Research suggests CBD can help us recover faster between workouts & may prevent delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) pain after exercise. The cannabis product is said to help inflammation. So… can it?
CBD for Muscle Soreness Recovery: Benefits of Hemp Oil After a Work Out
Can CBD be used to support the recovery process between workouts?
What about to speed healing after an injury?
Here’s what the research says about it.
Why are high-level athletes in the NFL, NHL, NBA, and UFC using cannabidiol (CBD) supplements?
Athletes use CBD to help them recover faster between workouts and after an event. Faster recovery means they’re back into the gym sooner to continue training.
In this article, we explore what makes CBD popular for post-workout recovery, as well as recuperation after an injury. We’ll cover what the research says about the anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and muscle relaxant effects of the compound in more detail.
Here’s everything you need to know about using CBD to support muscle recovery.
MEDICALLY REVIEWED BY
Updated on March 04, 2022
Table of Contents
- How Can CBD Help With Muscle Recovery After A Workout?
- What Makes Your Muscles Sore After a Workout?
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How Can CBD Help With Muscle Recovery After A Workout?
- CBD relaxes the muscles
- CBD prevents delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)
- CBD alleviates inflammation
- CBD improves sleep quality & recovery
- CBD may enhance satellite cell differentiation in the muscles
- CBD may support protein synthesis in the muscles
1. Alleviates Muscle Tension
One of the characteristic symptoms of DOMS is muscle tension.
When it comes to injuries, tension in the muscles surrounding the affected area can make the pain much worse — which is why muscle relaxants are so popular for alleviating pain during recovery from exercise or injuries.
Some forms of prescription muscle relaxants used for treatment-resistant muscle tension are benzodiazepine drugs like Valium. These medications work through the GABA receptors — which are a key regulator of muscle relaxation [5,18].
Benzodiazepines are powerful drugs and come with a significant risk of side-effects like sedation, depression, confusion, dizziness, and trembling — all of which are not conducive to optimal athletic function.
CBD and other cannabinoids have similar effects on GABA as benzodiazepines — only without the risk of severe side-effects [6,7].
Some research even suggests the use of cannabis as a supportive agent for benzodiazepine addiction due to the overlap of effects between the two . This is dangerous and requires monitoring by a doctor, of course. You should never attempt this on your own.
Therefore, CBD may be a useful muscle relaxant for easing muscle tension and pain following an injury or rigorous workout.
2. Alleviates Muscle Pain
CBD is suggested to be a powerful pain-killer — as evidenced by both anecdotal and scientific research. This effect may allow CBD to offer symptomatic support for muscle injuries or post-exercise recovery. With less pain, you’ll find it easier to get yourself back into action faster, and feel more comfortable between exercise.
3. Reduces Inflammation
Perhaps the most important role CBD plays in the process of muscle recovery is in reducing inflammation. The most common method of reducing inflammation after an injury or post-workout is to apply ice to the area.
There’s some debate around whether or not putting icing is helpful for muscle recovery or not, and research is inconclusive — some studies suggest icing the muscles improves recovery times , while other studies have found that icing offers no benefit for shortening recovery time .
The controversy revolves around what role inflammation plays during the recovery process.
The inflammation process is designed to help damaged muscle fibers recover — it brings in blood flow to the area and delivers essential nutrients and oxygen along with it.
Additionally, the increased blood flow helps to clear out cellular debris, damaged proteins, and byproducts of muscle contraction like lactic acid from the area.
Inflammation also stimulates stem cells (called satellite cells) in the muscle to turn into new muscle fibers.
Inflammatory markers like IL-10, TGF-β, TNF-α, and NF-κB are all thought to stimulate the satellite cells of the muscles after an injury  — leading to faster recovery and a return of strength to the muscles.
On the other hand, post-workout muscle damage, or injuries to the muscles often involve specific regions of muscle — yet the inflammatory process affects larger groups of muscles and joints that haven’t been affected. The inflammatory response can cause collateral damage to these regions of muscle and joints — leading to a slower recovery process.
This is the main reason athletes use anti-inflammatories or ice after a workout or injury. Reducing inflammation limits the damage caused to nearby muscle and joint tissue.
Athletes often use ice immediately following a workout, and NSAID medications like Aspirin or Ibuprofen to limit inflammation for the remainder of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS symptoms for the next few days.
