Updated: Jul 2, 2019
For those that regularly exercise, train at a gym or play a sport, you’ll be familiar with that post-workout soreness that can develop in the hours and days following. But could CBD have a role to play in reducing the duration and intensity of muscle soreness?
What is DOMS?
Delayed-onset muscle soreness, often referred to as simply DOMS, is thought to be caused by the eccentric part of a movement. This is when your muscle lengthens at the same time as being contracted, often the lowering part of a movement – lowering down during a squat, lowering a weight dumbbell in a bicep curl or lowering yourself down from a pull-up.
DOMS is different to acute muscle soreness, with the latter coming on rapidly after an activity or a heavy weights session. DOMS usually kicks in a few hours later, with peak soreness around 24-72 hours post workout.
Acute muscle soreness is caused by an accumulation of hydrogen ions or lactate. It was once thought that DOMS was also due to a build-up of lactic acid in the muscle, but we now know that DOMS is caused by an inflammatory response to muscle, tendon and ligament damage. As CBD is well known for having anti-inflammatory properties, it’s thought it could well have a role to play in exercise and sport recovery.
The effect of CBD on muscle soreness
Every time we exercise or lift weights, there is an element of muscle fibres breaking down to build themselves back up. This creates an immune response within our body, leaving us feeling sore and tired. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a natural system that exists within us. One of its main roles is to maintain a constant environment, or balance, within the body – this is known as homeostasis. The ECS helps regulate sleep, digestion, pain, inflammation, memory and mood.
Cannabinoid receptors (which make up the ECS) include CB1, which are predominantly found in the brain, and CB2 receptors which are found on cells linked to the immune system. CBD has been shown to bind to these receptors, which has the desirable effect on inflammation.
Further, inflammation is caused by immune cells called T-helper cells (Th1 and Th2). These cells produce proinflammatory proteins called cytokines. It’s thought that CBD helps supress the responses of T-helper cells, and as a result, cytokine production is reduced and inflammation subsides.
Research to date
Although research in humans, and specifically in the area of sports recovery, is limited, many studies in animal models demonstrate the anti-inflammatory effect that CBD holds. As it stands, little research has been done with athletes, but from the knowledge we have surrounding CBD and how it interacts with our internal ECS, it’s certainly plausible to suggest it could help aid recovery post-exercise.
What we are seeing though, are more and more anecdotal reports emerging from athletes and those who exercise regularly advocating the positive impact CBD is having on their recovery. Some individuals are hailing CBD as a breakthrough in exercise recovery, reporting faster recovery times, less soreness following heavy workouts and the ability to train again sooner. For others, CBD is simply a safe, natural alternative to traditional pain relief medicines.