You’ve probably seen fighters like Nate Diaz happily smoking a blunt during interviews and weigh-ins.
It’s not all about marijuana, though, as the CBD ingredient found in cannabis and hemp can benefit MMA fighters’ recovery.
Table of Contents
- CBD is the non-psychoactive ingredient of hemp, which has exciting recovery benefits.
- THC is the psychoactive ingredient found in marijuana, which isn’t used in CBD products (and is still illegal in many places).
- CBD can be beneficial for stress, sleep, inflammation, pain, and disorders like anxiety, PTSD, and more.
- There is some promising research supporting CBD for these benefits, including for athletes, but we still need more long-term studies to understand all adverse effects.
- CBD products come in various forms for different uses, like oils, pills, gummies, topicals, and vapes.
What exactly is CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a chemical compound and the second most active ingredient found in cannabis, also known as the marijuana plant.
But it’s most commonly taken directly from the hemp plant, which is a cousin to the marijuana plant.
The psychoactive ingredient of marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), isn’t found in these products, which means they won’t make you “high” and also allows for relaxed legalities around the ingredient.
CBD is taken out of hemp and used in manufacturing products like oils, capsules, gummies, and even vapes.
While CBD oil is the most common form, and where it initially broke into the market, brands are finding many new ways to use the ingredient, like in canned drinks, snacks, and even beauty products.
It continues to be studied by researchers for its wide range of potential benefits.
The popularity of CBD products has grown so large that big companies want to get in on the profits, which means more funding for research on many health conditions.
It is effective in treating some forms of childhood epilepsy, like Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, which led to approval by the FDA for the CBD-containing medication named Epidiolex.
And there is some evidence to support that CBD could help people with a range of issues like anxiety, insomnia, chronic pain, and even addictions.
Dosing CBD the right way can help recover addictions from alcohol, cannabis/marijuana, and other opiates.
And topical skin application of CBD can treat the inflammation of arthritis.
Risks and side effects
CBD does carry some side effects like dry mouth, drowsiness, fatigue, dry mouth, and even diarrhea.
Plus, it can interact with other medications like blood thinners and show unusual readings in liver blood testing.
For all of these reasons, it’s a smart idea to have your doctor support you by introducing CBD to your body.
If you’re training for a professional MMA bout, your whole team should know your diet and what supplements you’re taking, including CBD.
Many combat sport athletes are on a careful regime of supplements, medications, and a restrictive diet during a weight cut so it’s essential to have the whole health picture understood and monitored during camp.
CBD is marketed as a dietary supplement, and it isn’t actually regulated by the FDA for safety and purity.
So you should choose the most high-quality brand you trust, with a third-party testing process, that doesn’t contain any toxic or rancid ingredients.
Is CBD legal for mixed martial arts?
In 2018, the Farm Bill made hemp and hemp-derived products legal in the United States. CBD is derived from hemp, so it’s broadly legal for recreational use.
In 2018, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) changed its list of prohibited substances to remove CBD.
This meant that the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) doesn’t care if CBD is found in an athlete’s urine tests.
If your CBD comes from marijuana, it will fall under different legality.
WADA still doesn’t allow marijuana or its derivatives for athletes, so it’s vital that MMA fighters are only using a CBD product that contains only traces of THC.
A fighter’s urine can only contain up to a limit of 150ng/mL during competition, where the test is looking for metabolites of THC.
In a nutshell, CBD is legal for MMA fighters. But THC is not.
The UFC even partnered with a CBD brand in 2021 to become the Official Global CBD Partner of UFC.
Of course, do your own research and keep up to date with your individual country, state/county, and combat league rules to avoid any undesired suspensions.
Benefits of CBD for MMA fighters
Let’s get into the primary benefits of CBD products, particularly for combat sports athletes.
There are quite a few, but be mindful of taking each with a pinch of salt as the research is still developing over this whole topic area.
Sleep is a crucial part of training and recovery for MMA fighters and any athlete, as it’s the integral human function where the body and mind heal and restore.
And CBD might just be an additional tool to add that helps keep sleep consistent.
According to research, CBD has shown success in helping athletes fall asleep faster and maintain sleep without interruptions (less waking up).
So they wake up feeling more rested and refreshed for another high-performance training day.
I could personally talk about sleep for days on end. I know how important it has been for my own recovery. So anything I can do to optimize sleep, I’ll try it.