CBD offers something even better — and may be able to reduce most of the unhelpful inflammation without compromising its benefits towards the recovery process.
CBD has been shown to inhibit a wide range of inflammatory molecules but has little effect on reducing TGF-β and IL-10. In some studies, CBD even caused an increase in IL-10 .
This could explain how CBD may alleviate inflammation in the muscle tissue without compromising recovery times. The important role of IL-10 in the activation of new muscle cell differentiation could have a big impact on our ability to recover from muscle damage.
4. Improves The Quality & Duration of Sleep
A few of the most important aspects of muscle recovery happen while we sleep. This is when most of our recovery processes become active .
Some of the important processes that take place while we sleep include:
- Restoring damaged proteins like troponin, actin, and myosin
- Removing cellular debris from damaged areas
- Converting lactic acid to glucose in the liver
- Stimulating the differentiation of stem cells into new muscle fibers
Sleep deprivation can pose negative effects on recovery in a few key areas :
- May lead to a reduction in insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) — which we already pointed out as being one of the main triggers for differentiation of the muscle stem cells (satellite cells).
- May increase cortisol levels — which has a negative impact on protein synthesis.
- May cause a reduction in testosterone — which is heavily involved in the process of muscle recovery for both men and women.
A combination of CBD and THC in a pharmaceutical preparation of 1 part CBD to 1 part THC known as Sativex® has been tested repeatedly on its effect on sleep. Research has consistently shown Sativex® offers improvements on the quality of sleep, as well as the duration .
Other studies have found similar results using only CBD on rats . Researchers in this study found that CBD was able to increase the total sleep time, as well as improve the ability of rats to fall asleep.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the active ingredients in the cannabis plant. It’s a close relative to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — which is what makes marijuana psychoactive.
CBD and THC are both cannabinoids — organic compounds found alongside over a hundred other cannabinoids in the cannabis plant.
Don’t worry, CBD is completely non-psychoactive — meaning it won’t make you high.
Most companies selling CBD will source it from a specific form of selectively-bred cannabis called hemp — which is the same species as marijuana (Cannabis sativa) but won’t produce more than trace amounts (>0.3%) of the psychoactive ingredient, THC.
CBD supplements made from hemp are completely non-psychoactive due to the lack of THC. As a result, government regulators around the world don’t consider CBD a drug in the same way as marijuana. Most countries regulate CBD as a nutritional supplement instead — however, laws governing cannabis products change frequently, so be sure to check your local laws before placing an order.
CBD has a lot of suggested benefits — many of which have been backed up by scientific and anecdotal evidence. Supplements and pharmaceutical preparations containing CBD are being used by cancer patients to reduce side-effects of chemotherapy (such as nausea), by children with rare forms of epilepsy (such as Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndrome), and by millions of people around the world for symptoms like anxiety, pain, inflammation, and insomnia.
How can CBD have so many suggested benefits?
CBD achieves all of this because of its ability to interact with a regulatory system — rather than one specific organ. This allows CBD to affect many different organs around the body directly and indirectly — including the muscular system.
How Does CBD Work?
CBD works through a subsystem in the body found in all mammals called the endocannabinoid system.
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) involves a collection of special G-protein-coupled receptors (called endocannabinoid receptors), and hormones designed to interact with these receptors (called endocannabinoids).
The ECS is used to help regulate homeostasis throughout the body — which basically means internal balance.
Everything from temperature regulation to hormone levels needs to remain within a specific range. Homeostasis is the process of keeping these metrics within the ideal ranges. If we fall too far outside these ranges, we become sick and die.
CBD is a modulator of the endocannabinoid receptors. It attaches to them in a unique way and modifies their structure slightly to allow our naturally-produced endocannabinoids to bind to them more effectively. It also inhibits an enzyme designed to break down our endocannabinoids (called FAAH). This essentially primes the ECS — giving it a boost to do its job more effectively.
CBD doesn’t stimulate the endocannabinoid system directly, rather it helps upregulate the system we already have in place.
Conversely, the psychoactive cannabinoid, THC, activates the endocannabinoid receptors directly (rather than modifying them). Some of the receptors THC activates result in a release of serotonin in the brain — which produces the characteristic high from marijuana plants.
