CBD has long been a subject of controversy in the sports community due to its wrongful association with its close cousin THC. However, now more and more people, especially athletes, advocate for CBD oil
usage in sports communities by highlighting its benefits for athletes.
As sports professionals must adhere to regulatory bodies' strict guidelines about drugs that are permitted and not permitted for use, so many athletes are confused about whether they can or cannot use CBD. In this article, we will answer whether CBD is legal for athletes and discuss ways in which athletes can benefit from CBD oil.
CBD in Sports
World Anti-Doping Agency or WADA maintains a list of substances prohibited for athletes and consumption of any of these substances results in disqualification of an athlete from a game. Until recently, CBD was listed as a banned substance, but WADA removed CBD from its prohibited substances list in 2018.
As per current WADA regulations, only THC is prohibited, while CBD or cannabidiol is allowed as someone with knowledge of cannabis is aware that only THC or tetrahydrocannabinol is the psychoactive substance derived from cannabis that is known for the "high" experienced after consumption of marijuana. In comparison, CBD does not have any such effect. So, it was logical for WADA to exempt CBD from its list of prohibited substances.
It is also interesting to note that WADA set 150 nanograms per millilitre for THC, which is quite generous compared to the previous threshold of 15 nanograms per millilitre. This signals a change in approach towards CBD, THC, and other similar substances. WADA now considers the consumption of THC only during the competition as prohibited and the higher threshold ensures that athletes who may have consumed THC a few days before the match would not attract penalty due to the higher threshold limit. Anything above this threshold will attract penalty and disqualification and THC is also banned by most major sports leagues and football clubs.
Benefits of CBD for Athletes
CBD Reduces Stress
CBD oil is known for its soothing effect on our nervous system and is thus an excellent substance for reducing stress associated with extreme sports events. Any athlete living in the private eye and dealing with intense scrutiny on a weekly, if not daily basis, will likely experience extremely intense stress. There are a number of studies that suggest CBD oil is incredibly effective in the reduction of stress, such as Khan, Naveed, Mian et al (2020), who found evidence of CBD being effective in the alleviation of symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (while acknowledging the obvious requirement for further research).
CBD helps sleep better
Sleep plays a vital role in our recovery and rejuvenation after exerting a significant amount of effort. By relaxing our nervous system and calming us in a way that is often impossible with other substances, organic CBD oil can help one sleep better. Any experienced athlete knows that he needs good quality sleep to achieve his optimal performance level, and CBD can help those who want good quality sleep to perform better on the field. This specific aspect of CBD was analysed by Shannon, Lewis, Lee and Hughes (2019) who found that 48 out of 72 adults had a better quality of sleep after taking CBD oil in the first month.
CBD helps with muscle relaxation
CBD oil helps with muscle relaxation and is considered an excellent muscle relaxant that can relax your muscles after an intensive training session or competition. CBD organic oil works with GABA-A receptors (Gaba is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter of our nervous system) to relax our muscles - as established by Bakas, Nieuwenhuijzen, Devenish et al (2017). GABA plays a vital role in muscle strength, and low levels of GABA are linked
to muscle spasms, cramps, and substance abuse disorders. This was confirmed in Banerjee’s 2014 study, which reviewed neurobiological and genetic studies of neurotransmitters in alcoholism.
CBD reduces anxiety
CBD has long been used to treat anxiety, depression, and other similar mental disorders. There is a plethora of studies that suggest the anti-depressant and anti-anxiety properties of CBD. Some studies, such as Shannon and Lehman (2016), which analysed the effectiveness of CBD oil for pediatric anxiety and insomnia as part of posttraumatic stress disorder, indicated that CBD oil tinctures could reduce the anxiety experienced before some specific events, such as public speaking. One may reasonably conclude that CBD oil can also reduce the anxiety felt by athletes before the start of a game, as the psychological process is incredibly similar.
