As sports go, powerlifting is about as unforgiving as any of them. Talk to anyone who has been doing this for a couple decades and you are likely to hear a laundry list of injuries that would make any sane person reconsider this endeavor. No surprise that lifting weights the human body was never intended to handle can lead to some serious wear and tear over time. Chronic pain is par for the course.
Those of us who do this sport for any appreciable run and continue to pursue it do so because we need it. That’s the only reasonable explanation—a lesser evil.
The crazier we are, the more we seem to need it. The more we need it, the further we tend to push it. I’ve said this before: powerlifting is a sport where the objective is to eventually get strong enough to get under weights that can kill you.
Let that marinate.
Chronic pain is one thing. But during the decades I’ve been doing this, I’ve definitely seen and suffered my share of acute injuries. I’ve torn just about every muscle possible, including tearing a medial deltoid off completely, multiple pec tears, a bicep tear, multiple hamstring tears, and a QL tear. I tore one gastroc off and suffered labrum tears in my right hip and shoulder. That’s just the soft tissue stuff, and I’m sure I’m missing some things from that list.
In 2014, I broke my spine and had pieces of two vertebrae removed, a discectomy, and a root nerve relocation. I was smart about my recovery at and I employed every resource and modality available to me. I continue to do so, which has allowed me to return to my former strength and still train my ass off, although I have permanent nerve damage and can’t feel half of my right foot—don’t ask.
I’m grateful that the skill set I developed can still help other people. Being a coach has allowed me to do this much for myself, but I’d be lying if I pretended I didn’t still suffer nerve pain after intense training sessions, especially now that I am back in preparation to compete in full power rather than only bench press.
As a rule, I do my best to stay away from NSAIDs. Though they can be very effective in treating the type of pain I deal with, they are also known to cause a whole host of health issues for which I am already at risk. It’s been a while, but in the past when I’ve tried to return to full power, I’ve had to give in to using them at high doses for extended periods of time.
Even then, the fear of health consequences as a result of using those drugs the way I’d need to has caused me to abandon the pursuit of my own goals in competition time and again after I had spinal surgery almost five years ago. However, for the last year or so, between fixing some imbalances and figuring out some other ways to proactively deal with my recurring issues, my training has been going extremely well. I started training part of the time in single-ply briefs, which has allowed me to go much further without the hip inflammation I always get from heavier squats and pulls.
The hip stuff is probably a result of the pelvic fracture I sustained in a motorcycle accident about nine years ago. This inflammation usually results in S/I joint dysfunction (conveniently, that’s right below the spine surgery), and this leads to crippling nerve pain for me that can last weeks.
With all the preventative maintenance and wearing the briefs in training, I’ve been able to mitigate this pain to a good degree. But like I mentioned before, when things get rough toward the end of a mesocycle, I’m hurting almost all of the time.
With that said, I’ve committed to doing a few full-power meets before I retire in 2020. Ideally, I’d like to post a decent total at 308, 275, and 242 on my way out. So, this left me searching for some alternative means to deal with the pain related to the previously mentioned inflammation.
Enter Cannabidiol (CBD)
If you’ve been on the Internet at all in the past couple of years, you’ve probably seen a veritable storm of companies advertising, selling, and trying to use influencers and other means to market various Cannabidiol (CBD) products as a safe alternative to painkillers, touting myriad other potential health benefits and magical outcomes as a result their use. If you’re anything like me, you kept scrolling and wrote that shit off as wishful thinking based on some unsubstantiated hippie bullshit. I did—at least at first.
I think my initial reaction had more to do with the way the concept was being marketed than my own preconceived beliefs. I pride myself on being open to the possibility that my own conclusions, at any point, could very well be faulty—on any topic, even my own expertise. However, you’re going to need to present a solid amount of evidence to the contrary of said conclusion to really get my attention. You see, it took a certain amount of supporting evidence for me to arrive at that conclusion. I’ve never been someone who just believes anything.
In the case at hand, overzealous, ostensibly unsupported claims were all the evidence I had, one way or the other. Sound like anything you’ve seen on the Internet? Maybe it’s a cleanse or some other marketing scheme where the seller is more motivated by the idea of getting other people to sell the idea of getting other people to sell the idea than the product they are supposed to be selling.
Don’t worry, though. It’s actually a great product and you can get all set up with auto-ship and start building your own entrepreneurship in no time.
The chief difference with CBD compared to other products was that, while it was seemingly being marketed virally, I was continuing to hear good things from people I respected who had tried it. This sparked my curiosity and made me want to dig, especially given the issues I was having at the time.
When I began my research on this topic, I was surprised to find a wealth of studies and literature reviews supporting some of the claims. For example, one review substantiated and expanded the often described “favorable” side-effect profile of CBD. The review noted that there are some small knowledge gaps that should be closed with additional clinical trials, but that the safety profile was already well established in a number of ways. Cannabidiol seemed hopeful in being effective for a tremendous number of applications, including the treatment of both chronic and acute inflammation, some types of cancer, some psychiatric disorders, autoimmune diseases, and a list of other things (not directly relevant to this story). It was apparently nontoxic and non-psychoactive.
Alright, this got my attention.
At that point, I was ready to try the stuff. As fate would have it, I knew a chemist named Logan who worked at a cannabis processing facility in Colorado. She offered to get me some oral CBD tincture to try for my nerve pain, as well as some “muscle cream,” which would be applied topically. With my interest recently peaked, I told her to send both over and asked if I’d be able to hit her back later with some questions about how they worked. She was more than happy to help me.
In time, I was able to tour the facility where she worked, Extract Labs, and learned all about how the stuff is made, how it is purified and separated from THC (an important point for those who have to pass drug screens), as well as what to look out for when purchasing CBD products.
I feel like I need to mention that I have zero vested interest in this company, I’m not being compensated in any way by them and they had no influence on me deciding to use CBD or write about it. So, there is no conflict whatsoever. They’ve simply been a tremendous resource for information and Logan has helped me understand more than a few points I was confused about.
I’ll go more in-depth on these points and what I learned from my tour of the facility in the next installment in this series.
I am also going to discuss my experience, to this point, in using CBD to help me try to get my grizzled, old, Frankenstein body back in shape for full power (spoiler alert: it’s working), as well as the “why,” “when,” and “how” for Cannabidiol, as I understand it.