Coping with stiff, aching, cramping muscles is a way of life for most of the 2.5 million people in the world who have multiple sclerosis. Many of the 15 million people with spinal cord injuries also suffer from the same symptoms, which cause pain, limit movement, and rob people of needed sleep. Although several conventional medications can reduce these patients’ discomfort, taking them rarely provides complete relief. Often the drugs cause weakness, drowsiness, and other side effects that some patients find intolerable. This editor tried CBD for muscle soreness for a week and noticed a difference. Here, she discusses how it can be used in your recovery regimen. Research suggests CBD can help us recover faster between workouts & may prevent delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) pain after exercise.
NCBI Bookshelf. A service of the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
Mack A, Joy J. Marijuana as Medicine? The Science Beyond the Controversy. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2000.
Marijuana as Medicine? The Science Beyond the Controversy.
7 MARIJUANA AND MUSCLE SPASTICITY
Coping with stiff, aching, cramping muscles is a way of life for most of the 2.5 million people in the world who have multiple sclerosis. Many of the 15 million people with spinal cord injuries also suffer from the same symptoms, which cause pain, limit movement, and rob people of needed sleep. Although several conventional medications can reduce these patients’ discomfort, taking them rarely provides complete relief. Often the drugs cause weakness, drowsiness, and other side effects that some patients find intolerable.
Given this outlook, it is not hard to understand why some people with multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injuries have sought relief through marijuana. Several such patients told the IOM team that their muscle spasms decreased after smoking marijuana (see Chapter 2). Some also said they valued the drug because it relieved nausea or helped them sleep. Likewise, in a 1982 survey of people with spinal cord injuries, 21 of 43 respondents reported that marijuana reduced muscle spasticity 1 (a condition in which muscles tense reflexively and resist stretching), while nearly every participant in a 1997 survey of 112 regular marijuana users with multiple sclerosis replied that the drug lessened both pain and spasticity. 2 This is not to say that most people with multiple sclerosis find relief with marijuana but only that the marijuana users among them do.
Animal research, too, suggests that marijuana calms muscle spasticity. Spasms are thought to originate in areas of the brain that control movement, including several sites with abundant cannabinoid receptors. In one experiment, researchers found that rodents became more animated under the influence of small amounts of cannabinoids but less active when they received larger doses. Many marijuana users also note that the drug affects movement, making their bodies sway and their hands unsteady. The exact mechanism(s) by which cannabinoids exert these effects remains unknown.
Despite these suggestive findings and the depth of anecdotal evidence, marijuana’s antispasmodic properties remain largely untested in the clinic. The few existing reports are extremely limited in scope; for example, none of the studies discussed in this chapter included more than 13 patients, and some were conducted on a single patient. Also, in several cases the patients’ subjective evaluations of improvement contrasted with objective measures of their physical performance. Still, the lack of good universally effective medicine for muscle spasticity is a compelling reason to continue exploring cannabinoid drugs in the clinic.
Multiple sclerosis (or MS) is a progressive disease of the nervous system with no known cure. It appears to result from a malfunction of the immune system, which inflames nerves in the brain, brain stem, and spinal cord. Specifically, the disease destroys the protective coating called myelin that sheaths the neural fibers like insulation on electrical wire. Without an intact myelin layer, nerve cells lose some or all of their ability to transmit impulses. This situation produces an array of symptoms, including fatigue, depression, vertigo, blindness, incontinence, and loss of voluntary muscle control, as well as muscle spasticity. MS is characterized by scarring—“sclerosis”—that occurs in the white matter of the central nervous system after nerves and myelin are lost.
Approximately 90 percent of MS patients develop spasticity. Some people experience this condition merely as muscle stiffness; others endure constant ache, cramps, or involuntary muscle contractions (spasms) that are both painful and debilitating. These spasms often affect the legs and can disrupt sleep. Most people with MS experience intermittent “attacks” of spasticity that become increasingly disabling the longer they have the disease. In the worst cases, patients become partially or even completely paralyzed.
