The Definitive Guide to CBD for Athletes

on May 02, 2020

INTRODUCTION

If you are an athlete looking to try CBD, this article is a must read.

CBD consumption has exploded worldwide. People are becoming more educated on the incredible benefits of CBD and the stigma around using the substance is quickly beginning to evaporate. The global CBD market is rapidly expanding as more and more countries around the world continue to deregulate the substance. This is excellent news for the global athlete and sporting community and this article will cover a variety of reasons why.

One sector where CBD has recently become a new frontier and topic of conversation is the sports world. It is a natural progression for athletes to explore the benefits of CBD use whether or not this new compound is something that will help them train, perform and or recover better.

In this article we will explore the legality of CBD in sports, testimonials and research from athletes, in addition to explore the all around benefits of consuming CBD.

cbd oil and sports

IS CBD LEGAL FOR ATHLETES?

In the past 5 years, CBD has been legalized across North America and most of Europe (see below). However, this does not mean that CBD is legal for athletes in those regions. The reason for the discrepancy is that there is still a significant amount of misinformation and misunderstanding about the differences between CBD, THC, Cannabis and Hemp. For a full breakdown of how those compounds and plants are related, have a look at this article.

In 2018, the World Anti-Doping Agency (“WADA”) made the decision to remove CBD from their banned substances list. WADA sets the global standard for preventing dangerous and/or performance enhancing substances from damaging the integrity of sports, meaning this is a significant step forward for full adoption of CBD in the sports world. As more professional sports leagues loosen their grip on CBD regulations, athletes will be more inclined to include it in their training and/or recovery regiment.



The Olympic Games, FIFA, International Tennis Association, The European Golf Tour and many other major athletic organizations follow the guidelines set out by WADA. In addition, national agencies like USADA fully accept standards implemented by WADA. Major US sports leagues have yet to change their stance on permitting CBD – with one exception. The MLB removed CBD (and marijuana/hemp as a whole) from the banned substance list. This was considered as a landmark decision and a major step forward, as they were the ‘first major American sports league’ to do this. The hope of athletes in other leagues is that this will serve as a significant steppingstone for other leagues to follow suit.

Further, pursuant to the new NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”) NFL players will no longer be suspended for positive marijuana tests, considered by many as a major step towards completely removing cannabis and CBD from a banned substance list all together. In fact, league meetings at the highest level are already happening for example and curtesy of NFL.com:

 

Beyond that, top players like Hall of Famer Terrel Davis say “The NFL should let players use CBD for pain management” you can check out that video here

Although many sports league and anti-doping agencies now allow the use of CBD, WADA and almost all leagues still consider THC and other cannabinoids to be banned substances. This leaves many athletes feeling tentative about trying CBD out of fear of testing positive for THC.

Eleven-time Ironman winner Lauren Goss was handed a 6-month ban from competing after she tested positive for THC. She was absolutely shocked when the initial test was returned to her, as she believed the cream she was using to treat a sore ankle contained CBD, but no THC. Unfortunately, there was a misinterpretation of ingredients on the label.

Lauren Goss cbd oil suspension

The important point for all athletes looking to try CBD is to first know exactly what the rules and regulations are for their respective sport. The second step is to be extremely careful when selecting a product, particularly ensuring that the THC content is minimal or zero. Hemp-based CBD products contain significantly less THC content, and therefore may be the best option for athletes looking to try CBD products.

WADA is continuously making changes to their CBD regulations. They recognize that athletes are taking CBD to treat their inflammation, pain and anxiety – and are often not trying to break any THC regulations intentionally. In 2013, WADA raised the threshold for a THC-positive drug test from 15 mg/ml in the blood to 150 mg/ml. This change gives athletes a greater margin of error for those who are using CBD appropriately, but still allows WADA to identify athletes that are abusing THC illegally.


Word anit-doping AgencyWADA has not set a threshold for non-THC cannabinoids. Technically, this means that testing positive for CBD, CBN or any of the other hundred cannabinoids can lead to a penalty or suspension. The entourage effect of CBD with other cannabinoids will ultimately allow athletes to garner the maximum benefit from the hemp and marijuana plants, but this will require WADA to amend their regulations surrounding the compounds.

Unfortunately, there is still a stigma surrounding the association between CBD, THC, Cannabis, Marijuana and Hemp. The reality is that there is a natural relationship between them, but the misunderstanding still exists. This is made obvious by the MLB’s statement surrounding the regulation change: "Natural cannabinoids(e.g., THC, CBD, and Marijuana) will be removed from the Program's list of Drugs of Abuse." Notice that the comments mischaracterize Marijuana as a cannabinoid, when in fact cannabinoids are found inside Marijuana. This subtle difference is important, and education about the relationships between these compounds and plants may be the key to unlocking the benefits of CBD for athletes.

hemp plant misconceptions

 


CBD VS THC

At first glance the chemical composition of CBD (top) and THC (bottom) are identical; that is because they nearly are. The subtle difference is in how the atoms inside the molecules are arranged therein allowing the THC to produce a psychoactive sensation known as a ‘high’. Specifically, the THC compound bonds perfectly with the CB1 receptor in the human brain, while the CBD compound  does not. Despite this difference, both THC and CBD interact with the endocannabinoid system which is why many of the benefits can be attained from consuming both compounds; targeting, inflammation, soreness and nausea.