CBD also activates other receptors in the body, including:
- 5HT1A receptors (serotonin receptors) 
- Vanilloid pain receptors 
- PPARγ nuclear receptors 
Muscle Recovery 101: What Happens After Excercise?
There are three kinds of muscle in the human body — but the most relevant for the purpose of this discussion is the skeletal muscle.
The other two are smooth muscle (found in the internal organs and lining of the arteries), and cardiac muscle (a specific type of muscle only found in the heart).
The cells that make up skeletal muscle are uniquely suited to their job. They have more mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell) than most other cells in the body. This is meant to help them meet the high energy demands of the muscles.
Muscle cells are also long and cylindrical, helping them form long fibers.
Each muscle cell contains functional units called sarcomeres — which are the part of the muscle that contracts and expands to allow for movement. Proteins called actin and myosin contained in the cells are responsible for expanding and contracting the muscle tissue to achieve movement using calcium and adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
When a nerve stimulates muscle cells with acetylcholine, (i.e. when you tell your arm to move) calcium is pumped into the cell, which allows actin and myosin to interact, causing the cell to contract (shorten). This step requires a lot of energy — in the form of ATP, produced in the mitochondria of the cell.
When the nerve stops activating the muscle cells, calcium is pumped back out of the muscle cell and phosphate (a form of transferable energy) dislodged, causing the muscle to expand again (lengthen).
What Makes Your Muscles Sore After a Workout?
By now, you’re probably familiar with the aches and pains that come along with exercising. These sensations are present no matter how often you work out — so what causes them?
Every time you exert your muscles, you cause microscopic damage to millions of tiny proteins that make up your muscle cells. This damage leads to inflammation of the muscle — which causes the characteristic aches, pains, and stiffness experienced after a workout.
The pain after a workout usually begins the following day.
This is referred to in the medical community as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
DOMS is a healthy part of the adaptation process. It only happens when we push our muscles harder than they have before, or in a different way than we’re used to. Over time, repeating these activities will produce less DOMS as the muscles recover and become stronger and more resistant to the same level of exertion.
How is DOMS Usually Treated?
DOMS will go away on its own — usually after about 3–5 days. Many athletes can’t wait this long to get back into the gym or on the pitch, so they’ll take measures to reduce the downtime.
Here are some of the most common treatments for DOMS:
- Rest — This is the simplest treatment, but takes the longest amount of time.
- Massage therapy — Physically massaging the muscles helps to stimulate the area, remove lactic acid buildup that may be causing more inflammation to the area, and force fresh blood into the affected area.
- Painkillers — Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like Ibuprofen and Aspirin are often used to reduce inflammation and stop the pain. Unfortunately, these medications also come with negative side-effects.
- Ice packs — Cooling the area slows blood flow and reduces inflammation. This only works if applied directly after an injury or following a workout.
Can Athletes Use CBD? Is CBD Legal in Competitive Sports?
You may be skimming through this article and wondering — “is CBD legal in sports? Won’t cannabis make athletes fail a drug test if they use it?”
While cannabis is technically illegal, CBD is a clear exception.
In 2018, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed CBD from its banned substances list. This essentially means the organization recognizes that CBD is not comparable to performance-enhancing drugs like amphetamines, hormones, or illegal drugs. This is how professional athletes like Nate Diaz from the UFC are able to use CBD without being banned from events.
With that said, make sure to check your local laws and regulations. Just because WADA allows CBD doesn’t mean your individual country or regulatory agency allows it too.
Drug tests used in professional sports can’t identify chemicals in the blood or urine unless you specifically go looking for them. They don’t provide a full list of compounds contained in the fluid.
Most drug tests for marijuana use synthetic antibodies to look for THC — or the metabolites our body creates after breaking down THC. Therefore, you’ll only fail a drug test for these substances if you’ve used a supplement that included THC. For this reason, if you’re competing in professional sporting events and are interested in using CBD, you should opt for a product made from third-party tested CBD isolate, rather than full-spectrum hemp — which may contain trace amounts of THC.
Here are some of the most common ways people are adding CBD to their supplement regimen:
- Add CBD oils to your protein or nutritional shakes
- Take CBD capsules or gummies
- Use CBD oils sublingually after a workout and on recovery days
- Use a vaporizer pen
- Apply CBD topicals directly over the affected muscles
How To Get The Most From CBD For Muscle Recovery
The recovery process is complex, and shortening the amount of time needed between recoveries relies on many different factors. Taking several different measures at the same time will go a long way in shortening the recovery time beyond what CBD has to offer on its own.
