Learn About CBD

CBD Fundamentals

What is CBD?

CBD (cannabidiol) is one of over 100 plant compounds called cannabinoids that come from the plant species Cannabis Sativa L.

What is THC? 

THC is the cannabinoid which is psychoactive, and is responsible for producing the notorious high from Cannabis plants. It does this by activating the CB1 receptor in the brain. THC is illegal for this reason in many parts of the world.

In the UK and EU, levels of THC of up to 0.2% in products is considered safe as this is not sufficient to produce a high when it is taken.

0.2% is also the legal limit for THC, and products must be below this concentration if they are to be legal.

Where does CBD come from?

CBD naturally occurs in plants from the Cannabis genus. There are 3 species of Cannabis:

  • Cannabis Sativa L
  • Cannabis Indica
  • Cannabis Ruderalis. 

Types of Cannabis

How is CBD legal? 

CBD is is almost always sourced from Cannabis Sativa L. There are various subspecies ofCannabis Sativa L , which differ in their constitution:

  • One naturally contains THC at a level which exceeds the legal limit in the UK and EU (more than 0.2%, sometimes up to 30%). These are known as type I plants.
  • The other naturally contains THC at a level which is below the legal limit in the UK and EU (less than 0.2%). These are known as type III plants.

In the UK and EU, CBD is sourced almost exclusively from type III  Cannabis Sativa L. plants, because of their low THC.

Some special strains of Cannabis Sativa L have been bred to contain all the benefits of type I plants, whilst keeping THC low. These are known as type II plants.

Is CBD Safe? 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared that CBD is generally safe and well tolerated (1). 

The WHO report also declared that CBD was:

  • Non-addictive
  • Well tolerated
  • Non-psychoactive

The World Anti doping Agency (WADA) also removed CBD from its banned substances list in 2017. Athletes can now use CBD, but must still be careful to monitor small levels of THC in CBD products.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) suggests taking a daily dose of 70mg CBD.

Long term use of up to 1,500mg oral CBD/day for 4 weeks has been reported in research (*). Daily use of CBD in doses of 300mg has been safe for up to 6 months (*).

Does It Get You High? 

CBD is one of many cannabinoids that does not produce a high. Unlike THC, it does not activate the CB1 receptor in the brain.

CBD is said to be ‘non-psychoactive’. This is only partly true. Whilst it doesn’t produce a high, it can still have subtle effects on mood, so is not truly non-psychoactive. More like semi psycho-active.

With topical application of CBD you don’t need to worry about psycho-activity, as it doesn’t have an effect on the brain.

Does CBD have any side effects?

Studies have shown minimal side effects with CBD, and only for oral consumption. Side effects may also depend on the type of CBD being used. No side effects have been noted from using topical CBD.

A review of clinical studies concluded that in comparison to other drugs, CBD produced less (severe) side effects (*).

CBD For Focus, Flow & Sports Performance

Flow States & Performance

If you’re an athlete or fitness fanatic, then I’ll bet you’ve been in the zone before. That state of total immersion in your discipline, where nothing else matters. Time stands still, that voice that says ‘you can’t’ drops away, your focus sharpens. You’re flowing. 

This ‘flow state’ is where one can effortlessly and fluidly take on the task at hand, and it’s what enables a lot of athletes to perform at their very best and achieve a state of peak performance. 

In running, this is specifically known as the runners high (*), where pace, rhythm, breathing and cadence all seem to synchronise seamlessly to allow a runner to stride as if they’re floating. 

What’s interesting about flow states and the runners high is what’s behind their occurrence. Research has found that when an athlete enters the zone, a cascade of chemical changes occurs within the brain that drives peak performance (*). These chemicals are dopamine, noradrenaline, endorphins, anandamide, and serotonin. 

These chemicals change brain wave activity and blood flow to the brain (*). The result is better learning and skill development, faster processing of information, increased motivation and focus which all culminates to increase performance in that activity. 

CBD & Flow States

CBD has an impact on neuro-chemicals needed to produce flow. Mainly Anandamide

Anandamide literally means bliss chemical, and fingers are pointing towards this chemical as one of the factors which helps us flow. 

Exercise naturally increases our production of Anandamide. The interesting thing is that CBD increases our brains ability to produce Anandamide (*). Hence why a lot of folks liken taking CBD to ‘blissing out’. You’re basically drinking in a mini runners high after taking CBD. 

Runners are amongst the athletes who use CBD to enter flow states easier, and to prolong their time in flow for increased focus. 

Many action sports athletes also use CBD to heighten their focus, particularly where flow is needed to navigate high risk activities. 

A lot of yoga studios are now offering CBD before taking a class. Yoga is naturally flow inducing, and some yogis like to take CBD to find that flow easier, or deepen the experience of flow and focus within a class. 

Flowing involves being in sync with your body and its movements, which is why it feels so good. Even activities like HIIT and callisthenics can involve aspects of flow. I can certainly attest to feeling more in tune with my body, my form and my flow when I use CBD in strength and coordination training. 

Sometimes flow can be elusive, and a training session can be a drag without it. By using CBD you can effectively ‘flow hack’ and make it easier to find your flow. 