Education is the key to dispelling common myths and misconceptions about CBD, and ultimately will be the key to mass adoption in the sports world.

 

ATHLETES SCIENCE AND TESTIMONIALS

Athletes including Rob Gronkowski , Ryan VandenBussche , and Bubba Watson from a range of sporting disciplines have come out in favor of CBD use as an alternative in treating a range of sports related ailments including stress, pain and inflammation. Rob Gronkowski, who retired at 29, but announced his return for the 2020-2021 season, is arguably the highest-profile athlete to come out in support of CBD. He has publicly encouraged the NFL to remove CBD from its banned substance list, and has also come out as a public supporter of Abacus Health (see below). He explains that the constant abuse his body was under during his first stint in the NFL, combined with little recovery and restoration time, left him in pain and discomfort. CBD provided his body with the powerful anti-inflammatory and pain relief properties to regenerate his body without exposing himself to the dangerously addictive qualities of opioids.



Men’s Health further notes that: ‘Dozens of current and former pro athletes have publicly come out in support of further clinical testing and full access to CBD. Some have founded organizations like Athletes for Care, which offers resources for athletes, urges further research, and promotes CBD use.’

 

BENEFITS FOR ATHLETES

Athletes undergo a tremendous amount of stress preparing to compete, endure many bodily injuries while competing and often psychological issues all while trying to recover. In many cases, this can lead to decreased performance as well as long term damage to the body. Athletes need to continue to test their boundaries to improve skills, endurance and strength, but if pushed too far, injuries can end their careers early. In contact sports for example, strong pain killers are used before and during competitions to numb pain and allow athletes to push through injuries that would otherwise be debilitating. As seen with Ryan VandenBussche, pain killers are addictive are not be a viable long-term solution for athletes. ‘Chronic use of over-the-counter pain relievers (i.e. NSAIDs like ibuprofen and naproxen sodium) poses greater health risk than previously known, and we are in the midst of an epidemic of opioid addiction and overdoses that kills tens of thousands of Americans annually.’


 

There needs to be alternative solutions to dangerously addictive pain killers for athletes – and CBD may be the answer. Below are just some of the many potential benefits CBD can have on athletes:


  1. Reduced Inflammation
  2. Reduced Stress
  3. Improved Sleep
  4. Pain relief

how cbd works in your body


Reduced Inflammation

cbd reduces inflammation

Professional athletes are constantly testing the body’s limits in training and in competition. This repetitive pressure on ones’ joints and muscle fibers can often cause inflammation, leading to pain, discomfort, and immobility. One of the most cited potential benefits of CBD is reduced inflammation. Several Studies have conducted human and animal trials, and both demonstrated the positive impacts of CBD. In particular, rats with arthritic inflammation were tested and the findings showed that “transdermal CBD gel significantly reduced joint swelling and limb posture scores as a rating of spontaneous pain.” It is evidenced that athletes who are able to train longer and find unique ways to treat chronic inflammation will most likely develop a significant competitive advantage.


Reduced Stress

 

cbd oil reduces stress

Another significant benefit for athletes could be CBD’s impact on stress levels. There is no question that athletes experience a significant amount of physical stress from training and competition, but often overlooked is the amount of mental stress that athletes experience. Having a calm, focused mind is critical for success in any sport, and overwhelming stress can damage one’s ability to excel.

Multiple studies, including this one published in 2015, have demonstrated the correlation between CBD reduced stress levels. Additionally, it is important to note that stress and anxiety are consistently shown to be the most common negative impact on athletes. Researches and authors, like Gary Mack, have dedicated their career to exploring ways to improve these issues.



Improved Sleep


cbd oil aid with sleep

Rest and recovery are the two most important parts of any athletes training cycle. Without quality sleep, the body does not have the ability to repair torn muscle fibers, rejuvenate and relax. For a detailed look at the relationship between CBD and sleep, read  this article.


30% of adults have experienced insomnia in the past, and over 10% have chronic insomnia. The CDC also estimates that 35% of adults do not get enough sleep (7 hours), on a weekly basis. And finally, over the last 50 years, people are sleeping on average one hour less per night. The bottom line is, insomnia is a common issue that plagues people of all ages, genders and geographies. In particular, athletes who push their bodies to the limit are more vulnerable to a lack of high quality sleep.

A 2019 study determined whether CBD improved sleep and/or anxiety. In total, 72 people were included in the study with 25 subjects experiencing chronic sleep issues, and 47 having symptoms of anxiety. Within one month of taking CBD, anxiety scores decreased in 57 patients (79.2%) and continued to lower for the remainder of the study. Sleep scores for 48 of the subjects (66.7%) improved, showing decisively that CBD did improve the subjects’ sleep over the period of the study.


