CBD Exercise Benefits [Science + Yoga]

Man Doing Situps

Regular exercise is a core component of any well-balanced health regimen, ideally including a combination of resistance training, aerobic activities (cycling, running), and stretching/yoga. It’s no secret that people who use CBD report a plethora of health benefits - but the ways CBD could augment your workout routine may surprise you. 

The endocannabinoid system regulates virtually every physiological process in the mind and body, and exercise is no exception. 

Several studies show that you can enhance endocannabinoid levels (such as anandamide) and CB1 receptor activity with exercise. [1] Science tells us the endocannabinoid system (not just endorphins) is responsible for the ‘runner’s high’ and elevated mood after a workout. [2]

Endocannabinoid surges could be the source of rewarding and pleasurable sensations of exercise (as well as numerous other activities, like singing) and integral to many of the benefits exercise has on mental health, cognition, and memory. [3]

Since CBD raises endocannabinoid levels through numerous channels, it makes perfect sense to include it in your fitness protocol.

Recovery/Sleep and CBD

Recovery is key in any athletic endeavor. We all know how terrible it feels to miss out on a good night’s sleep, much less when your muscle fibers have been ripped to shreds and need to regenerate. 

The body goes through many sleep processes, like restoring damaged proteins, removing toxins, converting lactic acid to glucose, and turning stem cells into muscle fibers. Inversely, sleep deprivation can increase cortisol while decreasing IGF and testosterone.

Sleep difficulties have many causes, and high cortisol (the ‘stress hormone’) is often the culprit - fortunately, CBD can help. High cortisol causes the incessant racing thoughts common to insomnia and is also ‘anti-catabolic,’ meaning it reduces protein synthesis and new tissue growth while promoting fat storage. 

Not only does CBD regulate cortisol secretion throughout the day, but studies suggest it directly benefits REM sleep - a crucial stage of deep-sleep where muscle growth and repair are happening at their highest intensity. [4], [5]

One study on Panic Disorder suggests CBD has a powerful relaxing effect in animal models and healthy humans. [6]

Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Sleep: A Large Case Series found that on average, nervousness and sleep improved for most patients undergoing CBD therapy, and these improvements were sustained over time. At the first monthly assessment after the start of CBD treatment, over 65% of patients experienced significant improvement.

Additionally, CBD is a ‘positive allosteric modulator' of the GABA-A (GABA calms everything down) receptor. Meaning, CBD helps this GABA receptor work more efficiently - enhancing the presence of calming GABA. Alcohol and most prescription anti-anxiety medications also interact with GABA in potent ways. Bottom line - having more GABA (naturally) through CBD is a wonderful thing.

Clear mind, nourished body, great sleep - the foundations of any sustainable exercise regimen. 

Women Laying on Bed

Muscle Soreness and CBD

People turn to a wide variety of less than ideal substances to deal with muscle soreness, not least of which are NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen or naproxen sodium). Many consider NSAIDs to be a benign class of drugs, but this is unfortunately not the case. 

Estimates state that 11% of preventable drug-related hospital admission may be due to NSAIDs. 

Here's what the FDA has had to say about NSAIDs:

  • 2005: Issues a public health advisory warning people of the cardiovascular risks
  • 2007: Creates medication guide for NSAIDs strongly advising the lowest effective dose
  • 2016: Strengthens existing label on all NSAIDs to warn of increased heart attack/stroke risk  

This is not to mention ibuprofen can cause permanent tinnitus, being an ‘ototoxic’ drug (toxic to the ears). Ultra Distance athletes, in particular, are discouraged from NSAID use due to an increased risk of kidney failure.

As we know, we also find ourselves as a society in the midst of an opioid addiction epidemic of untold proportions, leaving a trail of grief and upheaval in its wake.

Athletes (and everyone else too, for that matter) have a right to the facts about how cannabinoids can be a safe, non-toxic alternative to common OTC and prescription medications (or even an adjunct). While CBD may not be as effective as opioids for relieving acute, high-intensity discomfort, it is likely effective for managing long-term issues (with zero risks of addiction or death).

CBD and Strength Training

While CBD effects are cumulative and may take a week or two to reach full effects, many do find it offers close to the same relief as other more powerful medications, but without the risks, side effects, and dependency. 

To quote scientist Ethan Russo from Cannabinoids in the Management of Difficult to Treat Pain:

“Cannabinoid analgesics have generally been well tolerated in clinical trials with acceptable adverse event profiles. Their adjunctive addition to the pharmacological armamentarium for treatment of pain shows great promise.”

One study published in the European Journal of Pain highlights the importance of including topical CBD in addition to an ingestible in your body care regimen: [8]

“This data indicates that topical CBD application has therapeutic potential for relief of arthritis pain-related behaviors and inflammation without evident side-effects.”

The benefit of topicals is that the skin also has numerous cannabinoid receptors, drinking them in when applying a CBD salve or balm. Ingesting a CBD tincture of softgel can provide hours of effects but take some time to come on. On the other hand, CBD topicals offer instant precision relief on any sore muscles, bruises, sprains, or creaky joints. 

