CBD For Athletes

Over the last few years, the CBD and medical marijuana industries have exploded. Now that the FDA has approved a new, cannabis-based medication for epilepsy, the industry will continue to grow unabated. More and more studies are being conducted and announced on the efficacy of CBD oil and other derivative products. CBD oil has been found useful for alleviating a variety of aches, pains, and adverse health symptoms. It can help people sleep, relax tired and sore muscles, and also prevent migraines from starting. CBD can even have certain lifestyle benefits for people who don’t need to use it to treat a health condition. For athletes, CBD may offer excellent healing properties and anti-inflammatory benefits.

Is CBD a banned substance for professional athletes?

CBD is not a banned substance for professional athletes and is, in fact, legal to use, unlike steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. But that wasn’t always the case. CBD products won’t give an athlete an unfair advantage on the field but are instead used to eliminate inflammation and other stresses on the body that athletes are prone to experiencing.

At the start of 2018, the World Anti-Doping Agency, or WADA, took CBD off the list of banned substances for professional athletes. Also, the US Anti-Doping Agency, or USADA, followed suit and removed CBD from their list of prohibited substances. However, it is critical for athletes to understand that only CBD was removed from the list. Synthetic cannabinoids, natural cannabinoids (marijuana) and CBD products that contain THC are still prohibited.

But what’s most interesting about the chances to both WADA and USADA’s new listings on prohibited drugs is the leniency they offer for testing positive for THC. WADA has set a urinary threshold of 150 nanograms per milliliter for THC. Before 2018, the limit was only 15 milliliters. The higher threshold is to allow a bit of leniency for athletes who may casually use products containing THC outside of competition.

It’s critical that athletes understand the differences between different CBD oils and products. The cannabis plant is made up of different cannabinoids, with CBD and THC being the two most common cannabinoids. Manufacturers of CBD products may produce CBD-only oils and products, or products with small amounts of THC. While the WADA is somewhat lenient when it comes to the use of CBD or CBD in combination with THC, legally, it’s a whole different playing field.

For instance, the DEA still considers marijuana, and therefore, marijuana-derived products (including CBD derived from marijuana) as a schedule 1 substance. However, individual states have different laws about cannabis. Some states allow for both medicinal and recreational use, while others only allow for therapeutic use, CBD-use only, or they have banned the use of anything cannabis-related outright. To make things even more complicated, the federal government has made it legal for people to ship and purchase CBD products containing .3% of THC or less. But, people who live in states which have entirely banned cannabis-related products may run afoul of the state authorities if they purchase CBD across state lines, even though it’s not against federal law. Before an athlete, or anyone for that matter, decides to buy CBD products, they should check with their state laws beforehand. HUGS products are derived from hemp and are therefore federally legal, but three states (Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming) outlaw CBD.

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Do athletes with pain and inflammation use CBD?

Before the benefits of CBD for athletes is evaluated, it’s essential to understand the biochemical processes involved in cannabis consumption.

First, the human body already possesses cannabinoids, which make up part of the body’s natural endocannabinoid system. The body naturally produces endocannabinoid neurotransmitters that regulate specific processes, such as the ability to sleep, to feel hunger or satiety, and the ability to register pain. CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids present in the cannabis plant species will bind with the endocannabinoid system and impact it directly.

However, research on why and how this happens is new and ongoing, since the legality of cannabis often stood in the way of scientific research. But unlike THC, CBD is not a psychoactive substance and does not cause mental or physical impairment, although it can change those states. So far, research has concluded the following in regards to the endocannabinoid system and the interaction of cannabinoids from the cannabis plant.

The endocannabinoids 2-AG and EAE are produced within the postsynaptic neurons and are released into the synapse. These endocannabinoids bind to CB1 and CB2 receptors on the presynaptic neuron, preventing the release of certain neurotransmitters. For example, CBD has been found highly useful for treating epilepsy, a chronic seizure disorder. It does this by reducing the build-up of glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter that triggers seizure activity.

