I'm a skeptic when it comes to fads: Coconut oil in everything, charcoal masks, avocado toast, and most recently, CBD. However, with all the hype surrounding CBD (aka, cannabidiol) and the emerging research, I was interested to see how CBD affects exercise. I workout on the regular, and I'm always on the hunt for new products that will make enhance my fitness routine, and shorten my recovery time. Though I don't typically buy into the hype, the research surrounding CBD has been promising enough that I wanted to give it a shot.
The demand for CBD products has grown rapidly (like, a lot) over the past year, and for good reason: On top of anecdotal evidence, studies have found this hemp-derived compound has a ton of potential health benefits. As Krista Whitley, CEO of Altitude Products, told Bustle last spring, CBD is an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, and may provide relief from anxiety, pain, nausea, migraines, and insomnia. A 2017 study also revealed CBD lowered blood pressure in volunteers. Specifically, a 2018 report found that, because of CBD's anti-inflammatory properties, it may be an effective way to relieve the soreness exercise can cause, as well as shorten recovery time following a workout. However, much of benefits that CBD may have on exercise performance and recovery are not confirmed.
"There is a huge void of research in terms of confirming most effective dosing [of CBD] for various symptoms," Dr. Eric Baron, a neurologist at the Cleveland Clinic, told Vox in November 2018. “Unfortunately, we are nowhere near close to having any definitive trials on effectiveness for most symptoms claimed to benefit from CBD with trials that are scientifically relevant, such as prospective randomized placebo-controlled trials.” A bipartisan farm bill signed into law this past December legalized industrial hemp, and it will most certainly lead to a boost in the CBD industry — and hopefully a boost in research surrounding this compound — in 2019. But for now, its impact on exercise (among other things) relies on anecdotal evidence.
My weekly fitness routine can be pretty rigorous. It typically consists of two to three weightlifting sessions, a high intensity interval training (HIIT) workout, and cardio a few times a week. So, I tried to keep my expectations about CBD — and what it could actually do for my workout performance and recovery time — realistic, despite research showing the benefits.
I wanted to use an array of CBD products formulated to help with health and exercise recovery, so I opted to try three different products: an edible, an oral spray, and a topical formula. Though edibles — aka CBD-infused snacks — are probably one of the most popular kinds of CBD products on the market, a 2009 study estimated that oral consumption of CBD only has a 4 to 20 percent rate of bioavailability. Meaning, your body can only use a small portion of each dose of CBD. The spray is delivered through a spritz under your tongue for faster results than having it absorbed through your digestive system. As for CBD-infused balms, you simply use them as you would any lotion or cream. As a promising study from 2015 found, transdermal (aka, topical) CBD reduced inflammation, swelling, and arthritis-related pain in rats — and many folks believe this method could bear similar results for people.
One of the products I was sent was the Sigur Rós and Lord Jones Limited Edition CBD Gumdrops, which cost $60 on their site. Each berry-flavored gumdrop contains 20 mg of broad spectrum CBD extract. I was also provided the Life Bloom Organics premium nano wellness spray, which delivers 1.2 mg of hemp per spray and rings in at $34.95. I also received Hempure's Relief and Recovery Balm. It is the most expensive product of the three I tried, at $129.99, but it is also packed with 1400 mg of CBD. As Hempure's site explains, the salve is formulated with CBD, MCT oil, essential oils, and beeswax, and is an "ideal choice for those seeking quick relief in muscles and joints."
I began by using the gumdrops and oral spray about 30 minutes before I hit the gym, and used the balm following my exercise routine. I tracked my progress and workout performance of my workouts on my phone — particularly noting how strenuous my runs and resistance training felt, compared to the prior weeks.
To be honest, I noticed only a slight difference in my workout performance when it came to the gumdrops and spray, and it very well may have been a placebo effect. However, I felt the positive effects of the balm almost immediately. I wouldn't say it took away my post-workout pain, but it definitely soothed my muscles. In addition to CBD oil, the balm contains eucalyptus oil and lavender oil — which, in some studies, Healthline reported, have both been shown to also ease pain. Not only did it smell wonderful, but it created a tingling sensation (probably due to the eucalyptus oil) that was relaxing.
After about seven days of alternating between the gumdrops and spray before right after my workout, I decided to try the CBD products right after I got back to my apartment from the gym to see if they felt more effective. As Verywell Health reported, muscle soreness after workouts, in large part, is caused by microscopic tears that lead to inflammation. Since CBD has been found in some studies to have those anti-inflammatory and analgesic (aka, painkilling) effects, I thought it may be helpful for my achy muscles. As before, I continued to use the ointment on my muscles and joints that felt tender.
After about another seven days — again, alternating between the gumdrops and spray — I felt using CBD products after my workout was much more beneficial than prior to exercising. Usually, my recovery time after resistance training can take anywhere from 48 to 72 hours, depending on the length of the workout, the intensity, and the heaviness of the weights I’ve used. However, taking CBD following my exercise routine seemed to slightly decrease my recovery time.
I work out at night, and when I wake up, I tend to be somewhat stiff despite of stretching before and after hitting the gym and icing my muscles. After I began taking the CBD gumdrops or spray post-workout, in combination with Hempure's salve, I found I felt a little less like a plank of wood in the morning. It definitely didn’t get rid of my muscle aches completely, but it alleviated some of my discomfort and soreness.
CBD is definitely not a miracle cure for health and wellness-related issues — including when it comes to exercise — but it does have the potential to help reduce inflammation and soreness. I'll definitely keep CBD products in my own post-workout routine, and would recommend it to people looking to make their fitness routine a little more enjoyable.
Readers should note that the regulations and data surrounding marijuana, CBD, and other related products are still developing. As such, the information contained in this post should not be construed as medical or legal advice. Always consult with your doctor before trying any substance or supplement.