Can Cannabis or CBD Help Your Post-Exercise Recovery?

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Read time: 5:10 mins

Is your New Year’s resolution to exercise more? You said the same thing last year, didn’t you? Us, too… It’s a new year, though. There’s no reason to let prior years’ broken pledges get in the way of your plan this year! If you think you need some assistance this year – in addition to your new subscription to Runner’s World, yoga mat and the Noom app –  cannabis or CBD may be able to help your post-exercise recovery, helping you bounce back from any aches and pains associated with your new exercise routine.

“Cannabis products are beneficial for many symptoms that may arise from exercising, such as injury, aching muscles or joints, or muscle strain or spasm,” says Three Wells Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Deborah Malka. 

The cannabis plant contains more than 60 naturally occurring, active compounds called cannabinoids. Of those compounds, CBD and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are the most common. They are the two terms you hear most when discussing the active compounds in the plant. Both THC and CBD interact with the body through the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a physiologic system that regulates all the basic functions and patterns of our body including appetite, immunity, inflammation, memory, metabolism, mood, pain and sleep, among others. 

The ECS, when running smoothly, plays an important role in our overall health and wellness. When it is out of sync, we can experience side effects and other medical conditions, including inflammation and anxiety. CBD and THC work within the ECS system to naturally help our bodies find and maintain equilibrium. 

The two most relevant actions of both CBD and THC for post-exercise needs are anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxant, Dr. Malka says. 

“In fact, the function of muscles and nerves, and inflammation, which may result from their overuse, is all under the regulation of our own endocannabinoid system. Many cannabinoids, including CBD, THC and cannabinoid acids, such as THCA or CBDA are helpful in repairing damage, acting as anti-inflammatories and anti-oxidants*. 

“Both of these cannabinoids cover both of these functions,” she said. “Cannabinoid acids are non-psychoactive and they’re anti-inflammatory, also good for exercise recovery.”

If your exercising has resulted in an injury, and you’re wondering which cannabis or CBD product is best to use for it, Dr. Malka says it depends on whether there is pain, the type of pain, and whether you’re using it internally or externally.

“In topical form (with no potential for psychoactive effects), CBD and THC are similarly effective for inflammation and spasm,” she said. “Using both CBD, THC, and cannabinoid acids in a topical is a great idea, because they are all active, binding to different receptors, so it’s like a triple medicine. Topicals are usually active for 4-6 hours, perfect for a sports or post-exercise episode.”

If you’re ingesting cannabis, smoking, vaping or using a tincture, the presence of THC has significantly more effects. Some we want, and some we don’t, Dr. Malka says.

“THC often helps pain management in ways that CBD and cannabinoid acids can’t due to its direct analgesic effect,” she said. “For example, if you have an inflamed joint, CBD will reduce the inflammation, so the amount of inflammatory pain is less. THC, while reducing inflammation, also reduces pain more effectively. 

“When it comes to internal use, that’s where it gets tricky as to how much CBD vs. THC to use. In general, you can take combinations containing up to 25% THC and 75% CBD without significant psychoactive effects. In a cannabis friendly state, my preference for treating exercise-related injuries internally is a CBD/THC mix that’s balanced, maybe in a 1:1 ratio. If you prefer less psychoactivity, go to a 3:1 mix. Remember, for better pain management, use more THC, that is, if you can handle the psychoactive side-effects.”

THC Not Legal in Your State?

Because THC is illegal federally and in most states, many consumers have turned to CBD-only products for internal use. There are still benefits of using CBD-only products for inflammation and muscle spasm. In places where you can only get hemp-derived CBD, you still have some choices. 

CBD is available as “full spectrum” or “isolate.” Full spectrum CBD products contain CBD and other compounds found in the original plant, which could include small amounts of THC. If the CBD was derived from hemp, the THC content of the original plant is legally supposed to be less than 0.3%. 

“Full spectrum CBD products are preferable to pure CBD, as the other compounds found in the plant, such as the terpenes have much benefit,” Dr Malka says. “Some terpenes are anti-inflammatory, like beta caryophyllene, and some are muscle relaxant, such as myrcene. A full-spectrum cannabis extract provides these valuable terpenes that enhance many of the medicinal effects.”

Cannabis or CBD as a Preventive Measure

If you have an at-risk area, perhaps a balky knee, elbow or sore lower back, you could try putting a cannabis or CBD topical cream on the area before your workout as a preventive measure, Dr. Malka suggests.

“Depending on your condition, if you have chronic pain or just want to be proactive, you might want to take cannabis or CBD preventively,” she said. “If you usually take an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) or a pain pill before exercise, try using 5-10-20 mg of a cannabis edible or tincture instead. That way you get all the beneficial actions needed, anti-inflammatory, muscle relaxant, and if there’s THC, pain relief.

“Plus, with cannabis you’re not risking the kind of dependence that opiates bring, or gastrointestinal upset that NSAIDS might cause. To have some on board daily to help with oxidative stress, to enhance blood flow so tissues can regenerate better, or to keep your muscles in a more relaxed state in general. Cannabis, especially CBD-rich varieties can also help you unwind after a workout, helping you relax.”
We’re sure you have the motivation, and now after reading this hopefully you have more knowledge about how CBD and cannabis could help in your post-exercise recovery. Now, let’s make this the year you stick to your resolution to exercise regularly. Be sure to check out the Three Wells products page to shop for cannabis and CBD products that could help you keep your daily exercise streak alive, at least a little longer than last year!

References

* Izzo AA, Borrelli B, Capasso R, Di Marzo V, Mechoulam R. 2009. Non-psychotropic plant cannabinoids: new therapeutic opportunities from an ancient herb. Trends Pharmacol Sci. 30(10):515-27.