Whilst we still share stories with each other about what CBD might do, research is being conducted by the University of California (UCLA) investigating the effect of CBD on the amount of time it takes to drop into flow, and the depth of flow experienced (Flowresearchcollective.com, 2019).

Anecdote – John Isner – “I play a sport where taking a single point off can be the difference between winning and losing a match and Defy (CBD) is a product specifically intended to put me in a position to perform on every single point,”

CBD For Muscle Recovery, Soreness & Spasms

CBD & Muscle Soreness

If you’re an athlete or just someone who likes to stay fit and healthy, then you’ll know all about the aches and pains that come with regular and particularly challenging exercise. 

Whether its yoga, crossfit, callisthenics or rock climbing; there’s bound to be some form of soreness after you’ve exerted yourself. 

These activities all involve some degree of repeated muscular contraction, which can make muscles sore. 

With resistance training in particular comes the dreaded delayed onset of muscular soreness (DOMS) that occurs afterwards.

Although no studies have looked at the direct link between CBD and DOMS, many athletes swear by it to reduce soreness and boost recovery. 

DOMS is a form of exercise induced muscle damage. Its caused by micro-tears that occur in muscle fibres, particularly after eccentric muscular contractions. These micro-tears disrupt the balance of calcium in the muscles, which causes inflammation and soreness.

What might be going on here, and how may CBD help? Let’s take a look under the hood at the mechanisms to find out. 

CBD was found to restore calcium concentrations in muscle cells whilst also reducing inflammation (*). CBD is known to activate channels (TRPV1) which control the flow of calcium into cells (*). This could be one way CBD contributes to reduced soreness following training. 

The same study also found that by regulating calcium flow, CBD was able to encourage the formation of new muscle fibres from stem cells (satellites and myoblasts) (*). This could be one mechanism by which CBD promotes the speedy recovery of muscle tissue after training. 

A clinical trial has recently found that topical CBD was effective at reducing myofascial pain in patients with muscular disorders (*). This finding is encouraging, and hints at a benefit for exercise induced muscular pain as well. 

Inflammation is also something we want to be cognisant of when trying to reduce soreness and speed recovery. 

Its often a controversy because inflammation is important for the remodelling and repair of muscle tissue. Inflammatory messengers IL-10, TGF-β, TNF-α, and NF-κB also encourage satellite cells to grow into new muscle fibres (*), leading to the recovery of muscles. 

However, after training only specific areas of muscle are damaged, but the inflammatory response often spreads to areas of the muscle which haven’t been significantly damaged. This is how inflammation, whilst partly beneficial for recovery can also inhibit it. 

This is why athletes choose to use ice baths, and anti-inflammatory drugs following their training – to minimise the widespread effects of inflammation. 

This is where CBD comes in. Whilst CBD does reduce inflammation, it may do it in a way that complements the recovery process. CBD has been found to reduce inflammatory messengers such as IL-1β, IL-6, NF-κB and TNF-α whilst having no effect on IL-10, TGF-β (*). IL-10 in particular promotes the formation of new muscle cells (*). This may be why CBD is able to reduce inflammation without inhibiting the recovery process. 

A lot of oxidative damage also happens after exercise induced muscle damage, which is another factor which contributes to soreness (*)

CBD acts as a powerful antioxidant, and when I say powerful I mean powerful – one study found it was more potent of an antioxidant than both Vitamin C and E (*)

This is another mechanism whereby CBD helps reduce muscle soreness after exercise training.

CBD & Replenishing Energy Stores

Exercise is a metabolically expensive process and uses up nutrients in order to make energy. In the recovery period, muscles still lack strength and may still be sore. If you still have to perform quickly, then you’ll want to optimise your recovery. 

Another way CBD may boost the recovery process is by facilitating the delivery of nutrients back into muscles following exercise. After you’ve knocked back a couple of protein shakes, and maybe a few carbohydrates, those amino acids and sugars need to make it into the muscle to begin repair. 

One way CBD facilitates this process is by acting as a vasodilator (*), widening the blood vessels to increase the flow of oxygen and nutrient rich blood to fatigued muscles. 

Reducing inflammatory messengers is also important for replenishing muscle stores of glucose after exercise. IL-1β and IL-6 in particular dampen insulin signalling (*), which makes muscles less efficient at taking up glucose, and rebuilding muscle tissue (*)

As an anti-inflammatory, theoretically CBD may help preserve the muscle’s ability to restore, although this needs to be clarified by clinical trials. 

CBD & Muscle Spasms

Theoretically the vasodilatory effect of CBD may also prove beneficial for clearing lactic acid from muscles. Pooling of lactic acid can lead to muscle spasms, pain and discomfort after training. 

This hasn’t been studied, but is just some food for thought. 

Tension and spasms are a common problem, and often come with their fair share of pain and discomfort, not to mention interfering with rest and recovery. 

Many athletes often turn to prescription drugs (benzodiazepines) to alleviate muscular tension and spasms. However, these also interfere with REM sleep which will affect recovery in the long run. They also have some nasty side effects.

Benzodiazepines work by activating GABA receptors to induce muscular relaxation. CBD works in a very similar fashion – it increases the sensitivity of the GABA receptor (*), enhancing the signal to relax muscles. 

