CBD is becoming increasingly popular among athletes and people leading an active lifestyle. Intensive training can put enormous stress on the body, and athletes endure regular muscle fatigue, pain and sometimes major injuries as well. In order to recover from these stresses, athletes develop their own well-being regime, finding various tools to aid in their recovery.
Recently a number of top level professional athletes around the world have become vocal about incorporating CBD into their regimes. In the US, UFC fighters (Nate Diaz, TJ Dillashaw), footballers (Cullen Jenkins, Marvin Washington), hockey players (Riley Cote) and triathletes (Andrew Talansky) have all loudly proclaimed the benefits of CBD. In the UK, Saracen rugby players Dom Day and George Kruis have launched their own CBD business Four Five CBD to help promote the use of CBD among sports people.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the use of CBD can provide pain relief, reduce inflammation, lower anxiety and improve sleep, all of which could be extremely beneficial to sports professionals and enthusiasts. However, robust research to back up such claims is thin on the ground and is mostly confined to research on animals rather than humans. Unlike THC, which has been much more extensively studied, clinical (human) research with CBD is in its infancy. The few studies that have been carried out with humans to investigate the potential for CBD use in the treatment of anxiety or sleep disorders have been promising (1,2), as are the animal studies looking at CBD and pain, but further research is desperately needed.
What we do know is that the endocannabinoid system plays a crucial role in regulating our perception of and response to pain. Current understanding from wider cannabis research is that THC achieves an analgesic effect through its action on CB receptors. Activating CB1 receptors can block neurotransmitter release, and thus the pain signal. Activating CB2 receptors limits the immune system’s response, and quells inflammatory pain(3). Although CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system indirectly and in ways distinct to THC, it also appears to exhibit analgesic effects in animal studies, although exactly how is far from clear(4,5).
Despite our incomplete understanding of how CBD works, it is clear that numerous professional athletes, who have previously relied on the regular use of anti-inflammatories and opioids to deal with the injuries they sustain, are using CBD to maintain their active lifestyles and pursue the sports they love. For these people CBD offers an alternative to prescription medicines with potential for abuse and no known adverse side effects. With opioid dependency and regular use of NSAIDS a growing concern among sports professionals in the US, it is not surprising that certain sports associations have teamed up with cannabis companies to embark upon research projects to investigate the potential of CBD and other cannabinoids in the treatment of sports related injuries and illnesses.
Canada-based cannabis company Aurora Cannabis Inc. recently announced their partnership with UFC to help advance research on the relationship between cannabidiol (CBD) products and athlete wellness and recovery. Clinical studies will focus on pain management, inflammation, injury/exercise recovery and mental well-being. Canopy Growth, another Canada-based cannabis company have gone into partnership with The National Hockey League to research the potential of CBD and other cannabinoids for post-concussion neurological diseases.
The World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) removed CBD from the prohibited substances list in 2018. While cannabis use during competitions remains prohibited and still carries considerable stigma within certain professional sports bodies, the use of CBD appears to be increasingly accepted. A notable exception includes the National Football League in the US who continue to prohibit the use of CBD among its members.
In the UK, CBD is legal to use for professional athletes. The UK anti-doping’s position warns CBD users that some CBD products may contain a higher THC concentration than expected. They cite a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2017 which documented the detection of THC in some CBD products at levels higher than is currently permitted by the FDA, suggesting that the same could be true for CBD sold in the UK. Many CBD products are independently tested by third party laboratories in order to verify the levels of different cannabinoids in the product. However, for the ultra-cautious, it may be preferable to purchase lab-tested pure CBD products, rather than full spectrum extracts, foregoing the potentially beneficial effects of cannabinoids in entourage, for peace of mind regarding doping rules.
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1. Zhornitsky S, Potvin S. Cannabidiol in humans—the quest for therapeutic targets. Pharmaceuticals (Basel) May 21;5(5):529–52 (2012).
2. Zuardi AW, Cosme RA, Graeff FG, Guimarães FS. Effects of ipsapirone and cannabidiol on human experimental anxiety. J Psychopharmacol. 7(1 Suppl):82–8. (1993).
3. Baron, E. P. Comprehensive Review of Medicinal Marijuana, Cannabinoids, and Therapeutic Implications in Medicine and Headache: What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been… Headache 55, 885–916 (2015).
4. Maccarrone, M. Cannabinoids therapeutic use: what is our current understanding following the introduction of THC, THC:CBD oromucosal spray and others? Expert Rev. Clin. Pharmacol. 10, 443–455 (2017).
5. Maione S, Costa B, Di Marzo V. Endocannabinoids: A unique opportunity to develop multitarget analgesics. Pain 154:S87–S93 (2013).