Derrick Morgan, Nate Diaz, Eugene Monroe – these are just some of the current athletes who are using CBD oil. In fact, many of today’s athletes and a number of former ones are endorsing the use of CBD (Cannabidiol).
CBD is just one of more than 100 chemical compounds referred to as ‘cannabinoids’ that are derived from the cannabis plant. Even though research on CBD’s health benefits is somewhat limited at the moment, it has shown a lot of promise in helping athletes deal many conditions that come about as a result of athletic competition – pain and inflammation, muscle soreness, joint pain, muscle recovery, etc.
Cannabidiol boasts many of the same potential benefits as THC, but unlike the latter, it is non-psychoactive – which means it will not get you high.
Based on what’s currently known in the world of CBD, here’s why athletes from around the world are taking it to heal and recover faster, and the influence it has in the sports world.
Why should Athletes take CBD?
Even though every athlete has uniquely distinct genetics, they must all get used to the one thing which is a part of their daily jobs: taking a fair amount of physical and mental stress. Training adaptation, the goal to increase performance, physical trauma during competition and a history of injuries all lead to unnecessary fatigue and pain, which can put a cap on an athlete’s peak performance potential.
Even though current ways of pain management suffice for most athletes, they are also killing people. Some pain medication is, in fact, so strong that it is very easy to overdose and get addicted which means, without it, an athlete may develop mental and physical barriers to performing at the peak level.
In the hunt for better sports recovery, and safer more natural pain relief, should sports team coaches and managers consider putting their athletes on CBD for faster healing and recovery? More importantly, if you’re an athlete yourself, are there any risks you might want to assess before using CBD?
When used chronically in the long term, OTC pain killers like Ibuprofen and Naproxen Sodium pose a more serious health risk than previously known, because they are from the NSAID (Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs) family – a class of drugs which can be detrimental to athletic performance, because they inhibit the natural process of muscles healing and getting stronger.
Furthermore, we are also witnessing an opioid addiction epidemic and overdose cases where tens to thousands of not just sportspeople and athletes, but also regular people are losing their lives each year. In the current landscape, athletes and sports management teams are suddenly very curious to know if CBD is the ‘go-to’ choice for fast, safe and effective pain relief – without any of the career-ending risks that often come with opioids or NSAIDS.
Are CBD products right for you as an athlete? Sit back and relax because there’s a lot to discuss here.
Are there any Legal Issues around CBD for Athletes?
Well, that depends on how you look at it and how much CBD you’re going to use at any given time.
Around the start of 2018, WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) slashed CBD from the list of banned substances – whether athletes take it on or off season. Here is the current WADA Prohibited Substances List – where it stays that “all natural and synthetic cannabinoids are prohibited” – except Cannabidiol.
Therefore the psychoactive cannabinoid in cannabis products, THC, has been banned, as have all other natural and synthetic forms of cannabinoids.
Now, interestingly, WADA has set a urinary limit of 150ng (nanograms) per ml (millilitre) for THC – which is significantly more lenient than the earlier limit of 15ng per ml. The higher limit has been set to lower an athlete’s chances of testing positive as a result of casual cannabis use during off-season.
CBD Basics – How it works to Boost Athletic Performance
So we know this much: athletes can legally consume CBD but what exactly is it, how does it work in the human body and why would you want to use it as an athlete?
To put things into perspective right off the bat, cannabinoids are already in your system. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) in your body is responsible for modulating the activity of certain neurons. CBD is a naturally-occurring phytocannabinoid found in the cannabis plant – and as mentioned earlier, it is not psychoactive like THC.
Beyond this, an understanding of how the ECS works and how CBD influences it is something that is still evolving in the scientific community. Because for quite some time now, research has been limited and underfunded in this area, given the legal status of cannabis.
Based on the current understanding we have of CBD, here’s a very basic and rather interesting explanation of how CBD helps alleviate pain, and can potentially improve sports performance:
The two endocannabinoids – 2-AG and EAE – are naturally present within the nervous system and produced in postsynaptic neurons – what we often refer to as ‘downstream’. When they bind to the CB1 and CB2 receptors on the presynaptic neuron – referred to as ‘upstream’ – and work to inhibit the release of specific neurotransmitters – this is when users report reduced pain and inflammation, relief from stress and anxiety, and more.
CB1 receptors can be found within the brain, spinal cord and other tissues throughout the human body. CB2 receptors are also present but they typically reside within immune system tissues. When CBD binds to CB1 receptors, a greater effect is experienced on the central nervous system (feelings of tranquillity, relaxation and calm) – and when it binds to CB2 receptors, there’s a greater effect on the body’s inflammatory response (reduced feeling of pain, physical trauma and distress).
Scientists have already revealed that the main function of the ECS is to maintain homeostasis – a perfect equilibrium or balance within the body in order to keep its vital functions in order, which is important for a sense of wellbeing. So it’s doing a lot of work to keep the brain’s neurotransmitter levels in check.
Consuming CBD can supplement and even increase activity within the endocannabinoid system. Let’s break it down in order to understand what it means for the average athlete:
As an active sportsman or sportswoman, you are required to push your mind, but particularly your body, to the limit. This can lead to more pain and inflammation than your body is typically accustomed to. So your endocannabinoid system is up in arms, saying: “Where did all this stress come from? I’m not used to it, I don’t like it, I don’t need it”.
This is where CBD comes in – adding exogenous CBD can help the overtaxed system get back its neurotransmitters under control and help you maintain homeostasis. The end result? You heal and recover faster, you feel more confident going into the next competitive event or training session. And, when you’re not training, you feel calmer and more relaxed – which again, is fantastic for recovery and ‘athletic readiness’.
Top Benefits of CBD in Sports
Good Alternative to NSAIDs
Off-the-counter NSAIDs like Aleve or Advil are not as safe as scientists once thought. Endurance athletes in particular are advised to refrain from using NSAIDS during long competitive events and training sessions because a heightened risk of renal damage is present.
However, even if NSAIDs are used after short events or training sessions, frequent use can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Furthermore, NSAIDs interfere with the body’s natural healing mechanism, where muscles recover from inflammation in order to become more adept to the demands of the sport.
Many athletes have found CBD to be a great alternative in dealing with training and competition-related pain, with no side effects to report. Furthermore, there have been no documented deaths from CBD use in sports, or otherwise.
Good Alternative to Opioids
According to a 2016 CDC report, over 42,000 deaths were reported due to opioid-based pain medications such as codeine, oxycontin and morphine. The serious risk of addiction is the primary cause of death by overdose.
While cannabinoids like CBD are certainly not as potent or fast-acting in terms of pain relief as opioids, they are very effective when it comes to long-term pain management – whether it is taken individually or combined with other medications. Either way, there is no risk of addiction or accidental death.
Relief from Pain
With athletes constantly pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in their respective sport, pain and inflammation is a part of the job. No wonder professional MMA fighters and football players are taking CBD to deal with cramps, muscle pain and inflammation due to pushing their bodies beyond the limit.
Based on what we know and the limited research we have, CBD has great potential for helping athletes cope with the trials and tribulations that come as a result of training hard and pushing their bodies even harder during competition.
It’s a far better alternative to Opioids and NSAIDs and can do a lot more than just help athletes deal with pain.