In a clinical trial, CBD was shown to have significant myorelaxant (muscle relaxing) effects, which is in line with anecdotes of athletes using it for these purposes (*)

CBD also significantly reduces muscle spasticity in multiple sclerosis (*), which may also be of use in exercise induced muscle spasm. 

Anecdote – MMA finger Nate Diaz recently spoke about CBD, “It’s CBD. It helps with the healing process and inflammation, stuff like that. So you want to get these for before and after the fights, training. It’ll make your life a better place.”


CBD & Pain

How CBD Reduces Pain

One of the most common uses for CBD is undoubtedly pain. There’s a good body of emerging evidence suggesting that CBD may be useful for all kinds of pain. 

CBD is an incredible plant compound, because it can have many different effects in the body all at one time – its impact is ubiquitous. Mechanistically speaking, CBD pushes a lot of buttons that help reduce pain. 

  • CBD increases Anandamide, which is anti-inflammatory and analgesic upon activation of the CB1 receptor within the nervous system (Huang et al., 2016).. 
  • CBD turns down the volume at mu (μ) and delta (δ) opioid receptors to reduce pain signalling (Kathmann et al., 2006)
  • CBD turns down the volume at Glycine receptors to reduce pain signalling (Xiong et al., 2012)
  • CBD increases the signalling at GABA receptors to overcome the sensation of pain (Bakas., et al 2017)
  • CBD activates TRPV1 and TRPA1 receptors to reduce pain signalling (Muller et al., 2018)
  • CBD promotes adenosine A2A signalling which may reduce pain (Pandolfo et al., 2011)

Clinical trials with CBD have also found it to be effective for managing pain. CBD sprays (2.5mg per actuation) have been shown to significantly reduce neuropathic pain compared to placebo (Wade et al., 2002), (Notcutt et al., 2004)

A survey also found that pain was amongst the most common use for CBD (Corroon, Phillips., 2018), so it’s good to see real world data supporting the (sparse) evidence for CBD’s effect on pain. 

Whilst its tempting to say that this evidence translates into a training session with less pain, this still needs to be confirmed by trials with athletes. 

However, some athletes certainly attest to its benefits:

Anecdote – Triathlete, Andrew Talansky recently told Outside Magazine how CBD has helped him manage lingering pain from a previous hip injury. “I took it for a couple of weeks, and there was a noticeable difference immediately. And it wasn’t just that my hip was feeling better. I was less anxious, and I was sleeping better.”

A lot of athletes (in the states) also have access to THC, and they often choose to microdose THC alongside CBD (10:1 CBD:THC) for a more pronounced pain killing effect. 

There’s some decent evidence that supports the use of a 1:1 ratio of CBD:THC for managing pain. 

Most studies investigating effects on pain use Sativex, a pharmaceutical THC:CBD spray (delivers 2.7 mg THC and 2.5 mg CBD per actuation). These trials have shown that neuropathic pain in Multiple Sclerosis is effectively reduced by a THC:CBD combo (Rog et al., 2007), (Iskedjian et al., 2007), (Barnes., 2006)

Although CBD (2.5 mg CBD per actuation) was effective at managing pain, the pain killing effect was greater when combined with THC (Notcutt et al., 2004)

How To Use CBD for Pain

There’s two main ways CBD can be helpful here, which may depend on what your sport or activity is. 

  1. CBD can be used during training or competition to help increase tolerance to pain. 
  2. It can also be used to help manage pain outside of training. 

Using CBD During Training

Increasing your pain threshold to tolerate particularly intense and/or long bouts of exercise no doubt helps you go the extra mile (quite literally). 

Some athletes (particularly endurance) use NSAID’s like Ibuprofen prophylactically to manage pain whilst competing. Interestingly, Ibuprofen doesn’t appear to significantly reduce the perception of pain throughout competition (De Silva et al., 2015) – even though many athletes use it for this purpose. 

A few endurance athletes are ditching the ibuprofen for CBD (sometimes with a touch of THC) to help them increase their pain tolerance and focus during exercise. 

Anecdote – Ben Greenfield “I talked to a lot of athletes, especially in like Colorado for example, who are using THC, and THC edibles, and weed to increase focus and to decrease perceptions of pain during exercise. So I decided to see if I could use CBD.  I was experimenting with everything from the 10 to the 50 milligram range of CBD capsules for this, and I’ve found that I can get a very, very similar effect”

Whether you’re taking on a particularly tough WAD (workout of the day), slogging through an ultra or turning up the intensity, CBD may just be the thing that helps take the edge off. 

Using CBD After Training

CBD is arguably the most popular choice amongst athletes who compete in sports that are hard on the body – NFL, NHL, MMA, UFC, Rugby, action sports and endurance events. These sports often come with either an acutely or chronically high risk for encountering pain, and many athletes often reach for the medicine cabinet to find relief. 

There’s a lot of inflammation that occurs with exercise, and it often hits the muscles and joints the hardest. Inflammation is essential for recovery and adaptation to exercise, but it’s also a by product of pushing your limits, and comes at a cost – it’s painful. That’s why the use of NSAID’s is popular in sport, particularly Ibuprofen.

