WADA Rule Allows Soccer Players to Take CBD: How Many Are Using It?

Some soccer (aka “football”) fans still may remember Diego Maradona’s celebrations against Greece at the 1994 World Cup. The late, great El Diego scored a goal and produced a memorable reaction. He ran towards a TV camera with a maniacal Jack Nicholson in ‘The Shining’ look on his face.

In an extraordinary scene, he was led off the pitch at the end of the next game by a nurse. Maradona then submitted to a drug test. He tested positive for the banned substance ephedrine, and his career was effectively over.

Marijuana is also classified as an illegal drug, and any soccer player who tests positive for it is banned. However, this isn’t the case for cannabidiol (CBD) users. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) took it off the banned substance list in 2018.

The assumption was that a huge number of soccer players would begin using it openly. However, this hasn’t really been the case at all. Players are doubtless using it in secret, but few step forward and admit it.

Why Would Players Use CBD?

In the modern era, players have a long and difficult season. Those who compete in European and South American leagues, in particular, could take part in 60+ high-intensity games a year. Many of these leagues finish just weeks before major international tournaments like the World Cup, Copa America, and European Championships.

The players have little rest before playing for their countries. Moreover, they have to play “warm-up” games before these tournaments. The winners usually play seven games in a little over a month. This is a grueling schedule, regardless of your fitness level. Then they get a couple of weeks off before the club season begins. International breaks, laden with pointless friendlies, also feature heavily.

There has been an enormous influx of money into soccer and other professional sports leagues. With almost constant coverage of matches, players are under immense pressure to perform at their peak level every game. This is impossible for individuals forced to play multiple high-intensity games in a short space of time.

Professional athletes often compete while not at 100%, and this exacerbates the problem. This is one of the main reasons why they take performance-enhancing drugs and “pharmaceutical cocktails” that mask the pain. Maradona turned to drugs to cope with his pain after being kicked off the pitch most weeks while playing in Spain, then Italy.

CBD is potentially a natural solution to the travails of the modern professional athlete. There is evidence to show that CBD is anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and capable of alleviating and relieving pain. How often have you heard about players being injected with painkillers to complete a game? With CBD, there is no need to place the players in harm’s way.

How CBD Benefits Soccer Players & Other Professional Athletes

CBD is second only to THC in terms of abundance in the cannabis plant. It is the most prevalent compound in industrial hemp. Like all cannabinoids, CBD works with your body’s naturally occurring compounds in the endocannabinoid system or ECS.

This system comprises numerous receptors throughout your body. Plant-based phytocannabinoids (such as CBD) or the body’s naturally occurring cannabinoids (such as anandamide and 2-AG) activate these receptors.

CBD acts indirectly on the two main ECS receptors. They are called CB1 (mainly located in the nervous system and brain) and CB2 (located primarily in the immune system). CBD does not bind to these receptors directly like THC. Instead, it indirectly stimulates them and helps the body maintain a sense of balance, also known as homeostasis. As a result, it could help professional soccer players in a variety of ways:

CBD Acts as an Anti-Inflammatory

A study by the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) Laboratory for Integrative Neuroscience discovered that CBD has significant anti-inflammatory properties because it targets certain receptors. According to the study’s authors, CBD “significantly suppress(es) chronic inflammatory and neuropathic pain [in rodents], without causing analgesic (pain-relieving) tolerance.”

It Is Potentially a Powerful Pain Reliever

Constant physical activity will wear down even the fittest and most conscientious athlete. Instead of using prescription medication laden with side effects, the player could use CBD. They could benefit from a natural pain reliever with a significantly lower risk of side effects.

CBD Might Reduce Anxiety

How often have we seen a player mess up their kick during a penalty shootout? A study published in Neuropsychopharmacology in 2011 tested CBD on people with a social anxiety disorder (SAD).

Twenty-four people were involved in the test. Half took a placebo, while half had CBD. Then they took a public speaking simulation test. Those who consumed the cannabinoid benefited from a significant anxiety reduction.

CBD Could Reduce Stress Hormones Released via Physical Activity

Our adrenal glands are responsible for producing hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline, and aldosterone. When we engage in physical activity, our adrenal system and the rest of the body have to work harder. The adrenal glands then release an increased level of cortisol into the bloodstream.

A study by the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil discovered that CBD potentially reduces cortisol secretion. This means we have less of it in the blood and ultimately less stress during a “fight or flight” response.

What Soccer Players Use CBD?

Even though it is allowed, not many players are open about their use. High-profile users include Megan Rapinoe, a World Cup winner with the female United States soccer team. NWSL side, Portland Thorns, became the first soccer team in its league to receive CBD sponsorship.

However, we’re not hearing about players like Messi, Ronaldo, Lewandowski, and Salah using it.  This is odd because CBD is either legal or widely tolerated in dozens of countries around the world. For instance, English Premier League players can use CBD in the UK. That is, as long as the product contains a maximum of 0.2% THC.

Perhaps there is concern about traces of THC showing up in a drug screening? Maybe the sponsors of teams and players don’t allow the use of CBD. Whatever the reason, many superstars likely use it in secret.

Final Thoughts on CBD’s New Status in the World of Sport

WADA’s decision was a huge boost for CBD. All we need now is for someone like Messi to admit they use the cannabinoid and that it helps them. If this happens, we will no doubt see an explosion in the market’s growth!

CBD is not intoxicating, and it does not contribute to the illegal enhancement of sports performance. Instead, it could help athletes recover a little faster and reduce the level of wear and tear they endure.

It is important to note that the ban on cannabis itself remains. CBD is the only cannabinoid that athletes can legally use. While THC and CBD are chemically distinct, they are also closely related. This means the onus is on WADA’s drug testing teams to understand the difference.

They both come from the same plant and have an almost identical molecular formula. The difference is that CBD has an extra hydroxyl group attached. This is what prevents it from being intoxicating.

Ted Simon, Ph.D., is the University of Georgia’s adjunct professor of environmental health science. He is confident that WADA can distinguish between CBD and THC. According to Smith, the metabolic markers that come from processing them in the kidney and liver are enough to differentiate them. Therefore, we shouldn’t have to worry about a soccer star getting wrongly busted for marijuana use when they only used CBD.

However, no major male soccer player has come out publicly and admitted to using CBD to date. While WADA has relaxed its regulations, it is now up to soccer players to spread the word about cannabidiol. Hopefully, enough players will speak about its positive benefits to persuade other sports organizations to overturn their bans on the compound. Even the NFL recently saw sense!

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