Some simple advice for getting more out of CBD for muscle recovery:
1. Drink Plenty of Water
The recovery process releases a lot of metabolic waste into the bloodstream that needs to be filtered out by the kidneys. Aim for at least 3 L of water per day.
2. Spend Time Stretching After A Workout
This helps to remove harmful lactic acid after a workout and improve blood flow to the affected muscles.
3. Visit A Physiotherapist
It’s ideal to seek professional help to monitor your recovery and provide specific advice.
4. Listen To Your Body
Sometimes the pain experienced after a workout is more than DOMS. If you feel a sharp or excruciating pain, or the pain is accompanied by a fever, visit a doctor immediately.
5. Combine Internal & Topical CBD
This is going to provide the best chance for CBD to exert its effects on the muscles.
6. Prioritize Sleep
As mentioned, sleep is a critical component of the recovery process. Take the time to rest so you can get back into the gym faster.
7. Seek High-Grade CBD Products Only
There’s a lot of poor-quality CBD products floating around, many of which lack the potency advertised on the bottle, and may even have contaminants like heavy metals which could negatively affect your recovery.
8. Combine Other Health Supplements With CBD
Some of the best supplements for promoting recovery are branched-chain amino acids (BCAA’s), magnesium, B vitamins, and vitamin C.
9. Eat A Balanced Diet With Plenty of Fruits & Vegetables
In order to recover the body needs access to the raw materials. These raw materials come from our food. We need proteins (and their amino acid components) to build the structures of muscle tissue, along with trace nutrients and vitamins.
Key Takeaways: CBD & Muscle Recovery
CBD is a popular supplement for a lot of reasons. The active ingredient (CBD) interacts with the endocannabinoid system to regulate homeostasis throughout the body — including the muscles.
After a tough workout, the tiny microfilaments in the muscle fibers become damaged — leading to inflammation, pain, and a loss of strength in the muscle. Over the next 3-5 days, the body needs to repair this damage and strengthen the fibers. During this time, it can be difficult to keep exercising that muscle group, which can ultimately slow down your gains.
Injuries are even worse, sometimes keeping you out of the gym for months on end.
CBD offers several unique benefits to aid the recovery process:
- It reduces inflammation to prevent unnecessary damage to surrounding muscles
- It improves our quality of sleep to support the regeneration process
- It relaxes the muscles to stop spasms and tension
- It blocks the transmission of pain
These effects help explain why so many athletes report improvement in recovery times after using CBD.
In order to get the most out of CBD, we recommend you take a multifaceted approach, incorporating other measures into the recovery as well — such as massage, healthy dietary habits, taking other supplements, drinking water, and ensuring you get plenty of rest.
The field of CBD and muscle recovery is still young, and there are dozens of interesting research studies on this subject either in progress or planned for the near future. Be sure to stay tuned by signing up for our newsletter below to receive news and updates on cutting-edge research as it’s published.
Considering CBD For Muscle Recovery? Here’s What You Need To Know.
Cannabidiol is having a moment. Though you may not recognize its scientific moniker, you’ve probably seen it referred to by its buzzy nickname: CBD.
CBD is everywhere these days, and in a variety of forms. You can find it in capsules, gummies, tinctures, oils, balms, cocktails, cookies—even coffee sold at small-town bakeries. Its market share in the health and wellness space will likely only continue to grow, with some analysts estimating its value will hit $2 billion by 2022.
CBD has a lot of purported benefits with a lot of anecdotal (and some scientific) evidence to back those claims. Everything from helping cancer patients fight nausea, to acting as a sleep aid for people with insomnia, to reducing seizures in children with a severe form of epilepsy known as Dravet Syndrome.
While those seem like potentially huge breakthroughs, CBD is also said to help with smaller stuff, like helping you recover faster from workouts thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties. Before you dive into a pool of CBD oil, here’s everything you need to know.
Why are we sore after a workout anyway?
No matter how fit you are, sometimes you just feel it after a workout. Some workouts can leave you sore for days. That’s because, as the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) explains, working out causes microscopic damage to muscle fibers. Those muscles then become inflamed, which triggers the body to respond and repair, causing muscle soreness or stiffness.