Interestingly, high doses of Ibuprofen have actually been associated with slowed muscle recovery, reduced strength and hypertrophy after resistance training (Lilja et al., 2018), which could be interfering with the acute inflammatory response to exercise. Normal doses don’t appear to impact muscle pain, soreness or recovery (Krentz et al., 2008). It’s tricky as high doses may be needed for pain relief, but at a burden to the recovery process. 

Other downsides of long term use of NSAID’s include gastrointestinal, hepatic, cardiovascular, musculoskeletal and kidney complications (Warden., 2010)

The good news folks, is that CBD is also a powerful anti-inflammatory, which has demonstrated its ability to reduce inflammatory pain and neuropathic pain (Xiong et al., 2012). It also has a great side effect profile (Iffland, Grotenhermen., 2017), which means that side effects are minimal when using it even at high doses and for long periods of time. 

A few studies have demonstrated that CBD is safe to use at high doses (1,500mg) (Zuardi et al., 1995) and long term (6 months) (Cunha et al., 1980). The World Health Organisation has also declared that CBD is safe (Who.int, 2019), which may translate into long term use without the risks associated with NSAID’s. 

Anecdote – Floyd Landis told the Washington Post – “It’s not something I was exposed to as an athlete, but it was effective in allowing me to wean off opioids,” he says. “Now I use CBD daily as a pain reliever.” 

CBD & Joint Health

Sport, Exercise & Osteoarthritis

There’s no doubt that exercise takes its toll on the joints. The constant friction endured by long distance runners, the load taken by weightlifters, and the stress of dynamic and abrupt movements in sports like tennis, soccer and basketball. 

A significant source of pain fitness enthusiasts and athletes experience is from wear and tear on the joints. 

For example, a recent meta-analysis found that long exposure to high-volume and/or high-intensity running is associated with hip and/or knee osteoarthritis (Alentorn-Geli et al., 2017).

A systematic review of different sporting disciplines revealed that elite level soccer players, weight lifters, wrestlers and American football players (elite and amateur) had a higher prevalence of osteoarthritis in their knees (Driban et al., 2017)

Elite track and field, hockey and handball players have a higher risk of developing hip osteoarthritis (Vigdorchik et al., 2017)

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, which results in a breakdown of the joints protective cushioning – the cartilage.

Osteoarthritis is only partly underpinned by inflammation and may also be driven by mechanical wear and tear, causing structural damage to the cartilage. There’s no evidence (yet) that cannabinoids like CBD can help with the structural component of osteoarthritis, but may for the inflammatory component.

In osteoarthritis, inflammation occurs in the joints which affects various tissues that are crucial to their function; the cartilage, synovial membrane (synovium) and bone.  

CBD, Cannabinoids & Osteoarthritis

Cannabinoids have been found to reduce the inflammatory messengers that destroy cartilage, by modulating the ECS found within the joints (La Porta et al., 2014). The ECS regulates the metabolism of cartilage tissue, so using cannabinoids is a way to potentially influence cartilage turnover.  

That’s not all – the ECS is also found in the synovium, the soft tissue which lines the entire inner space within a joint, except where its lined with cartilage. Again, it’s the ECS job to maintain the turnover of these tissues so that the synovium remains strong and protective to joints. 

Cannabinoids have also been found to inhibit the inflammatory messengers which seek to destroy synovial tissue (La Porta et al., 2014), which may help preserve overall joint health. 

The ECS also controls bone metabolism – the essential balance between the synthesis and breakdown of bone tissue. CBD has actually been found to reduce the breakdown of bone (minerals) in mice (Whyte et al., 2009)

CBD is able to reduce pain, inflammation and swelling associated with general arthritis in rats (Hammell et al., 2016). CBD has also been found to reduce Osteoarthritis pain (Philpott et al., 2017). Similar cannabinoids have also been found to reduce weight bearing deficits and improve grip strength in rats (O’Brien, McDougall., 2018), suggesting improved joint function. 

There’s no clinical evidence in humans that CBD may slow the progression of osteoarthritis. But the mechanisms suggest cannabinoids may prevent the early stages and progression of osteoarthritis by inhibiting the breakdown of tissues essential for proper joint function. 

For now, we may have to rely on anecdotes from athletes as more and more adopt CBD into their training and recovery regimens. 

Anecdote – Terrell Davis “I’ve been on CBD for well over a year now, and I can tell you that my body feels great. I have no more inflammation in my body, my knee, and my joint pain is gone. My migraines — I haven’t taken migraine medicine for over a year,”


Tendonitis is also a common problem for athletes across the board. One example being tennis elbow.

Tendons transmit the forces of muscle to the skeleton, and are subjected to repeated mechanical loads. Heavy training and competition may ramp up tendon tissue deterioration, and inflammation. 

Tissue deterioration and inflammation both play a role in tendinopathies. As a powerful anti-inflammatory, I would expect CBD to be useful for the inflammation, but perhaps not the tissue deterioration. That’s just a thought – there’s currently no scientific evidence to support it. 

However, Charles Bush-Joseph, M.D has this to say; “CBD coupled with stretching, icing, and foam rolling is a common treatment plan for tendonitis injuries about the knee, such as iliotibial band syndrome.”