CBD reduces inflammation
CBD is an anti-inflammatory agent and is extensively used for treating inflammation caused by a wide variety of injuries. As every athlete suffers from an injury some point in their careers, and must often deal with inflammation, CBD oil can be a good choice for reducing the inflammation associated with sports injuries. Availability is often of the utmost importance when assessing the efficacy of an athlete in any sport, thus maximising this is paramount to a long and fruitful career. Hammell, Zhang, Ma et al (2016) conducted a study on the transdermal application of CBD to rats in order to reduce inflammation. The results indicated that ‘Transdermal CBD gel significantly reduced joint swelling, limb posture scores as a rating of spontaneous pain, immune cell infiltration and thickening of the synovial membrane in a dose-dependent manner’. In layman’s terms – CBD did a terrific job at reducing inflammation and improving posture in rats.
CBD strengthens immune System
CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system in our body in ways that are still not understood well. However, most researchers agree that the endocannabinoid system is essential for our immunity against various diseases and ailments. CBD is known to enhance the performance of our endocannabinoid system, which improves the overall immunity of the body by strengthening the immune system. A recent study by Nichols and Kaplan (2020) into immune responses regulated by cannabidiol concluded that ‘data overwhelmingly support the notion that CBD is immune suppressive and that the mechanisms involve direct suppression of activation of various immune cell types, induction of apoptosis, and promotion of regulatory cells, which, in turn, control other immune cell targets’.
CBD speeds up recovery
As any athlete who had suffered an injury would attest, recovering from an injury is even more painful than the incident itself. CBD speeds up recovery and is also useful for reducing the pain experienced during the recovering phase, with its aforementioned wonderful anti-inflammatory properties. For example, Rudroff and Sosnoff (2018) found that cannabidiol improved mobility and pain in patients suffering from Multiple Sclerosis (MS). The authors stated that cannabidiol “is anti-inflammatory, antioxidative, antiemetic, antipsychotic, and neuroprotective”.
CBD helps improve endurance and fitness
CBD works with the endocannabinoid system to strengthen the nerves through our body, improve the immunity, and maintain a balance within the endocannabinoid system's different components. All these things lead to a healthier body with improved endurance and fitness. Almost all athletes want to improve their overall fitness and endurance levels, and CBD can be an excellent aid for enhancing endurance and fitness. Research about whether CBD actually improves fitness and endurance per se is limited, due to the individual nature and skillsets required from different sports. However, through a combination of the aforementioned characteristics of CBD – namely its anti-inflammatory properties and ability to improve sleep and mobility – there is little doubt that CBD improves endurance and fitness indirectly.
CBD relieves pain
A wide variety of studies have suggested that CBD can be a good pain reliever due to its ability to lessen the feeling of pain. Healers and medical practitioners have known about this painkilling effect of CBD and associated substances for centuries. Before the invention of modern anaesthesia, surgeons often used cannabis and similar drugs to numb the feeling of pain before performing surgery. Research by Philpott, O’Brien and McDougall (2017) found that not only did the local administration of CBD to rats with osteoarthritis reduce their pain, but also prevented the later development of pain and nerve damage in osteoarthritis-afflicted joints.
CBD is an excellent alternative to Opioids
Due to the pain-relieving abilities mentioned throughout this article, CBD can be an excellent alternative to Opioids. As per recent stats from BMJ (BMJ 2020;371:m3988), more than 4,300 people died due to drug overdose in England and Wales just in 2019. Most cases involve using opioid pain medications such as oxycontin, morphine, and codeine. CBD can be used as an excellent alternative to opioids due to its pain-relieving properties, while also having the benefit of 0 recorded fatalities across centuries of use.
CBD oil has various uses and is nowadays considered a good treatment for several issues faced by athletes specifically such as anxiety before competition, muscle relaxation, sleep disorders, insomnia, stress, pain, inflammation, etc. We have listed above 10 ways athletes can benefit from CBD oil, and this list is certainly not a conclusive one as there are several other known benefits of CBD oil that did not make it into this article.
CBD can be consumed in a wide variety of forms such as orally via CBD tinctures and CBD capsules, dermally via CBD patches or topically via CBD creams. Each delivery method's effectiveness varies, and you need to choose the method best suited to your individual needs carefully. As always with CBD, it is important to conduct your own research and come to your own conclusion.