why blood-shot eyes are a common side effect of cannabis consumption, as the THC is causing the blood vessels to become much larger, and therefore more visible in places like the whites of the eyes. This effect on the circulatory system can be a benefit to athletes - by enhancing blood flow throughout the body, muscles may be able to stay oxygenated more efficiently. THC also works as a bronchodilator, opening the airways and helping with deep breathing, a vital part of aerobic exercise. This means THC may both help an athlete take in more oxygen, and more effectively distribute it throughout their body during exercise.

THC is also noted for helping to reduce sensations of pain through anti-inflammatory actions, which can be instrumental in the recovery portion of workouts and dealing with the discomfort caused by overly-sore muscles. This can also help those who struggle with chronic pain to find the relief they need in order to pursue athletic activity. Significant doses of THC are usually associated with inducing drowsiness and providing insomnia relief, and many major cannabis terpenes provide calming, relaxing effects, so using the right cannabis product and dose can help athletes and non-athletes alike with the most vital part of recovery - sleep. Finally, when used at the right THC dose and in conjunction with the right terpenes, cannabis products can providing uplifting feelings that can help you feel energized to make it to the gym or go for a run. Finding the motivation to go to the gym is a common issue, and cannabis can give you that push in the right direction.

The other main cannabinoid, CBD, is easily the trendiest wellness supplement of this decade - finding its way into everything from coffee to protein powder to cheeseburgers. CBD naturally supports the function of our endocannabinoid system by intervening on chemical pathways that are running haywire, which is the basic mechanism that causes inflammation, chronic pain, seizures, migraines, spasms, and autoimmune disorders, among other issues. This wide-ranging efficacy against processes that are too far from baseline equilibrium may explain why CBD is so effective for treating a huge portion of human health issues.

Much like THC, CBD is able to reduce pain, relieve inflammation, and help with restlessness and sleep quality. CBD is often preferred over THC by athletes as it provides similar benefits without unwanted heavy psychoactivity, but using THC and CBD concurrently has been shown to increase the effectiveness of both molecules, so taking CBD with a low THC dose can be extremely beneficial. On this note, while many people often label CBD as “non-psychoactive”, this is not technically true. CBD does interact with our nervous system and can produce changes in cognition and mood. CBD can elevate the mood and help us better respond to stress and anxiety, helping athletes push through mental blocks to their performance. CBD can also produce bodily relaxation that may feel somewhat similar to a muscle relaxer, making it a good choice for recovery and treatment of sore muscles.

One interesting newly-identified biological action of CBD that THC does not seem to exhibit (at least according to our current research) is the ability of CBD to help our bodies fight excess fat and prevent obesity. A recent study found a multi-prong mechanism through which CBD encourages the metabolism of existing fat cells, prevents the formation of new fat cells, and actually causes a physical change in the type of fat cells in our body. There are 2 main types of fat cells - “White” fat cells are thought to store excess bodily fat, while “brown” fat cells are geared toward beneficial fats for our body’s use. CBD is able to induce a change in gene expression that encourages “browning” of white fat cells, thereby reducing the overall percentage of excess fat that the body retains and allowing more efficient metabolism. More study is still needed in this area, but preliminary findings are exciting news for the future of obesity prevention medicine.

The Best Cannabis Products for Athletes

It’s extremely important to note that in spite of the many observed health benefits of THC and CBD, drug cultivar cannabis and the associated high THC concentrations are still federally illegal, and testing positive for THC can cause serious issues for professional-level athletes, so it’s extremely important for athletes to determine the risks associated with using cannabis products and weigh the benefits before trying anything that could potentially endanger their career. This includes even hemp-derived CBD products, which are legally allowed to have a THC level below 0.3% and can still pass minute amounts of THC into the bloodstream that could (and reportedly have) cause a failed drug test, even if you don’t feel psychoactive effects. Always weigh the risks and benefits for yourself and your personal situation thoroughly before making any purchases.

With that said, there are a wide variety of cannabis products that athletes can turn to for support if they are not worried about drug testing. Topical products like balms, ointments, transdermal patches, and infused oils are extremely popular for delivering targeted relief of aches and pains, with the added benefit of no psychoactivity and no lung involvement. Topical products are available with both cannabis and hemp-derived cannabinoids and in a wide range of THC:CBD ratios, so athletes can tailor their product choices to their specific needs.

If an athlete is ok with inhaling cannabis products, using vaporization devices as opposed to smoking can provide similarly rapid onset and strong effects to smoking cannabis, but without the thick smoke that may irritate sensitive lungs. Vaporization also typically produces more THC concentration in the blood, allowing an athlete to get the same effects as a larger amount of smoked cannabis with less of a vaporized dose. Both cannabis flower and cannabis extracts can be vaporized, in addition to pure CBD, so this is a great option for consuming a wide range of THC:CBD ratios for use before, during, and after a workout session.

Finally, edibles are a great choice for athletes as they can be eaten before a workout and provide sustained effects without re-dosing. The caveat of this is that most of the edibles on the legal market are sugary and sweet, which may be a detraction for someone committed to an ultra-healthy lifestyle. However, making your own infused butter or coconut oil at home is easy, and that infused food product can now be added to almost anything; imagine a healthy omelet cooked in canna-butter, canna-coconut oil energy bars, vegan canna-butter on whole wheat avocado toast - the only limits are your imagination!

I hope that these insights have inspired you to consider how cannabis and its derivates might fit into your health routine and help you to reach your active lifestyle goals. Keep an eye on current research around this topic, as this field is growing exponentially and new discoveries are surely on the horizon.

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*DISCLAIMER: These opinion pieces are personal experiences of the individual authors, and are not medical recommendations, medical claims, or usage recommendations from the company. Our products are not approved by the FDA to treat, cure or prevent any diseases. Periodic edibles supports responsible cannabis use in accordance with all local laws.

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