Cannabidiol (CBD) products are growing in popularity - and it’s easy to see why. CBD offers a variety of potential health benefits, from restoring calm and improving sleep to alleviating a range of symptoms associated with chronic conditions, such as pain relief and inflammation reduction.
Cannabis has been used as pain relief for centuries. In fact, chronic pain was one of the first indications to qualify for medical cannabis use. It’s no surprise, considering its impressive anti-inflammatory profile and that inflammation itself is the catalyst behind many painful conditions.
New, promising research is emerging surrounding the benefits of CBD oil for pain and inflammation specifically associated with muscle recovery following exercise. But before we dive deeper into the evidence regarding CBD for recovery, let’s take a look at what happens after you exercise.
Why Is Post-Workout Recovery So Painful?
Most of us are familiar with the aches associated with workout recovery and may have made peace with the phrase “no pain, no gain”. What you may not realise however, is that there is a medical name for this phenomenon- delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). For some of us, DOMS occurs when we exercise after a long period of time; but even seasoned athletes who perform extreme, regular exercise are prone to these unpleasant sensations. Anyone, regardless of fitness level, can experience DOMS and here’s why.
When we work our muscles more intensely, for a longer time or in a different way than they are used to, it is thought to cause microscopic damage to the proteins that make up the individual muscle fibres. The damage triggers inflammation of the affected muscle as the body works to repair it, resulting in the characteristic aches, stiffness and pain we feel after a workout. Since it takes some time for the inflammation to build up, the pain typically starts a day or two following exercise and lasts anywhere from three to five days.
While muscle soreness recovery is unpleasant, it is a normal part of the adaptive process that precedes improved strength and stamina. Over time, these muscles become stronger and more resistant to similar levels of physical exertion, resulting in less DOMS.
The problem arises when we don’t have the luxury of ‘waiting out’ the pain, delaying our next workout or, in the case of professional athletes, postponing a game. It can be difficult to move past the pain, and for some people, this can be a major hindrance to realising the full extent of their physical capabilities.
Although there are many home remedies and anti-inflammatory drugs that are useful for DOMS, CBD oils are gaining traction for their anti-inflammatory effects.
What Is CBD?
CBD is one of over 100 naturally occurring chemicals (called cannabinoids) derived from cannabis plants. Some reluctance surrounding the use of CBD products seems to stem from the confusion over legality or stigma associated with cannabis or ‘marijuana’.
Unlike other cannabinoids such as the well-known tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD is devoid of psychotropic effects or euphoric ‘highs’ but packs a punch in medicinal effects. While both cannabis and hemp plants can produce CBD, hemp-derived CBD naturally contains less than 0.3% THC (compared to up to 30% found in marijuana cannabis plants) making it legal in many countries. APOTHEM’s range of CBD products use the purest form of CBD isolate to ensure there is 0% THC.
CBD is similar to the endocannabinoids produced naturally by our bodies and can be utilised to enhance their soothing effects. As more people contemplate using CBD oil for inflammation associated with DOMS, it is important to consider both the anecdotal and scientific data.
CBD For Recovery
One such study is the RECHARGE CBD Cream Clinical Trial, which assessed 52 participants in a controlled clinical environment. Participants were asked to work out at least three times a week for 14 days and use a CBD cream afterwards. The results revealed that CBD was effective at relieving post-exercise joint stiffness and muscle tension in over 97% of participants. Another 2020 study showed that CBD use significantly reduced muscle aches and improved the rate of muscle recovery, compared to no intervention.
Such trials have laid the groundwork for further research into how CBD anti-inflammatory effects benefit regular gym-goers and athletes. Despite research into this specific area being in the preliminary stages, several professional athletes have come forward, advocating the benefits of this natural product for muscle recovery.
How Does CBD Oil Work?
The human body is composed of countless cells that need to work together. They achieve communication through the use of electrical impulses and chemical messengers, which transmit signals throughout the body. The process of inflammation is one such process that is dependent on chemical messengers travelling through the blood, alerting our immune system to react at the site of damage.
CBD targets a subsystem in the body called the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is responsible for producing, receiving and translating endocannabinoids of its own. This complex system runs throughout the human body to regulate functions, including pain and inflammation, in order to maintain a healthy state of balance or homeostasis. (You can learn more about the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in our recent blog post).
Put simply, the way to reduce inflammation is by blocking the transmission of one or more of these chemical messengers, so that cells cannot communicate with each other. CBD does just that. It interacts with our body’s ECS, regulating a series of complex processes, resulting in an anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain-relieving) effect.
The challenge is that there are different types of inflammation, for example, allergic reactions versus autoimmune versus injury, and many anti-inflammatory medicines will inhibit a select pathway. The benefit of CBD is that it is thought to regulate multiple pathways, hence interfering with the inflammatory process at various stages and making them effective for different types of inflammation. This allows CBD to affect a number of organs throughout the body, including the muscular system.
CBD is a worthwhile muscle recovery supplement, which works by regulating pain signals through the ECS. Here’s why many people choose CBD for recovery and relief:
- Relaxes muscles, which alleviates muscle tension and spasm
- Reduces mild inflammation, preventing damage to surrounding healthy muscle
- Supports sleep, which aids muscle fibre regeneration
- Helps prevent DOMS and associated pain
- Supports faster recovery between workouts or following injury
- Improves consistency with training routines due to reduced pain and downtime
How To Use CBD
In order to see tangible benefits, it is important to use the most effective CBD oil for your body and specific needs.
CBD is available in many different forms, including creams, gels, drops, vapours, edibles, and bath salts, amongst others. The choice is personal but for the purposes of post-workout recovery, topical CBD is great for providing targeted relief, as the effects are more concentrated on the inflamed local tissue.
Oral CBD oil drops will get to work directly on the ECS, providing relief for deep muscle tissues as well as additional systemic benefits, which include sleep quality. Combining oral CBD drops with a topical CBD recovery cream is an effective way to holistically support the body.
CBD comes in various strengths dependent on the route of administration. It also reacts differently in every person, making the dose requirements largely subjective. Depending on the severity of your pain or injury, as well as the location, you may need to adjust your dose in order to achieve the desired effect. Although dose requirements differ from person to person, it is generally recommended that you start low and titrate up until you find the right balance for your body and needs.
Combine CBD Products With Other Measures
It is important to bear in mind that CBD is not a magic pill and should be used in conjunction with other conservative measures to maximise its effects. Using CBD for recovery is intended to complement other pain-relief measures such as stretching, eating a balanced diet, rest, massage and ice packs.
It can be challenging to find the right CBD balance for your body at first, but remember to be consistent and patient. Follow a set routine and stick to it for a few weeks. Before you know it, you may have one less reason to skip the gym.
We recommend consulting your doctor if you’re unsure whether CBD is right for you and always if you’re taking any existing medications.
You can also learn more about our "Recover" CBD UK collection for muscle recovery and tension relief.