Athletes normally put a lot of stress on their body – to both positive and negative effects. Small doses of daily training stress help stimulate adaptation and increased performance. However, physical trauma experienced together with prolonged wear and tear leads to pain and injuries.
While present pain management methods used by athletes are effective, they can also be dangerous. Hence, the search for safer pain relief and improved sports recovery has led to the current cannabidiol (CBD) hype among athletes.
The chronic use of over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers (i.e. NSAIDs such as naproxen sodium and ibuprofen) pose great health risks. We are also in the middle of an opioid addiction and overdose epidemic that is killing tens of thousands of Americans yearly.
Ergo, athletes are rightly curious about CBD’s promises of reduced inflammation and pain relief without any associated risk of opioids or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
This post explains what CBDs are and how athletes are using these products.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD) has become the focus of new cannabis research and a trending ingredient within the natural products industry. It’s one among many cannabinoids produced by the cannabis family. However, CBD is non-psychoactive, unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is marijuana’s primary psychoactive element. This means that it does not have the “high” associated with marijuana or a strong effect on cognitive brain activity.
All varieties of the cannabis family produce cannabinoids, which your brain’s CB1 and CB2 receptors are designed to accept. The receptors are also responsible for assimilating cannabinoid molecules into your system. This results in the immune and psychoactive responses correlated with cannabis consumption.
How Athletes Use and Benefit from CBD
Recent studies are showing that cannabis is an effective pain reliever including stiff joints and musculoskeletal pain. Though it’s less potent than THC, it does not have the negative side effects of the latter.
A little inflammation is good for athletes because it helps stimulate positive training adaptations. When it’s too much, however, it hinders recovery and hurts performance. CB2 receptors are present in the brain and periphery but are mainly concentrated in immune tissues.
Cannabinoids may have an anti-inflammatory effect when they bind to CB2 receptors to reduce cytokine (cell messengers) production. Hence, CBD bound to your CB2 receptors helps reduce the response when your immunity sounds the alarm after a hard workout.
CBDs and NSAIDs work together to reduce the level of your inflammation. You can also easily apply them topically to the muscles and places where the inflammation occurs.
CBD Helps Settle Your Gut
Inflammation occurring in your large and small intestines causes a lot of discomfort. In fact, GI distress is among the leading reasons why endurance athletes decide to drop out of a race. While CBD may not solve your overheating or dehydration problems it can reduce your symptoms arising from underlying gut inflammation issues during or after exercise.
Improve Your Sleep Quality
Enough quality sleep is among the most effective ways that you can achieve greater training gains. Getting enough sleep increases blood flow to your muscles, which stimulates tissue growth and repair.
Athletes who consume CBD report a more restful night’s sleep and a greater ease of falling asleep. This is mainly because CBD inhibits the reuptake of adenosine allowing it to accumulate quickly and making you feel sleepy sooner.
Adenosine accumulates in the brain after the breakdown of Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) during the breakdown of carbohydrates for energy. The released adenosine binds to neurons, which inhibits the release of neurotransmitters and slows down your brain activity to help you relax and induce sleep.
Alternative to NSAIDs and Opioids
The consumption of NSAIDs may not be as safe as previously thought – thanks to emerging research into their use and effect. Ultra distance athletes are particularly advised to avoid the use of NSAIDs during long training events and sessions because of increased risk of renal damage. NSAIDs may also increase your risk for stroke and heart attack.
Thus, CBD use is quickly replacing NSAIDs and opioids as the go-to pain reliever for many athletes across different sports.
Is CBD Legal for Athletes and Sports?
Yes, CBD is legal for sports and athletes. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed CBD from its list of prohibited substances (in and out of competition) since the start of 2018. The US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) soon followed suit.
However, it’s only CBD that was removed from the list but THC and other natural and synthetic cannabinoids are still illegal. WADA, further, set a higher urinary threshold for THC (150 nanograms per milliliter as opposed to the previous 15 nanograms per milliliter). This was to reduce the risk of athletes testing positive because of the casual use of THC outside of competition.
The legality of CBD use outside of sports is a different matter. In the US, the local, state, and federal legality of cannabis and related products is constantly evolving. Thus, you need to check in your area if it’s legal to use.
How to Use CBD
CBD is now all the rage with new products hitting the market every week. You can now ingest CBD through pills, capsules, salves, lotions, as an oil, or inhale it as a vapor. It’s also infused into sports and recovery drinks as well as different types of edibles. You can also find topical creams, salve, and lotions containing CBD oil as well as drops/tinctures that you place under your tongue.
Your selected method of ingestion affects how quickly you experience CBDs’ effects. Edibles, capsules, and oil take a bit longer since they must be digested. Topical creams and salves are quicker while tinctures/drops and vaping are the quickest methods.
The Bottom Line
The emergence of cannabidiol marks a major turning point in sports in that it affects how athletes manage chronic and occasional pain and recover from training stress. There is still a lot to learn about CBDs though it’s already a proven anti-inflammatory, pain reliever, and sleep aid.
It also reduces athlete consumption of NSAIDs, prescription sleep aids, and opioids. Although CBD is not banned in sports, you still need to use it with caution and beware of THC and other prohibited substances.