CBD Infused Soothing Roll-On

Another popular OTC drug - acetaminophen (Tylenol) - metabolizes into AM-404, a ‘cannabimimetic’ (molecule that mimics a cannabinoid), which is responsible for all of its analgesic effects. Also, in drug tests, ibuprofen can give false positives for THC, PCP, and barbiturates. 

CBD and Aerobics

While the research agrees that CBD likely exerts numerous physiological, biochemical, and psychological benefits for athletes, there is minimal data regarding aerobic activity and CBD currently available. What we have are, at best, anecdotes. 

However, it’s safe to assume there are probably some benefits. CBD inhibits adenosine reuptake, regulating the activity of A1A and A2A receptors. These receptors help moderate coronary blood flow, myocardial oxygen consumption, and overall cardiovascular health. 

Man Running with Smile

Is CBD Legal in Sports?

Yes, CBD oil is legal for athletes - but there are exceptions.

Although CBD is legal in all 50 states, THC is not; plus, THC is on the USADA anti-doping rules list as a prohibited substance (CBD was removed from this list in 2018). 

However, the WADA recently changed the THC testing threshold from 15 to 150 nanograms per milliliter; this allows athletes more flexibility with using cannabis several days or more before a competition. 

It’s important to keep this in mind, as full spectrum CBD contains minute amounts of THC that could theoretically build up over time with consistent usage. 

Ben Nichols, spokesperson for the WADA, says: 

"Our information suggests that many cases do not involve game or event-day consumption. The new threshold level is an attempt to ensure that in-competition use is detected and not use during the days and weeks before competition."

Weight Loss and CBD

For many, exercise is about losing weight. 

Unlike hunger-inducing THC, studies suggest CBD helps regulate appetite, possibly through interacting with CB2 receptors (widespread in the gut). [9]

One study suggests that CBD plays dual modulatory roles by inducing brown fat (brown fat is much richer in mitochondria than white) and directly promoting fat metabolism. [10]

Generally speaking, using CBD as part of your workout routine takes a bit of planning and commitment. While taking CBD immediately before exercise may provide some benefit, much greater results will come from taking CBD consistently.

People often say they begin seeing the most health benefits after a week or two of daily use. 

Yoga and CBD

Cannabis + yoga has ancient intermingled roots, with hemp being referred to in the Vedas as one of five sacred plants - and Lord Shiva is well-known for chilling with his chillum.

Yoga + CBD go hand in hand, as both are used to:

  • Enhance vitality
  • Reduce physical discomfort
  • Elevate mood
  • Keep stress levels in-check
  • Promote deeper sleep
  • Stay flexible (physically and mentally)
  • Center and ground oneself

It can take a little time (or maybe a dozen Sun Salutations) before being ‘in the zone’ during a yoga class - a lesson where time is of the essence.

Being ‘in the zone’ is scientifically known as a ‘flow state’ and is intimately correlated with your endocannabinoid system's healthy functioning. Imagine Jimi Hendrix on stage perfectly tuned-in with his electric guitar, shredding solos that defy logic.

During these intense periods of focus, scientists believe that five types of chemicals are released in unison: 

  • Endocannabinoids (anandamide)
  • Endorphins
  • Serotonin
  • Dopamine
  • Norepinephrine

CBD could be a useful enhancer of flow states, as it is shown in studies to increase endocannabinoid levels, but it also has activity through over 65 other molecular pathways - some of which involve activity at various serotonin/dopamine receptors. 

CBD and Meditation

As the old adage goes:

“You should meditate for ten minutes every day. If you don’t have time, meditate for an hour."

While yoga is traditionally viewed as the warm-up to meditation, it’s not always necessary to do 60 minutes of asanas before a mindfulness practice. The reason meditating after yoga is so delicious is because the body feels strong, lively, and at ease. This soothing and rock-like feeling allows for a seamless transition to tranquility when focusing on one's breath. 

When meditating in a pinch, CBD could help slow the racing thoughts and let you let go and drop into the calm.

CBD shows promising results for enhancing focus, cognition, and attention in clinical research as well:

This paper from European Neuropsychopharmacology (whoa) says that cannabinoids like CBD show great promise in treating attention deficit disorders. [11]

According to Cannabis & Cannabinoid Research, “increased plasma CBD concentrations are associated with improvements in attentional control and beneficial changes in psychological symptoms.”

However, a key benefit of practicing meditation is finding the innate, inner ability to be non-reactive in stressful situations - a valuable skill, no doubt, but one that takes time and dedication to cultivate.

In this sense, using training wheels (CBD) to help deepen meditation could be seen as defeating the entire point. There can’t be much harm in trying it out anyway, especially if it means the difference between practicing or not practicing. As CBD is non-intoxicating, it probably lands in a bit of a gray area.

Remember that the practice of meditation is not necessarily the calm state of mind - but the perpetual act of returning not only to the breath but to the practice itself. 

To your health and happiness, always.