Cool. So, what exactly is CBD again?
CBD is one of more than 100 chemical compounds found in cannabis plants, which include both marijuana and industrial hemp. CBD is a close chemical cousin to THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical compound found in marijuana that causes a psychoactive effect (AKA, the stuff that gets you high).
Though CBD is just one atom arrangement away from becoming THC, that microscopic difference is actually huge. No matter how much CBD oil you consume or how much CBD balm you rub on your body, you cannot get high from it. Which means.
I can legally buy CBD?
Yes. In December, President Donald Trump signed a new Farm Bill, which, among other things, legalized the growth, distribution, and sale of industrialized hemp, allowing it to be “cultivated for any use”—including the production and extraction of CBD.
There are a few caveats to the bill, but generally you’re now safe to buy CBD across the United States. Even professional athletes can use CBD, as the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed it from its prohibited substance list in 2018. So relax, your gold medals are safe.
“Broadly speaking, CBD does decrease inflammation when it’s rubbed on muscles as an ointment or taken orally.”
Can CBD really help fight post-workout inflammation?
“As a personal trainer and someone that works out every day and really pushes myself a lot, I noticed the biggest difference in inflammation and stress after a workout,” Tara Laferrara, a former sprinter and a NASM certified personal trainer, told MensHealth.com about her personal use of CBD.
Laferrara was introduced to CBD via friends in the fitness industry who tried it after cannabis was legalized in Colorado in 2014. Now, she’s a devoted user. (A CBDevotee?) “It basically manages and prevents my joint inflammation, that aching kind of feeling, that I’d get after a heavy lift day,” she says.
Is there scientific proof?
While Laferrara’s anecdotal experience is intriguing, you might remain skeptical. Perhaps the scientific findings will squash some of your CBDoubts.
According to a 2018 review of 132 original studies published in Frontiers in Neurology, CBD can indeed reduce inflammation in the body and help improve pain and mobility in patients with multiple sclerosis. “It is anti-inflammatory, antioxidative, antiemetic, antipsychotic, and neuroprotective,” the review study’s authors wrote.
“Broadly speaking, it does decrease inflammation when it’s rubbed on muscles as an ointment or taken orally,” Dr. Perry Solomon, previous chief medical officer and founding member of HelloMD, told MensHealth.com.
However, we can’t conclusively say that CBD will, without question, reduce inflammation—and in turn reduce muscle soreness—after another Eb & Swole workout. The empirical data just isn’t there yet.
But I’m good to start a CBD regimen?
CBD is commonly regarded as safe to use. Even the doctors published in Frontiers in Neurology said: “High doses of up to 1,500 mg per day and chronic use have been repeatedly shown to be well tolerated by humans.” You shouldn’t need that much, though figuring out how much you do need can be tricky, as there is no “standard” dose.
One rule of thumb is 1-6 milligrams of CBD for every 10 pounds of body weight based on pain levels. Another is to start with 5-10mg per day and increase by 5-10mg until you feel relief. This isn’t perfect and requires trial and error, but it’ll help you find a starting point.
As with anything you plan to put into your body, discuss CBD with your doctor first, particularly if you take other medications. They can help you make sure your liver will have enough room to metabolize it all so as not to diminish the effects of either.
How should I use CBD for recovery?
Beyond CBD oils and tinctures, CBD is often sold in infused balms, lotions, capsules, edibles, vape pens, and more. Basically, you just need to decide if you’d like to ingest it or rub it on for relief.
Again, you’re mostly on your own to determine exactly how much CBD you should take to feel its effects. The dosing guidelines above should give you a good jumping-off point, but CBD is a subjective chemical that reacts differently in every body. Once you feel the desired effect, though, you won’t have to up the dose. Which means if you use CBD oil for recovery, you can just fill the pipette to the same spot every time.
To sum it up, if your doctor says it’s OK and you’re game to try CBD instead of popping traditional anti-inflammatories, go for it. Try it for a few weeks while varying the delivery method and dose to find what works best for you. Who knows? By tomorrow, you could be recovering faster from your workout and have one less excuse to skip leg day.
Stacey Leasca is a journalist from Rhode Island. She’s a connoisseur of high-fives.