CBD, Bone Health & Injury

Sports & Fractures

Almost every athlete has encountered an injury throughout their career. Some injuries are manageable, and may only put you out a few weeks, depending on your sport. The kind of injuries that can put you out a season or more are broken bones. Particularly susceptible to fractures are athletes who compete in contact and action sports. 

The system that CBD interacts with in the body (ECS) controls the creation and destruction of bone (Bab et al., 2009), (Ehrenkranz, Levine., 2019), so it may come as no surprise that cannabinoids may have an affect on fractures and bone regeneration/density (Apostu et al., 2019)

Bone density is a balance between producing bone and breaking it down. When cells that break bone down (osteoclasts) are suppressed, it allows bone producing cells (osteoblasts) to run the show, encouraging increased bone density.

CBD & Bone Metabolism

CBD affects bone metabolism by increasing the number and function of bone producing cells, and by reducing the activity of bone degrading cells and the resorption of bone in mice (Whyte et al., 2009)

There are receptors on bone forming and bone degrading cells. CBD either directly or indirectly interacts with these receptors:

  • Blocks GRP55 on bone degrading cells, which reduces their activity and helps preserve bone density (Whyte et al., 2009)
  • Blocks CB1 activation on bone degrading cells, reduces osteoclast number and bone resorption (Idris 2010)
  • Blocks CB2 activation on bone cells (Idris 2010)

CBD has actually been found to enhance fracture healing in rats with broken legs (Kogan et al., 2015), which supports the mechanisms above. 

It has also been found that CBD reduces bone loss in rats with a spinal cord injury, by preserving bone volume (Li et al., 2017)

It’ll be interesting to see how CBD fares in clinical trials investigating fracture healing, but the studies in animals are really interesting so far. 

As we’ve discussed earlier, the anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and tissue regenerating properties of CBD may help boost recovery. Some athletes also state that CBD has helped them recover from injury. 

Anecdote – Chris Camozzi – “I wanted to focus on recovering from my torn MCL so I tried the CBD oil.  I healed my knee faster than my docs had ever seen. I’ll never forget the Dr. saying “I’ve never seen anyone recover from an injury this quickly.” After everything I had heard about CBD, it wasn’t a shock and I was a believer.”

CBD, Sleep, Stress & Overtraining

Sport, Stress & Sleep

Sport and exercise is demanding on the body. Its a stressor that serves to initiate adaptations that will better serve us against it in the future. 

However the balance between a beneficial stressor and a deleterious one is a fine line for athletes and fitness enthusiasts. You want to ensure you do enough to get faster, stronger and more resilient, but this comes at the risk of overtraining. 

To optimise the balance between getting the beneficial adaptations from stress, and minimising the downsides, one must control other stressors in their life. 

Sleep is one of the most important recovery processes, and there’s no compromise on losing out on it. Poor sleep or sleep deprivation is a stressor, and one you could do without. 

When we don’t get enough sleep, our hormonal equilibrium suffers as a result. I’m mainly referring to cortisol, which becomes elevated with chronically bad sleep. Elevated cortisol is a sign of overtraining, and can have negative effects on your performance. 

Similarly financial, emotional, romantic and mental stress all pitch in to raise cortisol. Lifestyle stress is a negative synergy with exercise, because it too can ramp up cortisol production.

 One study in middle and long distance runners found that starting the season with elevated cortisol values significantly reduced performance during the season (Balsalobre-Fernández et al., 2014)

Cortisol production depends on the type, intensity, volume and frequency of exercise. High intensity resistance exercise (60-80% Vo2 Max) elicits a greater cortisol response than lower intensity (40% Vo2 Max), which actually reduces cortisol (Hill et al., 2008)

HIIT is associated with higher cortisol than aerobic endurance exercise 12 hours after training (Cofré-Bolados et al. 2019). If rest periods are shorter and exertion is higher in resistance training this tends to increase cortisol levels (Rahimi et al., 2011)

Chronic high volume training and higher rates of exertion unsurprisingly correlate with increased cortisol in distance runners (Balsalobre-Fernández et al., 2014)

The art of sustainable training is therefore to offset high intensities with lower volumes and adequate rest, and to offset high volume training with lower intensity. Higher training frequency also jacks up cortisol levels, so also needs considering. Measure your Heart Rate Variability (HRV) to stay on top of your stress levels. 

Elevated Cortisol is a problem for a few reasons:

  • Cortisol is catabolic and breaks down muscle tissue (Gore et al., 1993)
  • Cortisol is important for regulating inflammation, chronic elevations reduce immunity (Hannibal, Bishop 2014)
  • Cortisol is antagonistic to insulin and testosterone, two anabolic hormones needed for growth and recovery. 
  • Cortisol reduces insulin sensitivity, and inhibits glucose uptake into muscle (Geer et al., 2015)
  • Cortisol spikes in the evening make it tough to get good sleep (Hirotsu et al., 2015)

Cortisol forms part of the Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal (HPA) axis, the hormonal network which regulates stress. The ECS is also involved in regulating the HPA axis, through CB1 receptors found on the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. This enables the ECS to put the brakes on the HPA axis to resolve stress. 

