Long-distance runners undergo quite a bit of stress, both physically and mentally. When performance—and pain—become a hurdle, runners turn to OTC pain killers and even performance enhancing drugs. The latter is especially true for both amateur and elite trail runners.
But athletes want alternatives that are safe, natural and legal. In comes cannabidiol (CBD). It may not sound like a legal alternative, but it can be. CBD is federally legal under certain conditions (e.g. hemp-derived, containing less than 0.3% THC, etc.), though its legality is still a major source of confusion. More definitively, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has officially excluded cannabidiol from its list of prohibited substances for competing athletes.
So, how can CBD oil help runners achieve that runner’s high… without the high?
CBD is a cannabinoid derived from cannabis, specifically marijuana and hemp plants. However, it does not contain the high-inducing properties of marijuana, so it won’t affect a runner’s mental sharpness or judgment. It’s also non-addictive, which can make all the difference for runners who regularly turn to pain killers.
When a runner consumes CBD, they are helping their body naturally respond to its own endocannabinoids. Instead of binding to CB1 or CB2 receptors, like THC, it stimulates those receptors to direct cells. CBD also inhibits certain enzymes, leading to higher levels of endocannabinoids. Lastly, it activates serotonin receptors, as well as TRPV-1 receptors, which play a part in pain, temperature and inflammation.
Running is generally a healthy form of exercise. It helps reduce the risk of certain diseases and provides a mental escape from everyday issues. It can truly be empowering.
However, when you push your mind and body to the limit, there are likely to be some injuries, aches and pains along the way. CBD cannot heal an injury, but it may be able to relieve some of the issues that runners experience while training, racing or recovering.
Runners endure consistent trauma to the lower body, resulting in stress that can accumulate over time. Between one and two thirds of competitive cross-country and long-distance runners have experienced bones stress injury (BSI), which results in “structural fatigue and localized bone pain” in the tibia, fibula, femur, pelvis or lumbar spine.
In addition to BSI, it’s common for runners to experience the following:
Research has found that CBD oil may relieve pain and inflammation, including symptoms of arthritis that mimic similar symptoms that runners experience. A study of rats that were given up to 62 mg of CBD gel (transdermal) for four days had significantly reduced joint swelling. CBD also reduced pain-related behavior, and the treatment produced no evident side-effects.
Furthermore, a controlled trial of 1,219 patients reported an analgesic effect in cannabinoid treatments for chronic neuropathic pain. CBD treatments could be another option to consider for runners with nerve damage from mechanical stress.
But nerves, joints and muscles aren’t the only parts of the body affected by running.
It’s an embarrassing problem for many runners, but it’s notorious and goes by many names. The runs. Runner’s trot. Or, quite simply, runner’s stomach. A number of factors can have runners racing for the bathroom. As you run, your blood flows away from your intestines to your legs, which can make you nauseous or ready for a bowel movement. Anxiety and pre-run diet are also common culprits.
But did you know that CBD can help with an upset stomach? The literature suggests that CBD and other cannabinoids may be useful for gut discomfort.
Back in 2011, a study on ulcerative colitis found that cannabidiol reduced intestinal inflammation on human colon-cell cultures. Current research continues to suggest that the endocannabinoid system plays a role in gut motility, hunger signaling and more.
CBD may calm runner’s trot indirectly, too. If your gut problems start before the race even begins, then it may be pure anxiety. Anxiety is a result of low serotonin availability in the brain. It’s believed that CBD can boost serotonin signals by activating the serotonin receptor 5-HT1A.
Be aware, though, that two of CBD’s few side effects include nausea and diarrhea. It’s best to test the waters before you dive in.
As a runner whose exercise depends on healthy lung capacity, it’s not recommended that you vape or smoke. Instead, an oral tablet may be more appropriate. Not only will you keep your lungs clear, you’re also more likely to consume consistent doses. CBD is not well-regulated due to its legal status, so it can be more difficult to get reliable, regulated doses of CBD in other forms.
You may also find that creams, lotions and other transdermal products that contain CBD help with localized pain. Again, it is important to remember that some products will be safer and more effective than others due to a lack of regulations. Always check the ingredients in a product before making a decision. If you’re worried that you’ll consume traces of THC, then consider CBD isolate or “pure” cannabidiol. It’s 100 percent hemp-derived and THC-free.
CBD is safe—especially compared to prescribed pain killers—with few side effects, and it can be incorporated into a post-run meal or cool-down. It’s a natural remedy that the running community is embracing with open arms.