The Best Ways to Work Weed Into Your Workout
The newest workout booster isn’t a powder or a drink—it’s a flower. Nearly 82 percent of people who partake in legal cannabis light up before or after exercise (most often both), largely because they say it makes their sweat session more enjoyable and helps them recover faster, reports a new study out of University of Colorado Boulder.
This isn’t that surprising: Among athletes, marijuana was the second most widely used drug after alcohol, per a 2016 study in the American Journal of Addictions. What’s more, a 2012 study found 23 percent of college athletes smoke—and that was before it was legal and far, far more accessible.
Now, getting high probably won’t make you stronger or faster. We have no scientific evidence THC actually improves aerobic performance, according to a 2017 study analysis out of Australia. The majority of people in the UC Boulder study felt smoking had a neutral effect on their athletic abilities.
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But it may help with more nuanced aspects of your workout: “Both THC and CBD, the main compounds found in the cannabis plant, have anti-inflammatory, muscle-relaxing, and pain-relieving effects, which alleviate muscle soreness, muscle spasms, and arthritic joint pain. Athletes may be able to return to intense workouts faster because they feel better faster,” says cannabis clinician Patricia Frye, M.D., chief medical officer at HelloMD, a startup focused on educating people about marijuana.
Confused? Quick science lesson: There are hundreds of cannabinoids and compounds in marijuana plants, but the two main ones are THC and CBD, which act completely different. Namely, THC gets you high but CBD doesn’t. They’re each helpful for different things, and THC is more high-risk. But there are ways for athletes to leverage each compound for their unique benefits, says Marcel Bonn-Miller, Ph.D., professor and researcher of cannabis and psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.
Here, the best ways to work weed into your workout.
Use it if You’re Thinking of Skipping Today’s Training
That new study from UC Boulder reports that nearly 50 percent of pre-workout smokers felt getting high helped increase their motivation to exercise. Bonn-Miller says that aligns with what he hears: “Anecdotally, THC seems to help most before and during endurance exercise.”
It sounds counterintuitive thanks to the lazy stoner stereotype, but THC might activate that runner’s high feeling, the researchers say. It works like this: Exercise creates that euphoric feeling by activating your endocannabinoid receptors that are connected to the reward and dopamine pathways in the brain. Since the cannabinoids of pot also activate these receptors, ingesting THC might create an artificial runner’s high, making you crave more of the feeling by way of getting out for a run.
Turn to THC for Repetitive, Long Workouts
Bonn-Miller says he hears about athletes lighting up most to help with endurance. (For what it’s worth, that’s a colloquial liberty: Many athletes ingest their cannabis via an extract or edible, not just smoking or vaping.) That’s partially thanks to the artificial runner’s high—you’re amplifying the feeling by combining both exercise and THC—but also the cannabinoid’s pain-relieving abilities. After all, it’s a lot easier to keep running if your bad knee isn’t aching and your muscles aren’t screaming to stop.
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Physiologically, some research also suggests cannabis causes bronchodilation and may help with exercise-induced asthma.
Marijuana also helps enhance muscle relaxation, increases focus, and alters your perception of time, which can help you get through, say, a dull stationary bike session, Frye adds.
Stay Sober for Heavy or Complicated Workouts
THC definitely has its downsides: Studies show the cannabinoid diminishes strength and speed and likely affects coordination, judgement, spatial perception, and risk assessment—really not ideal for judging how heavy you should load the bar or whether you can clear that box jump. Plus, side effects include poor coordination, slowed reaction time, and poor balance, Frye points out.
Pass on puffing before lifting, HIIT, rock climbing, outdoor cycling—anything requiring motor control and mental acuity.
Save it for Your Long Runs or Rides
THC may help with low-risk endurance exercise, but don’t light up before every workout. “If you use THC every day and in high quantities, it can lead to dependence or full-blown addiction,” Bonn-Miller warns.