The drugs most commonly prescribed to treat the symptoms of MS include baclofen (Lioresal) and tizanidine (Zanaflex) which relieve both spasticity and muscle spasms but often only partially and sometimes not at all. Both are sedatives, so they cause drowsiness; additional side effects include dry mouth and muscle weakness. The latter is especially problematic for people with MS, whose muscles get weaker as the disease progresses.
Both marijuana and THC have been tested for their ability to relieve spasticity in small but rigorous clinical studies. One double-blind experiment (see Introduction to Part II for an explanation of double-blind methods) included both MS patients and unaffected individuals. 3 Before and after smoking a single marijuana cigarette that contained approximately 15 milligrams of THC—enough to make most people feel “high” and to impair their motor control—patients were videotaped as they stood on a platform that slid back and forth at unpredictable times. The researchers then measured participants’ shoulder movements as an index for how well they kept their balance.
Participants with MS often thought that their symptoms had improved after smoking marijuana. But while their spasticity may indeed have decreased (it was not measured), their posture and balance were actually impaired; this was also the case with the 10 participants who did not have MS. The MS patients had greater difficulty maintaining their balance before smoking and were more negatively affected by marijuana than the healthy participants.
While the fact that every MS patient in the previous study experienced relief is intriguing, it does not constitute strong evidence that marijuana relieves spasticity because marijuana-induced euphoria or pain relief might decrease patients’ perceptions of muscle stiffness or spasticity. The same is true of respondents to the surveys described earlier. Moreover, surveys cannot measure the degree to which respondents feel better simply because they expect to do so. Such placebo effects are signifi cant; for example, in controlled trials of pain medications, as many as 30 percent of the participants who received a placebo reported feeling relief. This does not mean that placebo effects are not “real.” It is possible that the psychological effects of taking a placebo drug cause physiological changes in the brain. But it does mean that the effects are not directly due to the medication being tested.
THC’s effects on spasticity were tested in three separate clinical studies, which together enrolled a total of 30 MS patients. 4 All three were open trials in which participants knew they would be receiving THC. Perhaps not surprisingly, most of the patients—or in one case the investigators who examined them—reported that treatment with THC improved their symptoms (see Figure 7.1). The drug was not effective for all patients, however, and frequently caused unpleasant side effects.
Effect of THC on tremor caused by multiple sclerosis. In this experiment, a 30-year-old man with multiple sclerosis who suffered from a disabling tremor was treated with 5 milligrams of THC. Researchers compared the man’s handwriting and head movement (more. )
Objective measurements of patients’ symptoms in these studies were often at odds with their subjective reports. In one study researchers measured muscle tremor with a mechanical device, which showed detectable change in only two of eight patients, seven of whom had reported improved symptoms. 5 In another study standardized physician’s measures showed that treatment with THC had not produced any changes in spasticity despite reports of reduced spasticity by 11 of 13 patients. 6 It may be that the measuring techniques used in both studies were not sensitive enough to detect subtle improvements. It is also possible that patients’ reports of symptom improvement were influenced by placebo effects or by effects of THC, such as anxiety reduction, that are only indirectly related to spasticity. Neither possibility can be ruled out due to the small size of these studies.
In addition to these experiments on THC, a single patient who tested the THC analog nabilone—a synthetic compound that activates the same cellular receptors as THC—also reported an improvement in spasticity as well as in other MS symptoms (see Figure 7.2). 7
Effect of nabilone on multiple sclerosis symptoms. This chart shows the results of a trial in which a 45-year-old man with MS received treatments with the THC analog nabilone, alternating with a placebo. While the results suggest that THC might relieve (more. )
These clinical results are considerably less dramatic than survey and anecdotal reports of marijuana’s effectiveness in relieving muscle spasms. It is possible, however, that a series of larger, better-designed clinical trials would produce stronger evidence in favor of marijuana-based medicines for MS. At this writing such studies are in the planning stages in Britain, where a large proportion of medical marijuana users are people with MS. For example, researchers have proposed a clinical trial to compare the effectiveness of three types of treatment for MS: marijuana extract, delivered by inhaler; dronabinol (Marinol); and placebo.