How CBD helps sleep
Your body has a natural endocannabinoid system (ECS), the complex cell-signaling system involved in regulating your sleep, mood, hormones, and more.
Taking CBD stimulates this ECS, giving it the potential to modulate the sleep-wake cycle and sleep disorders.
This interaction is a negative allosteric modulator of the CB1 and CB2 receptors, meaning it doesn’t activate them directly but changes how other cannabinoids interact with them.
How exactly how this physiological system works isn’t fully understood yet, and the research is developing.
But the results are leading to the continuation of that research because of how beneficial CBD has been on athletes’ sleep experiences.
Why sleep is so important for fighters
Sleep is incredibly important for fighters because it’s when the body does most of its healing processes.
In your sleep, the body produces growth hormones that repair tissues, build new tissues, and clear out toxins and waste (partially contributed by the fasted period).
Getting that healing sleep is paramount for fighters pushing their bodies to their limits nearly every day.
Without a decent amount of sleep, the reaction times of martial arts fighters can be slowed — that’s a big problem for fighting where you need to slip and weave strikes.
A lack of sleep also messes with your general mood and even weakens your immune system, presenting a greater likelihood of issues like staph infections for grapplers.
Sleep hygiene is a great starting point for MMA fighters, so sticking to a consistent sleep schedule (bedtime and wake-up time) is key.
And you’ll also want to make bedtime preparations a part of that schedule, so start slowing down and winding down activity, lights, and eating to prepare your body for counting sheep.
Soreness, pain, and discomforts are part and parcel of an MMA fighter’s life.
Getting kicked in the gut, and popped in the face, adds up to a group of aches and pains that can discourage fighters from maintaining training schedules or getting that important sleep.
And CBD has been found to have some benefits for managing pain.
According to a study published by Front Pharmaco, CBD has been shown to provide some therapeutic benefits in reducing pain conditions like Intractable pain and even forms of epilepsy.
But while some experience these benefits of pain reduction, it doesn’t work for all, and the use should be specific to the needs of the person.
Also, a research article in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that CBD could help with chronic pain.
So mixed martial artists could experience considerable benefits in reducing their discomfort, allowing them to get back into training.
But there is still much more research needed to validate CBD as a permanent pain management solution, as we’re still lacking long-term studies to support it.
Harvard even pointed out that although CBD is being regularly marketed for chronic pain relief, and some do get those benefits, the science is yet to catch up and support this theory fully.
Since the global health impacts that began in the last several years, inflammation has been front and center as a potential cause of much of it.
And for MMA fighters, inflammation goes hand in hand with injuries sustained from physical contact.
Inflammation can appear with the natural swelling as the body attempts to heal an injured area, but at times that inflammation can get out of control.
Chronic inflammation inside the body contributes to a ton of health issues like chronic fatigue and negative mental health — I’d know because I have experienced it!
CBD has been shown to help with not only pain but also inflammation.
It is believed that CBD interacts with the receptors in the brain and immune system, encouraging them to reduce inflammation.
A pilot study on CBD and eccentric exercise found that CBD might effectively reduce inflammation post-exercise.
The study evaluated the impact of two doses of CBD oil on inflammation after an eccentric loading protocol.
They compared the inflammation between 48-72 hours after exercise of a placebo (no CBD) group, a low-dose group, and a high-dose group.
For the placebo group, inflammation was notably increased, whereas it wasn’t for both the low and high-dose CBD groups.
The research shows promise in using CBD for pain, inflammation, and overall recovery. But we still need plenty more long-term studies to understand all complications.
But it might just be a secret ingredient to help mixed martial artists stay healthy for training, allowing them to stay injury-free during fight camps and earn more money from competition.
Calming the mind
Stress can be a significant factor in the life of a mixed martial artist. Not only is their body being put under considerable stress, but also their mind.
Intense training and competing, pushing the body and mind to the limit while also juggling life’s responsibilities, can take a big toll.
This is where CBD can come in to aid in lowering mental stress.
This study, published in the Journal of Neurotherapeutics, showed that CBD has benefits as a treatment for anxiety disorders.
It could help with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic, social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD), and even cognitive illnesses like Alzheimer’s — as suggested in this systematic review.
The anxiety that some people feel can push into experiences of insomnia, which CBD is helping on both counts to help sufferers get to sleep and stay asleep.
