Before daybreak on Saturday mornings, as most of Boulder sleeps, Flavie Dokken laces up her running shoes and prepares for her routine five-hour morning run. It’s just part of her training regimen as an endurance athlete. But before she starts a big training day like this, she pops a 5-mg CBD/THC fast-acting sativa gummy — and then she’s off.
“I use [CBD] just as a tool to really get the best out of my training,” Dokken says. It helps her stay cool, calm and collected on her runs; it helps reduce inflammation in her joints and speeds up her recovery, she explains. “For any long training activity and then also post-race, I will always incorporate some type of CBD.”
Dokken is a former bodybuilder, U.S. Army veteran, an ultra-marathon maestro and a WANA Brand Athlete. She’s been using cannabis in conjunction with her workouts for some time, but it wasn’t until after cannabis had been legalized in Colorado that she discovered the utility of CBD. And it’s changing her workouts. Not only by improving her function during a race, but by dramatically improving her ability to recover afterwards, she says.
“It’s a great tool, among other ones, to recover and train better. It’s just a really healthy component.”
Until recently, athletes like Dokken have had to rely solely on anecdotal claims to justify their CBD use. CBD’s ambiguous legal status with the federal government has made it hard for scientists to conduct large-scale scientific research on it. Now that is finally starting to change.
Dokken references one 2019 study from the University of Colorado Boulder published in Frontiers of Public Health, in which researchers from CU’s department of psychology and neuroscience, and the CU Institute of Cognitive Science, surveyed 605 cannabis users in California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington about the relationship between their cannabis use and their exercise.
Not only did that study find that many cannabis users in legal states were already using cannabis in conjunction with working out, but the researchers concluded that “most who do so believe it increases enjoyment of, recovery from, and to some extent the motivation to engage in exercise.”
Another research paper, published in 2020 in Sports Med – Open by the University of Sydney (USYD), suggests something similar. The literature review found preliminary evidence that CBD has “anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, analgesic, and anxiolytic,” properties that it could protect against GI damage and “promote the healing of traumatic skeletal injuries.”
This kind of preliminary research from accredited institutions like CU and USYD is starting to trickle in as the legal status of cannabis slowly starts to shift. And it’s all generally supporting what athletes like Dokken have been saying all along: CBD has a lot of potential as an athletic supplement — especially when compared to its alternatives.
“When I was an athletic trainer for the Colorado Avalanche, I routinely handed out every narcotic and opiate you can think of,” says Pat Kearns, a certified athletic trainer and EMT with more than three decades of experience. “There are a lot of problems associated with taking all those medications and all the side effects.”
That didn’t sit well with Kearns. Which is why he says he took an interest in CBD very early on as an athletic trainer. He traveled to the University of Jerusalem to study cannabinoids and became so confident in the beneficial effects of CBD he’s been recommending it to his athletic clients ever since.
“They welcome it,” Kearns says. “There’s a lot of athletes that are taking it. Current professional athletes. Playing athletes.”
Kearns is also currently involved in his own ongoing research on CBD’s benefits for athletes. Using quantitative electroencephalogram and neuro-psychological exams, he’s testing the effects of CBD on the brains of retired professional athletes. His pilot study involved 24 subjects from different sports between the ages of 38 and 72, testing their brain function over a period of 24 weeks.
And he says, so far, the results of that study have been really promising.
“We saw the [athlete’s] brain calm down. We saw an increase of brain function as well as output, which we measured in volts,” Kearns says. “I’m a researcher and I want solid numbers — black and white. So, when you show me a brainwave and an output that’s been increased by four to five volts over the course of six to eight weeks, that’s pretty significant.”
Despite all this promising preliminary research, however, robust evidence is still lacking and skepticism among medical and scientific communities remains. That’s why these studies from USYD and CU both conclude — and Kearns and Dokken agree — further scientific research in this area is crucial.
Both Dokken and Kearns recommend people try incorporating CBD into their workouts.
“I always recommend that you find what works best for you,” Dokken says. “And this works for me.”
“It’s plant-based,” Kearns adds. “It’s something that’s available and it’s something that could help people’s performance on and off the field.”