It is undeniable that the use of CBD among athletes is increasing. The hemp-derived cannabinoid has a tremendous positive impact on inflammation and recovery time, and it does not cause an intoxicating high, which is why it has become so widely used among top-level athletes.
Some athletes even believe that it’s worth taking CBD for athletic performance. Many of these so-called ‘CBD athletes’ prefer the compound to performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) or even over-the-counter options.
In this article, we will investigate why more and more athletes are using CBD oil. We will also discuss a crucial World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) ruling that impacts the use of cannabidiol in sports and highlight five athletes that openly (or have openly) used CBD in the past.
Why Do Athletes Use CBD Oil?
There is currently an intense debate surrounding CBD oil for athletic performance. One of the primary reasons is its apparent ability to reduce inflammation and, thus, speed up recovery time. Logically, the faster an athlete can recover from training, the more often they can train – and thus, the more likely they are to improve in their athletic pursuit.
In terms of studies that support the use of CBD for athletic recovery, most publications center around CBD’s effective use as an anti-inflammatory. For example, Nagarkatti et al. published a study in Future Medicinal Chemistry in October 2009, which looked at cannabinoids as useful anti-inflammatory drugs. The researchers found that cannabinoids bonded to CB2 receptors and have an anti-inflammatory effect. This happened because of a reduction in cytokine, which plays a significant role in the inflammation process.
Cannabinoids can act as anti-inflammatories. By taking down inflammation, they can reduce pain, which is beneficial for athletes.
A separate review published in Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry in 2015 also looked at the possible anti-inflammatory properties of cannabidiol and found that CBD could reduce inflammation via receptor-independent pathways in the body. Researchers even mentioned that CBD could provide an alternative to other drugs in terms of helping conditions associated with inflammation.
Of course, a reasonable degree of inflammation is normal – even beneficial – for athletes after intense training. However, excessive inflammation can hurt performance and lengthen the recovery process. Athletes that rely on CBD claim that consistent usage immediately after training is enough to make a difference in both recovery time and inflammation-induced pain and soreness.
It’s also worth pointing out the effects of oxidative stress on an athlete’s body. Many athletes prevent oxidative buildup by relying on antioxidants, and studies have shown that CBD may help boost the effectiveness of various antioxidants by increasing levels of glutathione – a natural compound that decreases cellular damage as a result of oxidative stress.
More and More Athletes Are Avoiding Pharmaceutical Drugs
Research by Georgetown University revealed that approximately 66% of American adults use prescription drugs. According to CDC data, 48% of Americans use a prescription drug in any 30-day period. Overall, the United States spends more per capita on medicines than any other country in the world.
Even over-the-counter (OTC) medication is not nearly as safe as you think. Most people are aware of how deadly opioids are. However, a surprising number still believe that NSAIDs such as Advil and Aleve are entirely safe. These are commonly used anti-inflammatory drugs that you can buy without a prescription.
However, NSAIDs can cause a range of life-threatening conditions among elderly users, including gastrointestinal bleeding. Yet even fit, and healthy endurance athletes should steer clear of NSAIDs, especially during events and long training sessions. This is due to their potential to cause an increased risk of renal damage. Long-term or frequent use of NSAIDs may also elevate the risk of stroke and heart attack.
As you can see, there are valid and tangible reasons that support the increased use of CBD oil for athletes. Let’s take a closer look at the effectiveness of this compound for a range of recovery and performance-based improvements.
Is CBD Good for Athletes?
As we’ve discussed, CBD’s capacity to reduce inflammation can be extremely useful in post-workout recovery. From an athlete’s perspective, however, the anti-inflammatory properties of CBD products are only one piece of the puzzle. Add in the fact that it can help reduce reliance on NSAIDs and opioids, and it becomes clear why an increasing number of athletes are wanting to try CBD.
CBD could possibly even help with common conditions such as athlete’s foot due to the compound’s powerful anti-fungal properties. Technically known as tinea pedis, the fungus that causes athlete’s foot is prevalent in moist and warm environments, i.e., sweaty running shoes or a wet shower room in a gym.
The symptoms of athlete’s foot usually consist of mild burning or itching between the toes, but sufferers may also see a rash, and the condition can even spread to the hands if the site of infection is touched. If left untreated, athlete’s foot can damage the toes and require extensive medical treatment.
