Athletes are consistently exposed to stress, which has positive and negative effects. Stress from training can stimulate increased performance and adaptation. However, prolonged exposure to wear and tear of stress and trauma can lead to pain and injuries.

While the current pain management strategies for athletes are effective, pharmaceutical drugs, specifically the over-the-counter pain relievers like naproxen sodium and ibuprofen, pose severe threats to people’s lives due to overdosing or improper or chronic consumption and usage.

Aside from the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a continuous battle against drug poisoning and drug abuse, where thousands of people die in the UK. With this in mind, athletes are seeking safer pain relief that can improve sports recovery. 

This is where CBD or cannabidiol comes into play. Athletes have been considering the benefits of CBD to reduce inflammation and pain relief without the risks related to opioids or NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen. The primary question is, is CBD right for you? Here are the things you need to know about cannabidiol. 

Is it Legal for Athletes to Take CBD?

Since the beginning of 2018, it has been legal for athletes to use CBD in and out of competition as the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed it from their list of prohibited substances. The UK Anti-Doping also did the same and released a supplement warning for athletes. All other cannabinoids, such as THC, hashish, marijuana, and cannabis, are prohibited in competition. 

It means that “all-natural and synthetic cannabinoids are prohibited,” such as cannabis products, natural and synthetic tetrahydrocannabinol (THCs), and the synthetic cannabinoids that mimic the reactions of THC in the body.

WADA set a urinary threshold, 150 nanograms per millilitre of THC, compared to the previous limit of 15 nanograms per millilitre. They increased the threshold to lower the risk for athletes testing positive because of their casual use of CBD outside of the competition.

Significant Benefits of Using CBD for Athletes

There are many benefits an athlete can get from consuming CBD. Here are some of them:

Reduces Pain

According to studies, cannabis (usually THC and less of the CBD) effectively relieves pain, especially musculoskeletal pain and stiff joints, because of extensive training and exercise. Even though there are only a few research studies on the effectiveness of CBD to ease pain, it still appears to be effective in relieving pain for many athletes.

Minimises Inflammation

Many athletes experience minor inflammation, and that helps them in positive training adaptations. However, too much inflammation can hurt their performance and even hinder their recovery. 

When cannabinoids enter the body, they bind with CB2 receptors in the periphery, brain, and immune tissues. When this happens, CBD may have an anti-inflammatory effect by decreasing cytokine (cell messengers) production, dialing down the immune system’s response when it sounds the alarm after extensive training and strenuous workouts.

Enhances Sleep Quality

Athletes can achieve greater performance if they get more and quality sleep. Some athletes who consume CBD report that they are at ease when going to bed and experience better and more restful sleep. One plausible reason could be that CBD inhibits the reuptake of adenosine.

As the brain burns carbohydrates for energy, adenosine triphosphate (ATP) breaks down into adenosine, which gradually accumulates into the brain. It means that more adenosine binds with neurons, inhibiting the release of neurotransmitters. As a result, brain activity starts to slow down, making a person feel calmer and eventually fall asleep.

When CBD binds with the same receptors that adenosine would bind to, it may inhibit adenosine reuptake. As a result, it triggers the accumulation of adenosine into the brain, making you sleep faster. CBD is also tested to produce an effect to prevent anxiety for some people, which can help them fall asleep faster and better.

Alternative to NSAIDs 

Most athletes are consuming over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and naproxen sodium. Ultra Distance athletes are advised to avoid NSAIDs during long training sessions because of the risk of renal damage. However, even if athletes are training only for a short period, the frequent or long-term use of NSAIDs may still increase the risk of stroke and heart attack.

CBD for some athletes can relieve pain, so they eliminate the consumption of NSAIDs for pain related to training and exercise. According to The Essentials of Pain Medicine, 4th ed., there are no documented deaths caused by cannabis or cannabinoid-based products.


There have been a few studies on CBD, but the potential benefits help athletes improve sports recovery. Some athletes take cannabidiol to relieve pain, induce better sleep, and even use it as an alternative to NSAIDs. Based on the things that we’ve mentioned in this article, we hope we have shed light on the questions you may have about the effectiveness of CBD and how beneficial it can be for athletes.

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