CBD oil now appears in everything, from muscle balms to pillow sprays to ice cream. It promises everything from helping us sleep better, to improving our recovery from long runs and easing our aches and pains. And the CBD oil marketing machine is clearly working: according to independent research, between 8 and 11% of the UK population have tried it in the last year.
But what is it, and does it really work for those muscle aches and pains? CBD is short for cannabidiol, one of many compounds found within the marijuana plant. Another one of these compounds is THC - tetrahydrocannabinol - and this is the compound that is psychoactive, changing the way your brain works to produce a high. CBD, however, has no psyschoactive effect and - the World Health Organisation agrees - is safe to take.
However, while it may be safe, there’s relatively little information yet about how it works. Graeme Close, Professor of Human Physiology at Liverpool John Moores University, who studies CBD, explains that ‘The scientific literature is a long way behind, because it’s been under prohibition for many years. There is some evidence that it can help with pain management, with anxiety, and with sleep, and obviously those are three really important things from a sports performance perspective,’ says Close. ‘There certainly is a mechanism for all three of them scientifically. It's just that at the moment I would say the research evidence needs to catch up, to explore these claims better.’
What’s the best way to take it?
As CBD oil is now in everything, you might wonder what's the best way to take it - oil, capsules, balm or spray? As you’d probably expect, the science shows ingesting it is more effective than rubbing it into your skin. ‘If we looked at a sort of hierarchy,’ says Professor Close, ‘well, I would absolutely by no means want to advocate vaping or smoking, but that appears to be the most effective way to get it into the system. Then it’s the drops under the tongue, then tablets. Even less is known about the balms and things.’
And how much is a good dose to take? It's hard to say, because research suggests that CBD may react differently in different people. ‘We know that the European Food Safety Authority have set the safe upper limit at 70 milligrammes a day,’ says Professor Close. ‘But we don't know that's an effective dose. Also, if a label on a bottle states that a CBD oil contains ‘1,000mg of CBD’ that refers to how much is contained in the entire bottle, So what percentage will be in a few drops?’
One reason the experts are cautious is also issues around quality control. One recent study tested 25 products and found only three of them had anywhere near the CBD content claimed on the label. Another US study looked at 84 samples and found only 26 contained the amount of CBD claimed. More worryingly, 18 of them contained more THC than they said. CBD products sold in the UK must contain no more than 0.2 per cent THC content, but even that would be more than enough to get you banned as an elite athlete. So anyone wanting to avoid THC must be careful to get CBD from a source that tests each and every batch properly. As Grayson Hart, who set up PureSport CBD, says, ‘All our products are tested by BSCG [The Banned Substances Control Group], which tests for all banned substances and contaminants, and certifies that the product is exactly the strength it claims to be. Unfortunately the CBD world is riddled with brands that don’t take that seriously, and are out to make a quick buck’.
In January 2019 the Novel Foods Act included CBD for the first time. This means that to stay on the market, CBD products had to apply for authorisation. This process is ongoing, and products are allowed to stay on the market until examined, but a large number could well be removed. ‘Hopefully then we will get rid of the cowboys, which will just leave the credible brands on the market,’ says Professor Close.
‘At the moment, you could end up spending a lot of money without really knowing what you are getting, and how to take it. But there are some really credible brands who are funding research and doing their best to answer these questions.’
The best CBD oils
Guaranteed THC-free, independently lab-tested and certified, and vegan-friendly. This 10% CBD oil is also made from certified organic hemp, and the carrier oil in the blend is also organic.
THC-free, lab-tested, and with omega 3 and vitamins D and E. Endoca comes in both strong and medium concentrations, as well as raw and heated formulations (heated, or decarboxylated CBD is usually stronger)
Triple third-party lab-tested and THC-free. PureSport products are all tested by the BSCG [The Banned Substances Control Group], which also certifies the strength
This CBD oil is infused with Ashwagandha, Citral and Maca Root which claim to boost your energy, increase concentration and reduce inflammation before your run.
CBD oil is certainly a strong taste, and some may prefer their oils blended with more pleasant flavours. This twin pack comes with Orange Blossom and Wild Mint.
If the taste of CBD is too much for you, there are also many capsules available from the top brands - as with the oil, they come in varying strengths and some have additional vitamins or supplements included. Always check the dose and recommended usage.
Acid-resistant to aid absorption in the stomach, take these high purity 20mg CBD capsules once a day.
High purity and THC-free, with exactly 10mg of CBD in each capsule. They are also made free of herbicides and pesticides and are vegan.
Provacan are partnered with the leading CBD researchers in Israel and the UK, and even publish the lab reports of their ingredients, so you can be sure of exactly what you are taking.
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