Pain Relief

cbd reduces pain

Athletes also are prone to injury, whether it is something like a minor stress fracture to something more serious like a concussion. Either way, pain management for athletes is a critical component in improving and maintaining peak performance. As discussed earlier, many athletes like Rob Gronkoswki have said they wished they had found CBD earlier than they did. In combination with inflammation, many athletes experience pain from the constant strain they experience. A study done by the Journal of Experimental Medicine looked at whether CBD suppressed inflammatory and neuropathic chronic pain. The 2012 study found that CBD did indeed have the ability to reduce pain in the research subjects. Interestingly, the study also found that the subject did not build up a tolerance to CBD, and therefore did not have to continually increase their dosage. USADA has also recognized opioids as a significant risk to the health and safety of athletes making it incredibly important that alternatives are continually researched and discovered.

 

Potential Side Effects

According to research conducted in 2017, there are several potential side effects that may impact athletes. It is important to note that limited data is available for testing the direct impact on CBD in athletes, and these side effects would objectively have minimal impact in most people consuming the compound

  1. Fatigue
  2. Diarrhea
  3. Altered weight and/or appetite
Fatigue
 cbd may cause fatigue

 

The research on CBD’s impact on sleep is positive, as discussed above, but there has also been anecdotal results showing that CBD may lead to minor day time fatigue. For training athletes it is important to be mental sharp through training and competition. It is important to test out how CBD impacts your mood and alertness before including it into your daily regimen.

 


 

Diarrhea

cbd may cause Diarrhea

 

Another less common side effect noted in was diarrhea. The study did not determine why this was occurring, and we speculate that this may be more dependent on the brand and type of CBD as opposed to the compound itself. The study also noted that ‘in comparison with other drugs, used for the treatment of these medical conditions, CBD has a better side effect profile.’


 

Altered weight and/or appetite
cbd may Altered weight and/or appetite

Athletes in combat sports like boxing, mixed martial arts and kick boxing are required to weigh in before competition. Additional, many athletes need to hit a certain weight before their respective sports to perform at their peak. Weight loss, or ‘hitting weight’, can be one of the most challenging components of an athletes’ training, and great care is taken to ensure that this process is done safely and methodically. Water intake is monitored down to the milliliter and food consumption is broken down into micronutrients and monitored down to the calorie. For any athlete undertaking this challenge, it is important to note that CBD may impact your ability to lose weight and it best to proceed with caution.

 

 

Two Ways Athletes Can Use CBD

As we laid out earlier The Definitive Guide to Athletes & CBD, there are a multitude of potential benefits athletes can reap from taking CBD – and deciding how to take CBD depends on which benefits you aim to maximize. Athletes put in significant amount of time and energy into crafting their training regiments, so testing several methods of incorporating CBD will allow for optimal integration. It is first important to understand that there are two main types of CBD athletes can take. Broad-spectrum CBD is extracted from a hemp plant and naturally contains other cannabinoids like CBG and CBN. This creates the ‘entourage effect’, where CBD works together with other compounds to maximize the known medical benefits of the hemp plant. Broad-spectrum CBD has the added benefit of the entourage effect, but also leaves athletes exposed to the risk of testing positive for other cannabinoids. CBD isolate is another type of CBD, and does not contain any other cannabinoids. Isolate requires hemp extractors to chemically remove CBD from the plant’s extract. Although this does not provide athletes with the benefits of the entourage effect, it does certify that no illegal compounds will be present in the products. For athletes being tested under WADA regulation, we recommend trying CBD in isolate form to be on the safe side.

 

1. Topical Creams & Balms
cbd may be applied by Topical Creams & Balms

 

2. Tincture (Oil)

cbd may be applied by Tincture (Oil)

CBD Topicals & Balms can be extremely helpful for athletes that are experiencing inflammation as well as stress. Applying a topical cream directly to an area of inflammation can be the fastest way to treat it. It is recommended that this is repeated multiple times per day until soreness and/or inflammation dissipates. Stress also causes you to tense up, which leads to tight and stiff muscle. By repeating the same technique mentioned above, CBD may also be able to improve these symptoms dramatically. Often times, high quality CBD cream targeted for athletes are combined with other active ingredients that also reduce inflammation and muscle soreness.

 

 

Tinctures are a great way to consume CBD for sleep in particular. On top of being very simple to incorporate into a nightly routine, it is also one of the fastest delivery methods for CBD (apart from vapor, which we do not recommend due to the significant health concerns around vaping). The important point here is consistency. CBD builds up in your body over time, and to ensure maximum effectiveness, it is suggested that athletes take CBD approximately 1 hour before bed-time, and 3-4 nights in a row before expecting major effects. CBD oil can also be left to rest under the tongue (also known as sublingual), which can greatly increase the speed of delivery.


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