So if you’re a fighter and think stress is impacting you, you might want to consider combining CBD with other beneficial mental practices like meditation, breathwork, ice baths, etc.
And remember, every fighter is different. Something might work for you that doesn’t do any good for someone else, and vice versa.
So, keep an open mind, do your research, start slowly, and see what benefits you find.
MMA fighters who use CBD
The use of CBD has grown across sports, particularly in MMA.
Let’s look at the CBD users that we know of who have had mixed martial arts careers.
Nate is known for his strong Jiu-Jitsu ground game and long limbs that benefit his boxing skills.
He’s also known for his streets vibe outside the octagon and carefree attitude to smoking marijuana.
In a 2016 post-fight interview, Nate was seen puffing on a vaporizer pen, originally thought to be marijuana.
Of course, this sparked plenty of gossip in the MMA news networks. But it turned out to be a CBD vape.
It didn’t seem like the UFC was too bothered about it, as they released a statement that they wouldn’t take any action against Nate, and it’s up to the public laws of the state he was in to deal with it.
Bas Rutten is an OG of mixed martial arts and has long been claimed as one of the greatest MMA strikers of all time.
After suffering regular injuries over his fighting career, Rutten developed an addiction to opioids.
He turned to CBD oil as a substitute for pain relief and was able to use it to kick his addiction.
Sean “Suga” O’Malley is one of the more charismatic fighters in recent years, building up a huge fanbase in a short time.
And he’s never been shy about his uses of cannabis, which contains both CBD and THC.
He’s even joined up with other famous names like Snoop Dogg, smoking publicly and releasing his own product named the Suga Show OG.
“El Pantera” is an incredibly versatile fighter who displays an imaginative use of different striking styles.
He’s often showing fans his unique uses of elbow strikes and spinning attacks when inside the octagon.
Yair has been vocal in advocating for the use of CBD products in the past, and even as a sponsor for some brands though he now appears to have gone silent on the subject.
Joe “Stitch ‘Em Up” Schilling is an MMA fighter over in the Bellator promotion.
He has always specialized in striking with the hands and feet, having had a long career in Muay Thai and kickboxing fighting rings.
He’s appeared several times on the Joe Rogan podcast, once where he described how CBD oil had helped his father deal with cancer before his passing.
Ronda Rousey has been pretty vocal about her position on cannabis.
Once the Judo-yielding UFC champion, and more recently a WWE superstar.
When Nick Diaz was suspended from competition for using marijuana, Ronda often showed support during interviews.
Nate’s older brother, Nick, was one of the early public users of cannabis in the UFC.
He would even boast about how he passed drug tests despite smoking regularly.
In 2015, Nick was given an insanely long five-year suspension by the Nevada Athletic Commission. Thankfully, it was later reduced to an 18-month suspension.
Both brothers continue to smoke marijuana and, thankfully, states all over America are allowing recreational use and even during sports.
Elias was a UFC fighter who sadly passed away just a couple of years ago, but while he was alive, he was a strong advocate for the use of marijuana in sports.
In fact, he was the first athlete to receive an allowance to use medicinal marijuana alongside combat sports competition.
Types of CBD products
So, you now know what CBD is and its benefits, but fighters can use many forms of CBD products.
Below I’ll describe what they are, their use cases, and what’s particularly good about them.
Remember, the form of CBD you choose can significantly impact how it affects your body, so it’s essential to understand the differences.
CBD oil is the most commonly known form of CBD and what came to global popularity in the initial phase.
You take CBD oils by placing a few drops under your tongue, which lets them absorb into your bloodstream.
It’s a mostly easy way of getting a CBD dose due to its quick absorption and simplicity of application even if it is a bit fiddly.
Oils are usually in a concentration that supports stress, sleep, and a general sense of well-being.
CBD gummies and edibles
CBD gummies and other kinds of edible versions are particularly more convenient than oils.
You eat them like regular candy, which allows the CBD to go through your digestive system before it reaches your bloodstream.
This can mean they are a bit slower to activate than CBD oil, but they are convenient to store and carry with you — like taking to training or when traveling.
The main issue with them is if you have particularly nosy children or pets that might rummage through your bags and not know any better.
A sweet-looking gummy can be very attractive to a young mind who would more than happily gobble up a whole tub, thinking it was something else.