CBD, Stress & Sleep

Cannabinoids are also a way of reducing stress, and CBD has been shown to reduce corticosterone (cortisol) (Crippa et al., 2018) in animals. CBD has also been shown to influence cortisol release in humans (Zuardi, Moriera 1993), which may help resolve stress. 

This may be due to CBD’s ability to increase the brains natural cannabinoid, Anandamide. Anandamide activates the CB1 receptor in the hypothalamus, which may cause a downstream reduction in cortisol secretion from the adrenals (Crippa et al., 2018)

In support of this, CBD has been shown to lessen anxiety (Zuardi et al., 1993), (Crippa et al., 2011), (Linares et al.,2019), (Bergamaschi et al., 2011) and improve sleep in people with sleep disorders (Chagas et al., 2014), (CARLINI and CUNHA, 1981), (Shannon et al., 2019. CBD’s ability to improve sleep has been partly attributed to its ability to lessen anxiety, and perhaps by reducing cortisol. 

The other way CBD helps sleep is by enhancing REM sleep (Pisanti et al., 2017a), the stage of sleep which is important for learning, memory and mood and for replenishing the brain and bodies energy. 

Other mechanisms by which CBD reduces anxiety:

In summary, CBD may lessen the risk of overtraining, and reduce the overall impact of physical and mental stress on training and performance. 

AnecdoteBen Greenfiled “I’m right on-board. I’ll use a lower amount for a nap, like I’ll use like 40, 50 milligrams for a nap and then in doses above 100 for sleep”

How To Use CBD If You're An Athlete

There’s more than one way to use CBD, and they each have their merits depending on what you want to get out of it. 

Topical Delivery of CBD 

Using CBD topically is well suited for more physical aspects of health and fitness, such as alleviating chronic aches, pains, and spasms after hard training. 

I like to think of topical CBD working from the outside in, whereas taking it orally works from the inside out. 

CBD is usually taken as capsules or oral drops, but can also be applied through the skin. 

CBD doesn’t have the same widespread effects as when its taken orally, since it doesn’t enter the bloodstream. This comes with some upsides, and a couple downsides when compared to oral delivery. 

The good  

  • CBD is more bioavailable when applied through the skin, since the liver doesn’t break it down. 
  • The effects are highly concentrated to the area it is applied. 
  • Less likely to test positive on a drugs test, as the small amounts of THC in most CBD extracts do not enter the bloodstream as readily as ingesting it.  

The not as good

  • The effects of CBD are localised to the area its applied on the body. 
  • It may not pose the same benefits on the brain and psychological conditions. At least not directly. 

How CBD Works through the Skin

Both the dermis and the epidermis are home to cannabinoid receptors (CB1 & CB2), which control the ECS. 

The ECS is found also found on the bodies extremities, and naturally maintains skin health, inflammation, pain and sensitivity through CB receptors. CBD and pain, balms, creams and lotions

However, sometimes the ECS needs a hand in regulating pain and inflammation, notably after exercise. 

Here’s where CBD comes in; it boosts the levels of endocannabinoids that are available to bind to CB receptors on sensory nerves, skin cells and immune cells, to reduce pain, inflammation, and nourish the skin. 

The benefits specific to using topical CBD are:

  • Muscular relaxation. 
  • Localised relief of pain. 
  • Rejuvenating skin (chafing, blisters and sores). 
  • Muscle recovery and to combat soreness.

Popular topical products for sport and exercise therapy include balms, oils, salves and lotions. 

A massage oil can either be used for a specific body part, or the whole body. 

Whole body massages will require more oil, and may not provide the same degree of pain relief as the same dose applied to a specific area. 

  • Shake well before use, apply 5ml to clean palms to warm and activate the oil. 
  • Spread across the body, or to a specific area if desired. 
  • Apply more if needed. 
  • Wait 15-45 minutes for effects to sink in.

If I’m lucky enough to find someone who’ll give me a massage, I like to use CBD massage oil on targeted areas to speed muscle recovery and reduce soreness. This works really well as a deep tissue or sports massage. 

A balm can be used like an oil, but tends to be higher concentration. 

Massage balms provide a stronger grip, and lower glide than massage oils. They are ideal for treating specific areas of the body, since they can be applied with more control and precision. 

Gaia Guru muscle balm has been designed to provide concentrated CBD, herbs and essential oils for targeted relief of pain and to stimulate muscle relaxation. 

Start with a small serving on the tip of your finger, about 2.5 ml should do it. This provides a serving of ~ 25mg CBD. Apply more for greater relief (additional 2.5ml). 

I like to use the balm on my joints after long runs or plyometric and explosive training, it keeps them from stiffening and helps reduce pain and soreness the days after. This helps me cycle through my training nicely, and means I can launch into the rest of the week’s training with a spring in my step. 

Oral Drops

When CBD is taken orally, its most commonly taken under the tongue as oral drops. This is one of the faster acting methods of taking CBD, which usually kicks in around 20-30 minutes after dosing and lasts up to 6 hours. 

