As of September 2017, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed cannabidiol (CBD) from their banned substance list for international athletes. This action made the 2018 World Cup the first to allow the use of a marijuana compound. CBD has several potential benefits that would be attractive to athletes. Some of these benefits include anti-inflammatory properties, pain relief, and fewer side effects than traditional medication. This change in international policy is another example that social sentiment toward CBD is changing, and it could encourage other sports organizations to follow suit.
Athletes may use CBD because of its ability to relieve pain and inflammation and its more favorable safety profile when compared to most pain relievers.
Athletes put their bodies under intense stress during exercise and competition. This stress often causes pain and inflammation.
Pain is caused by signals sent from nerves in the damaged areas of the body to the brain via the central nervous system (CNS).
Athletes experience inflammation due to this damage, which can contribute to pain intensity.
During exercise, muscles are broken down and experience micro tears, essentially small injuries. When the immune system senses the micro tears, it releases an inflammatory response to heal the “damage.” This response comes in the form of cytokines, which are proinflammatory immune cells.
A 2012 study led by the Laboratory for Integrative Neuroscience of the National Institutes of Health in Maryland reviewed previous scientific literature along with the results of their own research which showed that CBD suppressed inflammatory and chronic pain by activating specific glycine receptors in the central nervous system.
Activating glycine receptors with CBD relieved pain by suppressing nerve signals and reducing inflammation.
The Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology at the University of South Carolina compiled a review of research on CBD for inflammation. It showed that CBD targeted cytokines and significantly reduced them in several studies, resulting in reduced inflammation, which can also help with pain relief.
Thus, CBD can help athletes reduce pain and inflammation, helping them recover quickly to continue training or competing.
Athletes typically use traditional pain relievers such as opioid medications or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Opioids have been known to lose effectiveness and can cause serious side effects, such as withdrawal symptoms and possible addiction. NSAIDs, like aspirin-based medications (e.g., ibuprofen), are not addictive but also have potentially adverse side effects usually due to long-term use including liver failure, kidney damage, heart issues, and stroke.
As a result, some athletes have decided to use alternative therapies to avoid the risks presented by traditional pain relievers.
CBD’s safety profile was surveyed in a 2017 review conducted by the nova-Institute, an independent research institute in Hürth, Germany.
The review showed the most reported side effects of CBD were tiredness, nausea, and changes in appetite. CBD also did not alter physiological factors such as heart rate or blood pressure, nor did it adversely affect psychological or psychomotor functions.
CBD was also noted to be well tolerated in chronic administration or high doses up to 1,500mg per day of CBD.
Additionally, no patients have been observed to develop a tolerance to CBD. This means patients do not need to raise their dosage of CBD to continue being effective, unlike some medications.
Several athletes use CBD, including:
Currently, professional sports organizations in America do not allow CBD or marijuana use of any kind.
However, WADA’s policy change indicates the international scene is responding to the anecdotal and scientific evidence surrounding CBD as an effective treatment for athletes, which may help forge the path for domestic organizations like the NFL and NBA to do the same.
Some American athletes have begun to take an active role for getting CBD off the banned substances list in their respective sports, such as through increasing awareness and donating money towards research.
Eugene Monroe and Derrick Morgan have both donated money to future cannabis studies that will be conducted by Johns Hopkins University and the University of Pennsylvania.
This research could expand the scientific support of CBD, which may help change the stance of major sports organizations on CBD.
With WADA’s changed stance and athlete advocacy of CBD, the future is bright for the acceptance of CBD in the realm of sports; and if CBD gains validity there, further societal support would likely grow exponentially.
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Disclaimer: The content on this site is for informational purposes only. We are not medical experts and nothing should be construed as medical advice. Be sure to speak with your physician before taking CBD or any other treatment.