Pain, pain, go away. A little soreness is totally normal after a tough workout, and can even feel kind of good. Discomfort—the kind that lingers for more than a day or two and gets in the way of normal life and training—that, we want to get rid of. Some athletes are finding relief with CBD oil for pain management.
CBD (short for cannabidiol) is a non-intoxicating compound produced by cannabis, also known as hemp and marijuana plants. This naturally occurring compound is being touted everywhere these days as an elixir for just about anything that ails you. And early research suggests it does show promise for certain health concerns, including pain. For instance, one animal study found that applying CBD topically can help alleviate arthritis-related pain and inflammation. And another study found that CBD injections helped suppress inflammatory and neuropathic pain, both of which are tough to treat.
But when athletes ask me what they should take for pain relief, I hesitate to recommend taking anything at first. Instead, I try to get to the bottom of what’s causing the pain in the first place. Because if you don’t address the underlying issues, you’re just masking the problem, and the ache won’t go away. Here are the four key questions I ask athletes to help them figure out what’s behind their discomfort and to determine whether they should use CBD oil for pain.
Question 1: How Healthy Is Your Nutrition?
Is your nutrition plan supporting not only your training but also your recovery? Is your diet helping to decrease inflammation in your body—or is it making inflammation worse?
Excess sugar is a big inflammation driver, and it’s easy to get too much if you’re eating packaged, processed foods instead of whole ones. The American Heart Association recommends that men limit their intake of added sugars to nine teaspoons a day; for women, the limit is six teaspoons. Those are fine general guidelines, but what I recommend is to make sure that any sugar you’re getting comes from natural sources like fruit, vegetables, and dairy. Do that, and you won’t get excessive amounts of sugar.
Also, make sure you’re getting enough healthy fats, which alleviate inflammation. The standard recommendation is to have two servings of fatty fish such as salmon per week. I also encourage people to eat one tablespoon of olive oil a day (use it for cooking or in salad dressing) and then incorporate nuts, seeds, and avocado into a daily snack or meal. Eat at least two of those things a day, and you’re on the right track.
Finally, make sure you’re well hydrated. If you’re not, the electrical impulses in your body won’t function the way they should, and you won’t recover as well. Aim to drink an ounce of water for every two pounds of your body weight each day.
Question 2: What Is Your Actual Exercise Recovery Plan?
Do you have planned recovery days built into your training schedule? Those can be active rest days—for instance, you skip training but do something active that doesn’t put as much strain on your body, such as going for an easy hike or surfing.
Also, what are you doing from an overall wellness perspective to support your recovery? Good examples would be practicing yoga, foam rolling, getting a massage, or soaking in a hot bath with Epsom salts.
How often you should take recovery days really depends on your body and how hard you’re training. But in general, taking one day off a week is really important. And if you’re going really hard, you might need two recovery days a week, and possibly in a row. The three big signs it’s time to rest: you’re in pain, you have injuries that just won’t heal, or you’re hitting a plateau in your training.
Question 3: Is Your Training Plan Appropriate?
I know you want to progress. But when your training plan is so progressive that it’s ahead of where your body is right now, you’re pushing too hard and you won’t recover from pain and injury. Make sure your fitness plan is appropriate for you and that your body is conditioned for it, so you can work harder and grow stronger.
Question 4: How Is Your Sleep and Stress?
Prioritizing sleep is huge. That’s when our bodies recover the most and when we make the most gains. If you’re sleeping only four to five hours a night, you’re depriving yourself of that healing opportunity. And hand-in-hand with lack of sleep is stress: when you’re tired and stressed, your body simply can’t handle everything you’re asking it to do.
Sleep, like training and recovery plans, is individualized, but aiming for seven to nine hours a night is a good goal. It’s also about being consistent—the body loves consistency in sleep patterns, otherwise, it’s one more stressor. Stick to the same sleep-wake schedule as many nights a week as you can.
It’s All Good—Now Do I Use CBD Oil For Pain?
Let’s say you’ve evaluated all four of those factors, and everything is in line: your nutrition, training, and recovery plans are all good, and you’re getting plenty of sleep and have stress under control. Now I would say, go ahead and do an experiment: try CBD oil for pain over a two to four week period without changing anything else, and watch for differences.
If you notice positive changes, and you feel like CBD is working for you, great! But if after two to four weeks you feel like nothing’s changed, stop taking it. Like so many things when it comes to your health and well-being, listening to your body is absolutely key. Using CBD oil for pain management is different for everyone.
Burstein, S. “Cannabidiol (CBD) and Its Analogs: A Review of Their Effects on Inflammation.” Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry 23, no. 7 (April 2015): 1377–85. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bmc.2015.01.059.
Hammell, D. C., L. P. Zhang, F. Ma, S. M. Abshire, S. L. McIlwrath, A. L. Stinchcomb, and K. N. Westlund. “Transdermal Cannabidiol Reduces Inflammation and Pain-Related Behaviours in a Rat Model of Arthritis.” European Journal of Pain 20, no. 6 (July 2016): 936–48. https://doi.org/10.10