Taking oral drops is ideal for calming pre competition nerves, enhancing focus or preparing to ease a painful training session. Gaia Guru Focus and /or Lift drops are a great way to get in the zone for training. 

After strenuous weight training, I like to take Gaia Guru Relief oral drops to offset the stress response that has occurred after the session and to support recovery. I find this particularly useful, as I often workout at night and it sometimes interferes with my sleep. 

I’d typically take 20mg a couple hours after training. So probably getting in about 30 – 40mg from when I finish training to just before I go to bed.

Bioavailability of oral drops also tends to be on the higher end, at around 12-35% (Schoedel, Harrison., 2012). This effectively means that up to 35% of the CBD taken sticks around to exert an effect. Gaia Guru oral drops have been formulated to maximise bioavailability, with the use of MCT oil. 

MCT stands for medium chain triglycerides, which are a great carrier for CBD. They are super absorbable when taken sublingually, and bypass digestion in the intestine when taken as capsules. This gives you the best chance of getting the most out of your CBD. 

A lot of people choose to manage their stress and sleep with oral drops because of their rapid onset and ease of use. If I wake up during the night, I have a few drops to whisk me back off to sleep quickly and easily.

They’re also a great option if you want to ensure a restful sleep before game day, or after a heavy workout where you need deep and restorative sleep. Gaia Guru calm oral drops are perfect for this. 


Using capsules or eating your CBD in the form of an edible usually takes a little over an hour to kick in.

You’d typically take capsules an hour before bed or straight after training for optimal recovery and rest. The effects last up to 6 hours, which is great if you have a long training session, want to really unwind or get a great nights sleep. 

Delayed onset forms of CBD are ideal if you’re in no rush for it to take effect, and are a good way to set yourself up for a whole day or night. 

Eg. got a big training day ahead? Pop a Get Woke capsule to prepare for it. 

Faced some stiff competition and need speedy recovery? Pop a Nightcap capsule for a good night’s sleep. 

Other examples:

  • Sports injuries: May benefit from a consistent and regular supply of CBD
  • Chronic pain: If pain is persistent, then using a longer lasting supply of CBD reduces the need to continually use it. 
  • Metabolic support: The cogs of metabolism are always turning. Keeping the cogs well oiled is a round the clock job.
  • Rest and recovery: The longer CBD can hang around to keep levels of inflammation in check, the better.


How To Dose CBD

Getting Started

Everyone is unique, so there are no set doses. Different people respond to CBD based on:

  • Body composition 
  • Endocannabinoid system activity
  • Activity of metabolic enzymes in the liver which break CBD down.
  • Nutritional Status (omega 3:6 consumption) 
  • Age

If new to CBD, a good place to begin is to ‘start low and go slow’ 

If someone’s never taken CBD (or cannabis) before, then their ECS hasn’t been fully ‘woken up’ yet. So gently wake it up, starting with small doses at first, and gradually increasing them over time.

ECS Activation Protocol:

Days 1 – 4 Days 5 – 10 Days 10 – 14
AM:5 mg | PM:7.5 mg AM:10 mg | PM:12.5 mg AM:15 mg | PM:17.5 mg

The ECS should be activated, and now CBD can be used in lifestyle specific ways. For example, continue with morning and evening doses, or dose in response to health needs (eg pain, anxiety, muscle recovery, sleep, focus).

Some people may require higher doses based on their individual needs. There is no established tolerable upper limit for CBD as yet, but Cannabis Pharma have recommended their food supplement for adults at a daily intake of up to 130 mg or 1.86 mg CBD per kg body weight.

Finding Your Therapeutic Window

After you activate your ECS, you may chose to explore your own personal sweet spot.

This involves finding your optimal dose; the window between the smallest dose which produces a meaningful effect, and the point where your response starts to plateau. This you could call the upper limit of the therapeutic window.

Finding your window helps avoid wasting your precious CBD and prevents overshooting a therapeutic sweet spot. 

CBD has no official Tolerable Upper Limit (maximum safe dose), but is generally well tolerated. Thats why its a good idea to have some idea from the literature just to be safe.

You may have heard the saying start low and go slow. This refers to the method you can use to find your optimal dose. Start with a low dose, say 2-5mg. If this doesn’t provide any meaningful relief for you, increase your dose until you find it does. You’ve now found your minimum viable dose.

You may choose to explore higher doses for greater relief beyond your minimum viable dose. This way you can explore if more is necessarily better for you, or just ends up wasting your oil. This is a valuable experiment you can conduct on yourself to truly understand how your oil is working for you.

A Few Dosing Examples

  • 5mg in the morning and 10mg in the evening. 
  • 5mg in the morning, 5mg before training, 20mg before bed. 
  • 5mg before training, 10mg after training, 20mg before bed. 
  • 10mg in the morning, 5mg before training, 5mg during training, 20mg after training/before bed.  

Some people may require higher doses based on their individual needs. There is no established tolerable upper limit for CBD as yet, but Cannabis Pharma have recommended their food supplement for adults at a daily intake of up to 130 mg or 1.86 mg/kg CBD (Tesisenred.net, 2019)

Legalities In Sport

Using CBD Safely

According to WADA the use of cannabis is prohibited in sport. The good news is that this is only during the in-competition period (Ware et al., 2018)

But before you decide to light up a smoke, its worth noting that the psychoactive part of cannabis (THC) can accumulate in the body after repeated use, and may be picked up by certain tests. 

