Everyone has had an “Exercise hangover”. You know, the tight, stiff feeling you get the morning after doing too much.

Ever wondered why this is? This satisfying albeit painful phenomenon is referred to as DOMS- Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. When we exercise vigorously, it causes micro trauma and tearing within the muscle tissue. This sets up a cycle of inflammation which leads to hypertrophy (enlargement) of the muscle fibres. If you’re positive you can see it as a necessary evil if becoming stronger is your goal. The more lazy inclined will see it as just another reason not to go to the gym.

Now imagine if DOMS could be relieved somehow? Cannabidiol (CBD) could help you put DOM’s in its place and get you back to day number 2 at the gym.

How

CBD targets the endocannabinoid system within the body. This system regulates pain, inflammation, memory and sleep through the activation and inhibition of cannabinoid receptors.

CBD could be useful to athletes due to its anti-inflammatory, analgesic (pain-relieving), anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing), neuroprotective properties and its influence on the sleep-wake cycle (1).  When CBD interacts with these receptors, as well as modulating pain thresholds and inhibiting pro-inflammatory molecules, it displays synergistic effects with other systems that influence pain, especially the endogenous opioid system (2).

For decades, it was hypothesized that exercise-induced endorphin release is solely responsible for a runner’s high, but recent evidence has suggested that endocannabinoids also may play a role (3). That euphoric feeling we feel after exercise is now thought to be regulated not only by endorphins, but also by the system mentioned above, which can be activated by CBD.

Cannabinoid receptor agonists have shown therapeutic value against inflammatory and neuropathic pains, conditions that are often resistant to therapy (2). This includes relief for chronic muscle pain disorders such as temporomandibular disorders and fibromyalgia, without central side effects (4). Encouragingly, cannabidiol has recently been approved for the treatment of inflammation, pain, and spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis (5).

Where does this leave the average healthy person who is hobbling after day 1 at the gym? Interestingly, the World Anti-Doping Agency removed CBD from the list of prohibited substances – in or out of competition – since 2018.  This recent decision by the WADA leaves the door open for CBD use by athletes (1). While further consideration is required as to whether endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors play a role during normal inflammatory response (6), sportspeople are taking notice and incorporating CBD creams and supplements into their training regime. With its good safety profile (7) and many benefits already established, athletic performance and recovery is really not that far a stretch.

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1 Gamelin FX, Cuvelier G, Mendes A, et al., 2020. Cannabidiol in sport: Ergogenic or else?. Pharmacological Research. 156, 104764.

2 Manzanares J, Julian M, Carrascosa A., 2006. Role of the cannabinoid system in pain control and therapeutic implications for the management of acute and chronic pain episodes. Current Neuropharmacology. 4(3):239‐257.

3 Fuss, J., Steinle, J., Bindila, L., Auer, M. K., Kirchherr, H., Lutz, B., & Gass, P., 2015. A runner’s high depends on cannabinoid receptors in mice. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 112(42), 13105–13108

4 Wong, H., & Cairns, B. E. 2019. Cannabidiol, cannabinol and their combinations act as peripheral analgesics in a rat model of myofascial pain. Archives of oral biology, 104, 33–39.