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Athletes are Now Using Cannabis for Exercise Recovery; Here’s Why

Throughout history, cannabis has been used to treat various ailments. Evidence from archaeological sites in Central Asia suggests cannabis use for pain relief as far back as 2500 BC. While the psychoactive properties of cannabis, mainly THC, have garnered significant attention, the potential benefits of other cannabinoids, like CBD, are gaining traction in the modern scientific and wellness communities.

Unlike traditional cannabis products like inhaled flowers or edibles, the best cannabis topicals Canada are meant for direct application to the skin. This makes topicals an attractive option for athletes seeking natural pain management solutions with minimal psychoactive effects.

Muscle Recovery Using Cannabis Topicals 

A survey data published in the Journal of Cannabis Research found that over 60% of surveyed athletes reported using THC or CBD topicals to aid in recovery from exercise-induced pain and inflammation. Several factors likely fuel this trend:


Targeted Relief
Cannabis topicals deliver cannabinoids directly to the site of discomfort, which offers localized pain relief for sore muscles and joints. Some relief creams are formulated with a balance of CBD and menthol for deep muscle penetration.

Reduced Psychoactive Effects
Cannabis topicals cause minimal psychoactive effects (the “high” feeling), which makes it suitable for prioritizing peak performance and maintaining clear focus.

Potential Anti-Inflammatory Properties
Cannabinoids may possess anti-inflammatory properties, which could potentially aid in reducing muscle soreness and inflammation associated with strenuous exercise.

THC vs CBD 

CBD and THC offer potential benefits for improving recovery from both aerobic and resistance exercise. Their analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties, along with their ability to enhance sleep quality, contribute to this effect. Both compounds can acutely reduce pain intensity and attenuate muscle damage, particularly following resistance exercise in trained individuals.

What the Survey Data Shows

Out of the 100 participants, here’s a clear overview of the results: 

  • 20% reported using CBD for recovery from aerobic exercise, while 23% reported CBD use for recovery from resistance exercise. 
  • 61% used THC after aerobic exercise, and 60% used THC after resistance exercise for recovery. 
  • When asked about the effectiveness of CBD for recovery, 93% responded positively, while 7% were unsure. 
  • 87% of participants felt that THC aided in their recovery, with 13% uncertain. 

Motivations for CBD use primarily centered around improving sleep and relaxation, while THC use was primarily for relaxation. Other reasons for CBD and THC use included experiencing pleasant feelings, pain relief, and assistance with mood-related issues. 

Real-life Sample 

According to NBA news, former NBA All-Star Al Harrington utilizes CBD topicals as part of his post-workout recovery routine to manage muscle soreness and inflammation. Harrington has become a vocal advocate for CBD after partnering with the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) to launch a line of CBD-infused products for athletes. This partnership highlights the growing acceptance of CBD within the professional sports world and its potential benefits for recovery. 

Cannabis Topical Usage 

Here’s a breakdown of when cannabis topicals might be most beneficial for sport-related activities: 

Pre-Workout

  • Injury Prevention: Some athletes use topicals with warming properties, like menthol, before exercise to increase blood flow and potentially prepare muscles for activity. This might help reduce the risk of injury during workouts.
  • Increase Blood Flow: Applying these topicals before a workout may help increase blood flow to targeted muscle groups. Good blood flow delivers more oxygen and nutrients to muscles, potentially preparing for activity and reducing the risk of injury.

During Workout

  • Pain Management: During a particularly strenuous workout, a low-dose CBD topical could offer localized pain relief for minor aches and strains.

Post-Workout Recovery

  • Muscle Soreness: Applying topicals with CBD after a workout may help reduce exercise-induced inflammation and muscle soreness. This can lead to quick recovery times and improved performance during future workouts.
  • Improved Sleep Quality: Quality sleep is necessary for optimal recovery. Some research suggests CBD may promote better sleep by reducing anxiety and enhancing relaxation. A chart review involving 72 adults found that sleep scores improved in 48 participants (66.7%) after using CBD. 

Important Considerations

  • Timing and Dosage: The ideal timing and dosage for cannabis topicals can vary depending on the desired effect (pain relief vs. pre-workout preparation) and individual tolerance. Start with a low dose and gradually increase as needed.
  • Regulations and Testing: Cannabis regulations vary by region. Ensure you purchase topicals from reputable sources that offer lab-tested products with clear information about their cannabinoid content.
  • Consult a Healthcare Professional: Ensure safe use by speaking with your healthcare professional before utilizing cannabis topicals, particularly if you have any underlying health conditions or are taking medications.

How to Choose the Right Cannabis Topical for Exercise Recovery

  • CBD vs. THC: Do you want a product mainly with CBD (known for anti-inflammatory properties and minimal psychoactive effects) or THC (may offer extra pain relief but can cause a “high”)? Consider your sensitivity to THC and personal preferences.
  • Potency and Concentration: Pay attention to how strong the cannabinoids are in the product. Higher concentrations might have stronger effects but could also increase the chance of side effects. Start with lower potency and adjust as needed.
  • Application Method: Choose your desired application method. Topicals come in various forms like lotion or cream, oil, bath bomb, balm, lube, or patch. 
  • Price and Value: Compare costs and features to find a good balance between cost and quality. Consider factors like size, potency, and any extra benefits when deciding.

Recommended Cannabis Topicals For Post-Workout Recovery

Product NameBrandTHC ContentCBD Content
CBD Cooling Recovery StickEVEN0 mg255.00 – 345.00 mg
CBD Daily Relief CreamDosecann40.00 mg1200.00 mg
Blue Dream Bath Bomb CBDStewart Farms50.00 mg42.50 – 57.50 mg
Turmeric + Arnica SalveReBound250.00 mg250.00 mg
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Use Topicals for Exercise Recovery

Cannabis topicals offer targeted relief and minimal psychoactive effects, which appeal to athletes seeking natural solutions. With growing acceptance and understanding of cannabinoids like CBD and THC, athletes can leverage their potential anti-inflammatory properties for enhanced recovery. 

Real-life endorsements from prominent personalities like Al Harrington highlight cannabis’s viability in professional sports. If you’re looking for premium topicals, get supplies from reputable cannabis dispensaries like Sea to Sky Cannabis. Explore many options and make your muscles at ease post-workout.

Frequently asked questions

CBD can be felt around 30 minutes after application. Some people notice effects after 10 minutes, but in a number of cases, it can take up to 45 minutes to an hour. However, various factors can influence this, including the dosage, type of topical, and tolerance level.

The amount of cannabinoids absorbed through accidental ingestion of a topical product is typically low.  However,  monitoring for any potential side effects like drowsiness or dizziness is recommended.  Call your poison control center or seek medical attention if you have any concerns.

As per the National Library of Medicine article, the half-life of CBD in the body varies, ranging from approximately 1 hour to up to 5 days. The half-life represents the duration for the body to eliminate half of a substance. Generally, a drug is cleared from the system within four to five half-lives. CBD sprays and drops often have a half-life spanning from 1.4 to 10.9 hours.

Topical cannabis is applied directly onto the skin for external use only and includes lotions, creams, salves, and balms. Transdermal products, however, contain ingredients like patches or adhesives that allow them to penetrate through the skin’s natural barrier into the body’s circulation system or endocannabinoid system. 

While topical products focus on skin application, transdermal products penetrate deeper into the body. Both offer distinct ways to deliver cannabinoids to specific areas without causing a psychoactive effect.

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