Should you buy into the buzz and stock up on CBD gummies? Here’s what the research says. by MATTHEW G. KADEY, M.S., R.D. March 18, 2020
Unless you’ve been running under a rock, you’ve probably noticed that we are in the midst of a CBD boom. And the proof is in the CBD-infused jerky (yes, that is a thing now). From helping to soothe battle-worn muscles to improving sleep to turning down the dial on anxiety, the list of benefits awarded to CBD anecdotally seems to grow by the day. And because of the loosening up of federal and state laws along with no shortage of athletes who are always looking for a competitive edge, the market for CBD-infus
ed edibles has exploded. You can now slather CBD honey on your morning toast and fortify your post-run smoothie with CBD protein powder, all without the drawbacks or abuse potential marijuana. So should you buy into the buzz and be stocking your pantry with more of the stuff? Let’s first do a quick refresher.
What is CBD?
Short for cannabidiol, CBD is believed to deliver its expansive powers on the body by binding to receptors in the endocannabinoid system, which is a system found in every organ of the body that in theory impacts numerous physiological processes. And, importantly, it does this without the psychoactive “high” and munchie-inducing effects of the most well-known cannabinoid, THC, found in marijuana.
How We Coped with Race Cancellations Both marijuana and hemp cannabis plants have CBD and THC, but hemp cannabis plants contain a very low concentration of THC—0.3 percent or less—which means there is little chance the plant can get you as high as Cheech and Chong. Nearly all CBD found in commercially available food and drink is gleaned from industrial hemp, which is now legally grown on American soil courtesy of the 2018 Farm Bill that removed it as a controlled substance. It’s this same plant that produces hemp foods like hemp seeds and hemp protein powder.
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There are a variety of ways to consume CBD but the most common product types are oral tinctures, topical solutions, and edibles. Oral tinctures are taken—you guessed it—orally, while topicals are used on the skin, and edibles are ingested like food. Typically, the word ‘edibles’ has been associated with marijuana. It often conjures up images of pot brownies or space cakes, for instance. But CBD edibles are quite different and include everything from gummy candies to protein powders. So Do CBD Edibles Actually Work?
Can eating a CBD gummy really help knock you out at night? Can sucking on CBD mints really help relieve nagging knee pain and encourage faster recovery? These are all questions we need answers to, and not just what is touted on social media. While the hype surrounding CBD is real, the research is much less so. When it comes to CBD, it’s a matter of the anecdotal evidence greatly outpacing the science, which is murky at best.
To date, there is a dearth of peer-reviewed clinical studies conducted on humans which validate a role for CBD in improving athletic performance or health measures. The infancy of science is largely owing to the fact that hemp had, until very recently, been federally classified as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning its production and distribution was prohibited so research was largely put on the back burner. That means there is still much that is unknown about the true and long-term effects of CBD edibles on the body. Still, a survey found that that 40 percent of U.S. consumers age 21 and older are willing to give CBD a try. And current devotees including pro athletes like triathlete Andrew Talansky and an ever-expanding roster of weekend warriors aren’t waiting for science to play catch-up. Research results or not, they swear CBD can perform many small miracles. And because so, are all too happy to gobble up CBD chews and sip CBD-laced lattes.
But for every runner who broadcasts their love of cannabidiol, there is another one in the background who is meh on the whole CBD hoopla because they have experienced no noticeable benefits when using it. There is the cautionary tale of history being full of dietary cure-alls that turned out to be more hype than hero. Remember the blood-type diet?
In addition to considering if it actually works, there is also the matter of dosage. We still don’t really know how much CBD is needed to be effective, and it’s likely that useful amounts vary from both person to person and from ailment to ailment. Like our genes, receptors in the brain and other areas that CBD binds to could be unique to an individual leading to variable results.
Can CBD Improve Your Performance and Recovery?
But a general guideline is to start on the low end, say 25mg or less of CBD a day, and work your way up from there if it is well tolerated. Most food and drink products on the market contain 5 to 25mg of CBD. During periods of ramped up training, many athletes will boost their daily exposure to help with endurance and recovery. (To date, no harmful side-effects have been reported from taking large doses of CBD, but that doesn’t mean you should follow up a hard run by stuffing in a handful of CBD candy.) Some patience is needed since CBD is likely not a one-hit-wonder and consistent exposure might be necessary to have a noticeable impact on the condition you are using it for.
One small study found that consuming CBD in the presence of dietary fat could help maximize its absorption. So consider taking CBD with a meal that contains some healthy fat such as avocado or olive oil, especially if the CBD edible you are using is free of fat. Additionally, some advocates will say that we should look for “full-spectrum” CBD products since these contain a range of hemp plant chemicals in addition to CBD resulting in a synergistic health benefit. (Again, no useful research on this matter.) These items may contain trace amounts of THC. CBD “isolate” has had all other compounds of the plant removed, so it’s nearly 100 percent CBD and there is no THC. This can be reassuring if you’re an athlete subjected to doping tests or if your workplace requires drug testing. “Broad-spectrum” CBD is the same as full-spectrum CBD but without any THC. RELATED STORY 9 Weight-Training Exercises for Speed and Strength
With no universal federal regulation on CBD’s production, labeling, and distribution, it’s hard to be sure you are getting what you wanted to pay for, as indicated by a study in the journal JAMA which found that a significant amount of CBD products sold online contained different concentrations of CBD than what their labels indicated—and some were even tainted with unadvertised THC. In the absence of FDA oversight, look for brands with third-party verification, which ensures that their products are tested for cannabinoid concentration and the presence of THC or other contaminants.
And then there is the matter of whether the food or drink you are getting your CBD fix from is in itself good-for-you. You need to ask yourself if it really is beneficial if you guzzle back a CBD drink that is also full of sugar? When selecting CBD edibles, it’s still important to judge the product on all of its ingredients.
In terms of athletics, hemp-derived CBD was removed from the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of prohibited substances in 2018, which has led to a huge influx of CBD-laced products targeting bodies in motion, and athletes of all stripes seem to have a huge appetite for them. (In 2017, U.S. hemp-derived CBD food and beverage sales totaled about $190 million, and is predicted to keep rocketing upwards as we have yet to hit peak CBD.)
Many runners appreciate that CBD is considered a natural substance, making it a non-pharmaceutical way to potentially quell achy joints and improve sleep patterns. As hemp cultivation increases and product competition ramps up including options from mega-corporations, look for the price point of CBD products to drop in the coming years. [Download the All Out Studio App for more amazing Runner’s World workouts.]
If you want to try adding a little CBD into your life, these products among the crowded field are worth reaching for. Most of these brands also publish third-party test results on their website to prove purity and that you’re getting the CBD advertised. The Bottom Line: There is a reason to be hopeful that CBD edibles will be proven to help aid in a healthy body and mind. But as will all food trends, it’s a good idea to be wary of the over-sell. Smart training practices, sound nutrition, and adequate sleep are still going to make you feel better and get you to the finish line faster than any CBD gummy can. But if you find something that does work for you, then stick to what works.