The CB1 receptors are found throughout the brain, spinal cord, and other internal tissues and systems. CB2 receptors are in the skin and immune system tissues. When CBD binds to CB1 receptors, it will have a direct impact on the central nervous system. Binding to the CB2 receptors will reduce pain and inflammation.

Scientists and medical researchers have concluded that the human endocannabinoid system is responsible for maintaining homeostasis, by keeping neurotransmitters in check. Sometimes, this system can malfunction, and taking CBD is thought to increase the body’s natural endocannabinoid responses and activity, returning it to homeostasis.

In general, athletes are at increased risk of experiencing inflammation and stress on the musculoskeletal system. CBD can reduce pain, inflammation, and swelling by impacting the endocannabinoid system and the body’s inflammatory responses. Untreated inflammation can lead to a decrease in autoimmune response and put people at risk for contracting infections and other illnesses. Studies on CBD in combination with THC have found that it is also useful for reducing musculoskeletal pain.

Athletes who experience pain and swelling from training or competition may turn to over-the-counter anti-inflammatories or NSAIDs. Aleve and Advil are some of the most popular. The problem with NSAIDs is that they can have an adverse, cumulative effect on the human body, and may not be as safe as once thought. These medications can increase the short and long-term risks of renal and liver damage, and heart attack and stroke. CBD does not come with these risks. The most common side effects in CBD use are dry mouth and sleepiness.

Do athletes with anxiety and other mental health conditions use CBD?

Neurotransmitters play a critical role in the manifestation of may mental health disorders and conditions. CBD directly impacts the endocannabinoid system, the body’s highway for neurotransmitters. In people with depression and anxiety disorders, their’ bodies are often unable to produce enough of the correct neurotransmitters to prevent the manifestation of distressing mental health disorder symptoms. But CBD has been found useful for replacing critical neurotransmitters and helping the body and brain, achieve homeostasis.

When a person who has anxiety takes CBD, the cannabinoid will enter the bloodstream and stimulate the endocannabinoid system. The fight or flight response is tempered, and CBD has also been found to reduce the body’s production of the stress hormone cortisol. In excess amounts, cortisol can cause a range of adverse physical health problems. It can increase the chances of someone developing a metabolic disorder, or cardiovascular disease.

Are there cardiovascular benefits?

CBD oil and related products have been found beneficial for increasing heart health. Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death for U.S. men and women. There are three distinct ways that CBD products can reduce the risk of heart disease and increase heart health:

A heart arrhythmia is when the heart muscle contracts too quickly, too early, too slowly, or irregularly.

In most cases, an irregular heartbeat isn’t a cause for concern. But when it happens because the heart is damaged, or the rhythm is extremely uneven, then it can lead to an increase in heart attacks and strokes. Animal studies have found that CBD is useful for reducing the incidence of heart arrhythmias, but research on humans is still ongoing in this arena.

Studies have found that CBD oil lowers both resting and active blood pressure. For people who suffer from high blood pressure, CBD can be an effective alternative to medications which may come with a range of distressing side effects. However, people who are already taking blood pressure medication should speak with their doctor before using CBD, since interactions between the two can cause a potentially problematic drop in blood pressure.

The effects of CBD on inflammation are well known. But inflammation of the heart can lead to fatal heart attacks and strokes. People with increased markers of inflammation can benefit from taking CBD oil to reduce cardiovascular stress and potentially dangerous inflammation levels.

How much CBD should an athlete take?

Fortunately, CBD does not have addictive properties, and people who take CBD won’t become dependent on it. For athletes, 2.5 to 20 mg of CBD oil with or without THC taken orally can be sufficient for reducing pain and inflammation. CBD creams and bath bombs can also be used to soothe aching, or swollen muscles and joints. As always, it’s crucial to speak to a doctor before using CBD for athletes and the treatment of any health conditions.

Last updated May 16 2019