Clinical trials usually require preliminary experiments on animal models of a disease, which enable researchers to predict its effects on humans. With that knowledge scientists can then design trials that accurately measure the ability of the drug to relieve patients’ symptoms. Existing animal models mimic some MS symptoms, but so far none have succeeded in duplicating spasticity. But researchers can use the best-available indicator of the condition, known as the pendulum test, to study the effectiveness of antispasticity drugs in human subjects.
Participants in this test lie on an examining table with their legs extending over the edge. They let their legs fall, and a video camera records the resulting motion, which is affected by muscle resistance. Computer analysis of the recording enables researchers to determine the degree to which spasticity impeded each patient’s movement. Since THC is mildly sedating it is important to distinguish this effect from any actual decrease in spasticity produced by the drug. Researchers could make such a distinction by using the pendulum test to compare THC’s effects with those of other mild sedatives, such as benzodiazepines.
If an antispasmodic drug is developed from THC, its sedative effect could prove beneficial to MS patients whose muscle spasms interrupt their sleep. Drowsiness at bedtime might be welcome, and any mood-altering side effects might be less of a problem than when the patient was awake. It is also possible, however, that THC might disrupt normal sleep patterns in some people.
TOWARD BETTER TREATMENTS
While the same physiological process causes spasticity in both MS and spinal cord injury, it produces quite different symptoms in the two diseases. People with MS tend to experience occasional “attacks” of intense pain, stiffness, or muscle spasms at unpredictable intervals, while people with spinal cord injuries experience only minor fluctuations and persistent discomfort. Nevertheless, it is very likely that the same drugs could be adapted to treat the two groups of patients. People with MS and those with spinal cord injury alike would benefit from medications that relieve pain, stiffness, and spasms without muscle weakening, which occurs with the best currently available treatments. Because of the harms associated with long-term marijuana smoking, it should be discouraged as a means of treating chronic conditions such as spinal cord injury or MS.
Whether marijuana could yield useful medicines for spasticity remains to be determined, for the clinical evidence to date is too sparse to accept. But the few positive reports of the ability of THC and nabilone to reduce spasticity, together with numerous anecdotal accounts from marijuana users with MS and spinal cord injuries, suggest that carefully designed clinical trials testing the effects of cannabinoids on muscle spasticity would be worthwhile.
Two factors complicate the design of such trials. First, while MS patients report that marijuana relieves spasticity, it negatively affects their ability to balance, exacerbating another symptom of the disorder. It may be that patients would become tolerant to the balance-impairing effects of cannabinoids relatively quickly yet continue to get relief from spasticity. It might also be possible to separate these effects by creating chemical variants of natural cannabinoids. Second, human trials should rule out any masking or enhancing effect of anxiety reduction due to THC, since anxiety worsens spasticity in many patients.
If THC or a related compound does prove to relieve spasticity, it would make sense for some patients to take the drug orally. In this way patients could take advantage of THC’s ability to remain active in the body for several hours. People with spinal cord injury, whose symptoms vary little throughout the day, could get extended relief from a pill taken at bedtime or in the morning. On the other hand, MS patients might find more use for an inhaled form of THC to relieve their more intermittent symptoms. Unlike pills, this delivery method would allow patients to feel the drug’s effects quickly and with a minimum of sedation. At nighttime MS patients might actually prefer pills that cause drowsiness as well as relieve spasticity.
People with MS may soon be able to test a cannabinoid inhaler if the previously described British clinical trials receive funding. Additional trials may take place in Canada, where in July 1999 the government issued a request for research proposals to study medical uses of marijuana. While the official announcement did not prescribe specific research topics, it mentioned multiple sclerosis as a possible subject for a clinical trial.
1. Malec J, Harvey RF, Cayner JJ. 1982. “Cannabis effect on spasticity in spinal cord injury.” Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 63:116-118.
2. Consroe P, Musty R, Rein J, Tillery W, Pertwee RG. 1997. “The per ceived effects of smoked cannabis on patients with multiple sclerosis.” European Neurology 38:44-48.
3. Greenberg HS, Werness SA, Pugh JE, Andrus RO, Anderson DJ, Domino EF. 1994. “Short-term effects of smoking marijuana on balance in patients with multiple sclerosis and normal volunteers.” Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics 55:324-328.
