Using Cannabis to Aid Physical Recovery
Updated: Mar 21, 2021
Jointly is a new cannabis wellness app that launched in April 2020. Jointly’s mission is to help people discover purposeful cannabis consumption. Purposeful cannabis consumption starts with the question: why do you use cannabis?
For example, many athletes and active adults use cannabis or CBD to help them recover. What does that look like?
It could be an ICU nurse finishing a shift and taking a puff from a CBD cartridge to ease her aching feet. Or a martial artist massaging a 1:1 salve into his battered joints to reduce inflammation and get back to the dojo as soon as possible. Or an active mother juggling workouts, kids and a new business who uses cannabis tinctures to relax, improve her appetite, and sleep soundly through the night.
Can cannabis or CBD help you recover? Jointly can help you find out! But first let’s review what is known about cannabis and physical recovery.
Does Cannabis Speed Up Recovery?
We all know exercise is good for us. But sometimes we forget recovery is just as important. To get back to the activity you love, you need to recover in an optimal amount of time.
The body has natural mechanisms of recovery, but with work, kids and social obligations, sometimes life gets in the way and recovery takes a backseat to training. But if you repeatedly exercise without letting your body recover, you can put yourself in a state of overreaching that can negatively affect your mood and energy levels.
Cannabis is such an effective recovery aid that many professional athletes have secretly used cannabis to help them recover, even when it might have cost them their career. Why? Because cannabis has pain relieving, appetite enhancing, stress relieving, sleep enhancing and mood boosting effects—all factors that contribute to a timely recovery.
Unfortunately, due to federal prohibition on cannabis, researchers have not done controlled studies looking at how cannabis affects physical recovery. However, there are various mechanisms by which cannabis or CBD could aid recovery.
What is Recovery?
Exercise, particularly high-intensity and resistance exercise, creates damage in the form of “perturbations of the skeletal muscle,” which results in a loss of strength that continues until your body repairs itself.
This damage is called exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD), and is characterized by a complex process involving delayed onset muscle soreness, swelling and inflammation. These symptoms generally peak around 24-48 hours after exercise, and are recovered in about 7 days.
Researchers have stated, “Precisely defining ‘recovery from exercise’ is a challenging task due to the varied means of recovery.” For example, are you recovered when you are fully healed back to baseline, or simply ready for additional training stress?
Despite the debate over the term, recovery is generally considered to be the resolution of pain, soreness, swelling and inflammation, paired with the adaption of the tissue and a return to normal strength.
What Does the Science Say?
The body has natural mechanisms of recovery, so what gets in the way? Time seems to be a limiting factor, but no one can get more hours in the day, so sports medicine scientists have indicated that using additional therapies to alleviate symptoms of muscle damage “may be advantageous to individuals who require rapid recovery between bouts of physical activity.”
And there is ample anecdotal evidence that cannabis is one of the most effective natural therapies for accelerating physical recovery.
Why might cannabis and CBD help people recover?
Dr. Michael Gleeson, a professor of exercise biochemistry at Loughborough University, discussed six factors that can decrease recovery from exercise: muscle soreness; poor exercise performance; decrease in appetite; infection; quality and quantity of sleep; gastrointestinal abnormalities.
One factor that Dr. Gleeson does not mention is psychological stress, which research has shown adversely affects muscle recovery in the short term after exercise-induced damage.
Cannabis and CBD can benefit several of the conditions that inhibit recovery, specifically prolonged inflammation, muscle soreness/pain, appetite, sleep and psychological stress.
Intense exercise “triggers a flood of chemicals known as cytokines, some of which inflame muscles, that manifests as soreness the next day.” Numerous studies have demonstrated that CBD exerts an anti-inflammatory effect. In preclinical trials, CBD inhibited production of “pro-inflammatory cytokines and reactive oxygen species” and stimulated production of anti-inflammatory cytokines.
In the context of physical recovery, inflammation is not the enemy, but rather “a key process underlying muscular repair and regeneration.” When you use cannabis or CBD to recover, the goal is not to completely eliminate inflammation, but rather to aid and accelerate your body’s natural repair mechanisms with cannabis or CBD to get you back on the trail, the court or the slopes.
Pain and Soreness
Exercise-induced muscle damage is associated with significant muscle pain and soreness.
Specifically for exercise induced muscle damage, the conventional methods of treating pain seem to negatively affect muscle adaption.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are usually the first-line of defense against pain and soreness after a vigorous workout, but these drugs “have been reported to attenuate exercise-induced skeletal muscle adaption.” That means that Ibuprofen may actually limit the ability of your muscle to recover from training.
Many people have found great success in treating their muscle pain and soreness with CBD or cannabis. The endocannabinoid system “has been shown to play an important role in the modulation of a wide range of physiological processes including neurotransmission, pain perception and inflammation.”
According to researchers who study cannabis and pain, “it is not an exaggeration to state that all experimentation using animal models of pain” have suggested that cannabis exerts a significant analgesic effect.
With all of the stress of modern life, sometimes it can be challenging to work up an appetite even if you have worked out. However, eating is one of the most important parts of recovery.
In the sports science world, it is well known that “negative energy balance will interfere with wound healing,” which means that if you eat too few calories, your body will not have the building blocks to recover.
Cannabis makes most people want to eat, which is great in the context of physical recovery. As far back as 300 C.E., physicians in India recommended cannabis “to treat loss of appetite.” As a result, many athletes and active individuals use the appetite enhancing aspect of cannabis to boost their recovery.
CBD seems to have the opposite effect at high doses. Low doses of CBD have been shown to have no influence on food intake, but high doses of CBD or chronic CBD treatment seem to suppress appetite in both humans and rodents.
Whether it is work stress, caffeine, kids, light pollution or your downstairs neighbor, sometimes you just can’t get the sleep you need to recover. Many people use cannabis and CBD to fall asleep and stay asleep longer.
According to strength coach Anthony Ricciuto, “Muscle damage from a workout gets repaired during the sleep cycle—the body’s cells are recycled and a cascade of different hormones is activated to produce muscle growth.”
Researchers have found that daily cannabis use led to greater total sleep time in older adults.
CBD has shown mixed results. The first placebo-controlled, double-blinded crossover trial found that the sleep improving effects of CBD were dose dependent. The researchers found that 160mg of CBD—but not 40mg or 80mg of CBD—increased self-reported sleep duration in individuals with insomnia.