Topicals that contain CBD come in the form of sprays, lotions, ointments, creams, and balms — intended for areas of pain in the body.
You apply it directly to the skin in an area you want to get some pain relief.
It’s very handy to get effective pain and inflammation relief on a sore joint or muscle area, so this version is commonly used by fighters from many disciplines.
Sometimes they’re combined in other solutions that provide “deep heat” or “freeze,” depending on the ailment.
CBD capsules and pills
CBD capsules and pills are also available, which tend to suit people looking to add the benefits of CBD alongside their pre-existing supplement regime without extra hassle.
Again, you have to wait for your digestive system to process it before it starts acting on your body.
This is generally a good inclusion for fighters who need persistent relief from chronic pain or inflammation and keep them training or improving their recovery.
CBD vaping liquid
For those that want to get the marijuana-like smoking experience, especially those slowly trying to come off actual cannabis and THC, a CBD vaping liquid and vaporizer could help.
Vaping CBD liquids gets quickly into the bloodstream via the lungs, but there are risks.
Any smoking is a health risk, so it’s probably best to avoid this, in my opinion.
Science is slowly catching up with the harmful effects of vaping, which presents a different line of problems than cigarettes or cannabis joints – but there are still dangers.
If you’re a fighter trying to reduce your smoking, then check with your doctor to get support about making appropriate changes where CBD might help.
Top CBD brands for fighters
I’ve plucked out a few of the best picks of CBD brands that do a good job of testing and sourcing quality products that are useful for the needs of athletes.
Make sure to do your own research, particularly around purity, toxicity, and any inclusions of rancid ingredients.
With that being said, here are picks of some very popular brands:
CBDPure is a family-owned brand growing organic hemp in Colorado, USA. They use a chemical-free CO2 extraction process.
Their products are third-party lab tested and ensure transparency to build trust with customers.
They produce high-quality CBD oils and even offer a 90-day money-back guarantee.
cbdMD is one CBD brand that supports combat sports athletes as they have sponsorships with Daniel Cormier and Jessica Rose-Clark.
“DC” has only good things to say about their CBD Freeze Roller that has helped him to cure aches and pains after a long career of fighting:
HWXCBD is another high-quality Colorado-based CBD company.
They focus on producing high-quality, full-spectrum CBD products. Locally grown hemp and a CO2 extraction for purity.
This brand also has a commitment to sustainability, using eco-friendly practices in their farming and manufacturing – which might make them the right choice for you.
Pure Sport CBD
Pure Sport CBD is a CBD brand founded by two professional athletes that understand the physical demands of sports.
They offer a range of broad-spectrum CBD products, all of which are third-party lab tested.
Pure Sport CBD is also one of the few brands in the world to be BSCG (Banned Substances Control Group) certified, making it a much easier choice for athletes in professional competitions.
PlusCBD are a brand committed to the research and development of CBD products.
They have every kind of CBD product I’ve mentioned in this article, like oils, gummies, capsules, and more.
PlusCBD gives transparency on their product testing process, with third-party testing to validate the quality of their products.
Leaf Remedys is an American CBD brand founded by one family who believes in healthy natural healing.
They make high-quality products from Hemp plants that they’re sourcing from eastern Colorado, then use a sub-zero extraction method to get a full, clean, spectrum extract.
Mission Farms CBD
Mission Farms CBD is a group of families committed to healthy living and creating all-natural products.
Their farm is located in Oregon, which benefits from long hours of sun, volcanic soil, and clean water from the Deschutes River to create fine hemp produce.
Mission Farms are crafting CBD products that target health conditions and are, of course, third-party tested for quality.
Final word on using CBD for MMA
The scientific literature is encouraging, to say the least, towards the benefits of CBD for stress, sleep, pain, inflammation, and potentially more.
Even so, we need to see more extensive research over more extended periods, particularly on athletes, to understand the full range of positives and negatives of CBD use.
A lot of understanding, and marketing material, about CBD is anecdotal and review-based.
There is a lot to be said about the validity of personal experiences, in my opinion, but we still need the research to match.
But that issue hasn’t put any pause in the uptake of CBD use, especially in the USA.
Hopefully, the money and demand involved in this new market will drive further research.
If you align with any of the issues mentioned in this article and want to try CBD for yourself, there’s only one way to find out if it works for you.
Consult with your doctor and fight team (if you have one) to get some expert advice about introducing it to your regime.