4. Clifford DB. 1983. “Tetrahydrocannabinol for tremor in multiple sclerosis.” Annals of Neurology 13:669-671; Petro D and Ellenberger Jr C. 1981. “Treatment of human spasticity with delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol.” Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 21:413S-416S; Ungerleider JT, Andrysiak TA, Fairbanks L, Ellison GW, Myers LW. 1987. “Delta-9-THC in the treatment of spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis.” Advances in Alcohol and Substance Abuse 7:39-50.
5. Clifford DB. 1983.
6. Ungerleider JT, et al. 1987.
7. Martyn CN, Illis LS, Thom J. 1995. “Nabilone treatment of multiple sclerosis.” Lancet 345:579.
I Tried CBD Oil on My Legs After My Workouts, and I Have Some Thoughts…
A s someone who works out 5 days a week—with each workout containing at least a two mile run—you could say that I’m always sore. That means that my legs frequently feel as heavy as cement, my hamstrings are continually tight, my quads are always quaking, and my calves know what it means to be knotted. Maybe I’m being a smidge dramatic (and maybe I need to foam roll more), but all of that running takes a serious toll on my legs.
In my beauty research, however, I’ve realized that cannabidiol or CBD is an anti-inflammatory powerhouse, and since inflammation is the cause behind many woes—including muscle soreness—the wheels in my head started turning. Perhaps, by slathering a CBD-rich product all over my gams, I could enhance my recovery and optimize my workouts even more.
The non-psychoactive part of the marijuana plant, CBD, has been all the rage for its multifaceted topical benefits. I’ve already tried CBD skin-care products, so I’m beyond ready to use it to enhance my workouts. “CBD is an active cannabinoid found in cannabis and has multiple uses in improving inflammatory conditions when used topically, like eczema, and even improving wound healing, itching, pain, and has even reported to improve a rare blistering disorder of skin,” says Rachel Nazarian, MD, a dermatologist with New York’s Schweiger Dermatology Group. “It would be great for sore muscles, because it has an analgesic effect which decreases pain.” Bingo.
Luckily for me, as soon as this plan entered my mind, a brand-new CBD body oil by Lord Jones ($75) landed on my desk. I spoke with Cindy Capobianco, co-founder and president of Lord Jones, about my muscle soreness and she was enthusiastic about how a CBD oil could help. “You can use it pre-workout and post-workout. Up front, it relaxes your muscles, allowing you to have a more efficient workout, and then on the back-end you can use it for inflammation and any kind of pain,” she tells me. For what it’s worth, this area hasn’t been well studied, so while the science isn’t there, anecdotal evidence amongst experts seems to suggest that it can supply an improvement (if even a slight one).
That night, I went home to excitedly apply the oil all over my legs, making sure to massage it into my quads and all over my calves, before slipping into my workout clothes. When I proceeded to run on the treadmill, I didn’t necessarily feel any difference. I still struggled in the same old spot—as I approach the 25-minute mark—and my legs began to feel heavy. Post workout (and post shower), I diligently applied the oil to my muscles again.
I continued my pre- and post-workout CBD oil regimen for the entire week. The CBD didn’t make me completely weightless on my feet and invincible on the treadmill, yet I did notice something after a solid seven days of using it. Formerly, in my pre-CBD oil life, it’d hurt to walk hours and days after tough workouts. Now? Slicking myself down with the anti-inflammatory ingredient has eliminated a little bit of the heaviness I used to feel in my legs from running.
“CBD is a known anti-inflammatory ingredient that can soothe skin conditions and affect the quality of life for many people—I’m a fan,” says Dr. Nazarian, who tells me she hopes (and thinks) the CBD oil should work for my muscle recovery. While it wasn’t a night-and-day difference, religiously incorporating CBD oil into my workout-slash-beauty regimen has made a subtle impact. You can kind of think of it as a recovery boost, and one that’s likely helped by the fact that I was massaging my sore limbs regularly which has been shown to be effective at relieving soreness in studies. Now, all I need to do is master that foam roller and I’m all set.
To get it on this, here’s a roundup of CBD products for athletes. And over in the beauty world, these are the mind-body-skin benefits of getting a CBD facial.
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.