Even if you aren’t prone to addiction, you will build a tolerance to the cannabinoid, so using it more often means you’ll have to use more to reach the same effect. (That also increases your chances of dependence, just FYI.)
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Plus, athletes need to protect their lungs: While science hasn’t shown a link between smoking weed and lung cancer, marijuana smoke does still contain a number of carcinogens, says research out of UCLA, and studies link regular weed smoking with chronic bronchitis and respiratory issues like coughing and phlegm production. (We know vaping is safer, but it’s certainly not risk-free.)
Minimize your risk by saving it for days you really need the boost in motivation and pain management, Bonn-Miller advises.
Start Low and Slow
If you want to try getting high pre-workout, do so on a low-risk training day: A 2017 study review in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport found some people couldn’t complete their workout after getting high. And keep in mind everyone responds to cannabis’ hundreds of compounds differently thanks to their own unique endocannabinoid system, Frye points out.
Most important to keep in mind: Your goal is to enhance your workout, not get high. “You want to use the least amount of cannabis necessary to achieve the desired effects,” Frye says.
Look for a strain with low THC (below 15 percent), Bonn-Miller says. And, if possible, higher levels of CBD (1:1 to THC would be most ideal) since the cannabinoids work together and the CBD can help offset the negative effects of too much THC, Frye says.
Then, opt for vaping—it’s safer than smoking, faster-acting than edibles, and will only last a few hours. Most importantly: “You feel the effects of vaping almost immediately, so it’s easier to control your dose,” Bonn-Miller says. Your strategy: Take one puff and wait five minutes to see how you feel. If you need more of an enhancement, take another puff.
Take CBD ASAP for Recovery
While we don’t have any studies looking specifically at cannabis and the pain and inflammation of a hard workout, preliminary research does suggest cannabinoids reduce general pain, muscle spasms, stiffness, and inflammation in humans. And there’s some science to support the idea that the compounds reduce some of the pro-inflammatory cytokines specifically released in exercise, like IL-6 and TNF.
CBD is probably the most helpful compound for recovery since it helps reduce inflammation, which can allow you to get up and moving again faster, Bonn-Miller says. We don’t really know how it works—CBD acts through so many avenues and we haven’t been researching it long enough—but studies have found it helps with inflammatory pains like osteoarthritis in animals and IBS in humans.
Pretty much all our research is on pure CBD with max 0.3% THC. Frye points out that both THC and CBD have anti-inflammatory, soreness-easing effects, so CBD with a small amount of active THC, like a 15:1 or 20:1, may help an athlete return to intense workouts faster.
In short: Reaching for a CBD isolate or a 20:1 formula is the athlete’s choice.
Cannabidiol: Marijuana’s Other Magic Ingredient
But get it in your system ASAP, Bonn-Miller says. You want the anti-inflammatory compounds in your body as close to the time you injure or stress yourself as possible, and most CBD comes in an extract, which takes some time to get to circulate, he explains.
Dosing is hard—most products recommend somewhere around 10 to 25 mg, while science uses upwards of 50 mg at a time, typically more in the 250 range (of pure CBD). The good news: You can’t really overdose on CBD (studies have shown minimal side effects up to 1,000 mg), so you just risk not taking enough for effect, Bonn-Miller says.
Skip gummies and sports topicals—the CBD takes too long to reach inflammation, and science says the CBD variety isn’t much more effective than the regular topical pain relievers.
Bonn-Miller recommends starting with 25 to 50 mg of CBD, then work your way up, especially if you’re using a formula with THC (which will add up with every dropper you take) or don’t know the quality of your extract. (Considering there’s no federal oversight on product quality and efficacy right now, that pretty much applies to everything: An often-cited 2017 study in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that nearly 70 percent of the CBD products tested didn’t contain the amount of cannabidiol indicated on the label.)
The best you can do right now is reach for brands with solid reputations, which for CBD extracts includes Charlotte’s Web, Elixinol, Lazarus Natural, and Medterra.
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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.