However, In 2011 the level of THC in the blood (Carboxy-THC) was raised from 15 ng/mL to 150 ng/mL (World Anti-Doping Agency, 2019), to give a little extra breathing room in light of the fact that some athletes may choose to use cannabis in the off season (Ware et al., 2018)

Just to give you an idea of what that might look like, a study gave healthy participants 10, 25 and 50 mg of edible THC which equated to up to 8-30 ng/ml of Carboxy-THC in the blood (Vandrey et al., 2017). The average joint contains 7-8mg THC (Casajuana Kögel et al., 2017)

In 2018, CBD was excluded from the list because it doesn’t have psychoactive properties. That’s a big win for athletes who want to optimise their recovery, support their physical and mental well being and perform at their best.

You don’t have to smoke weed to get the benefits of CBD. ‘High’ level performance doesn’t have to carry a risk of getting banned from your sport. 

What’s important to also remember though, is that a lot of CBD products are what’s known as full spectrum products – they still contain a minute concentration of THC. Whilst small concentrations of THC (<0.2% per product) are legally permitted, repeated use of these products may pose a risk to athletes who want to stay clean, but still use CBD. 

Gaia Guru’s full spectrum CBD products on the other hand contain very low concentrations of THC (<0.05%). So you still get the CBD and other great stuff from cannabis, just without the THC.  

Sadly, drug testing for cannabinoids isn’t too sophisticated yet. Even full spectrum CBD oils containing below the UK and EU legal limit of 0.2% THC can yield a positive result on a drug test if used multiple times a day for a long period of time, since THC can accumulate in bodily tissues. 

As an athlete its worth consulting with your respective bodies, and being open about your intention to use CBD. If you require a zero THC product, please get in touch with us and we can accommodate any specific requests. 

Gaia Guru CBD

Where our CBD comes from

We’ve been on the hunt for the best CBD extract we can find. We source our CBD from EU certified strains of Cannabis Sativa L, so we know how the plants are grown, their quality and traceability.

We carefully select strains of Cannabis Sativa L that are not only high in CBD, but also other beneficial cannabinoids as well. Other cannabinoids provide an enhanced effect over and above just CBD.

We also look for strains that have a particularly high concentration and diversity of terpenes. These are the chemicals that give cannabis plants their unique fragrances, and provide therapeutic value of their own in addition to cannabinoids.

About our Extract

We ensure our extract is compliant with EU and UK legislation, containing no more than 0.2% THC, whilst also maintaining high levels of CBD and other beneficial cannabinoids.

We get our CBD by using a technique called supercritical Co2 Extraction. This is the gold standard method for extracting CBD from cannabis plants, because it is one of the cleanest procedures available.

Using Co2 enables the extraction of many beneficial plant compounds from cannabis whilst minimising any residual impurities.

Using Co2 produces whats known as a full spectrum extract.

What kind of CBD we use

We use a full spectrum extract, which is as good as it gets when it comes to CBD. Full spectrum extracts contain other cannabinoids (low/no THC), terpenes, flavinoids and phytochemicals. When these chemicals remain together they provide an enhanced experience beyond just CBD, known as the entourage effect.

Some of the other cannabinoids include Cannabigerol (CBG) and Cannabichromene (CBC), which are also beneficial like CBD is. Both CBG and CBC are also anti-inflammatory and analgesics.

However, some products contain just CBD, nothing else. This is known as CBD isolate.

Here’s and analogy to compare Full Spectrum CBD to CBD isolate. If you think of CBD as the sugar contained within an orange; when you use full spectrum, you get the whole orange, sugar included. However, CBD isolate is basically just extracting the sugar from the orange, meaning you don’t get all the other great stuff in the orange.

Lab Tests

We send our products to be tested by third party laboratories. This helps ensure the quality is up to the high standards we aim to hold for our products.

Our products are tested for CBD content, so we can guarantee they have the concentration of CBD we say they do. This test also demonstrates that THC is bellow the UK and EU limits, and ensures compliance with the law.

We also test our products for terpenes, which are shown to be in both high concentrations and rich in diversity in our products. These compliment the effects of CBD for a truly superior experience.

Our products are intended to be beneficial for the health of who ever uses them, which is why we go to extra lengths to ensure their purity and safety. We test our products for heavy metals, and are proud to say that they are devoid of these contaminants.

Quality Control

Our products are manufactured in a fully licensed facility, are safety assessed and a Cosmetic Product Safety Report (CPSR) is created before they are put on sale, meeting all current EU standards set out in EU Regulations EC No 1223/2009 (Previously EU Cosmetics Directive).

The 2013 Regulations require that all products are micro-biologically (Preservative Efficacy Test) and Stability tested before the Cosmetic Product Safety Report can be made.

All products are registered on the cosmetic products notification portal (CPNP) in order to meet the obligations of Regulation (EC) No 1223/2009.

We are strongly against animal testing, none of our products or ingredients have been tested on animals.

All our products are made in the UK and are produced to GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice).

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