Most athletes rely on OTC anti-fungal powders or creams to treat tinea pedis. However, these options are typically most useful if the infection is caught early. Otherwise, prescription medication or even steroids may be required for treatment. Even still, it isn’t unusual for the fungus to return soon after completing a course of prescription drugs – just another reason for athletes to carry around a reliable CBD lotion or cream in their gym bag.
The Recovery Benefits of CBD for Athletes
As we’ve pointed out, CBD for athletic recovery is becoming popular in various professional sports. While reducing post-workout inflammation is essential, there are other facets to efficient recovery.
For example, sleep quality and duration are key to a quick and effective recovery process. Studies have already suggested the positive impact CBD can have on sleep, including a 2019 study in The Permanente Journal which found that CBD improved sleep scores in nearly 70% of test subjects.
We also know that CBD can interfere with cortisol secretion in the body. Increased cortisol levels, a natural steroid hormone, have been observed in many individuals who have insomnia. It’s possible that reduced cortisol levels may result in an individual’s ability to obtain quality sleep through the night, with minimal interruptions.
Numerous other studies have also shown the anti-anxiety effects of CBD. Those who use CBD oil for athlete recovery suggest it helps in the following ways:
- Reduces stress
- Helps bring the body back to a state of balance and homeostasis
- Promotes muscle relaxation and eases muscle soreness
- Can help with appetite control and weight loss
With so many purported benefits, it is no wonder that athletes are flocking to CBD en-masse. However, is it legal?
Can Professional Athletes Take CBD?
Unfortunately, the answer to this question depends on the specific sport. For example, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has no issue with CBD. In fact, the agency officially removed cannabidiol from its list of banned substances back in January 2018.
Athletes can use CBD oils, tinctures, sprays, edibles, vape products, and topicals in many sports leagues. However, THC and marijuana remain banned. As a result, make sure only to buy CBD products containing minimal or, preferably, no THC. That being said, leagues like the NFL have recently decided to become more lenient regarding drug testing and penalties for positive cannabis tests.
Ultimately, it seems as if WADA decided to legalize CBD after careful analysis. The fact that the cannabinoid doesn’t cause an intoxicating high played a big part in the decision. The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) also removed CBD from its prohibited substances list and now has a ‘Marijuana FAQ’ page to help athletes understand their rules.
In sport, there are three requirements for a substance to achieve ‘doping’ classification. These are:
- Being harmful to the athlete’s health
- Enhancing the performance of the athlete
- Violating the spirit of the sport
Point #2 is interesting because thousands of athletes believe CBD does directly help their performance. However, there isn’t much clinical research to support that theory. WADA decided that CBD doesn’t meet any of the above criteria. If that changes, will WADA reconsider? Only time will tell.
Many of North America’s biggest professional sports leagues have also changed their stance on CBD recently. NFL, MLB, and MLS players are now permitted to use it, while it is no longer a strictly prohibited substance in the NHL and NBA. However, the NCAA continues to take a hard line against cannabidiol.
How Athletes are Using CBD – And How Much They’re Consuming
For a long time, CBD oils were by far the most popular product in the industry. While they remain #1, users of the cannabinoid are now spoiled for choice. Available products include, but are not limited to:
- CBD Gummies
- CBD Capsules
- CBD Topicals
- CBD Drinks
- CBD Edibles
- CBD Vape Products
There is full-spectrum CBD, which contains a huge array of cannabinoids and terpenes. It is also possible to buy broad-spectrum products, which include practically no THC but still have many other compounds. Finally, those who want to harness the power of cannabidiol only can choose CBD isolate. Isolate typically consists of up to 99% CBD and may have some terpenes added after extraction.
Athletes can place CBD oil beneath the tongue to consume the compound orally or use gummies, capsules, or chocolates via oral consumption. Vape products offer a higher absorption rate and faster effects, but there are concerns over their safety.
However, many athletes prefer to rub topical products into their skin, such as balms, ointments, and lotions. Topicals are infused with CBD and penetrate the top layer of the skin. They could prove beneficial when looking to tackle the site of pain. A growing number of CBD products also include menthol to provide a cooling sensation.
As CBD isn’t a federally legal substance, nor is it officially regulated, there is no universal medically effective ‘dose.’ In reality, cannabidiol affects everyone differently due to factors such as genetics, metabolism, and even bodyweight.
A quick look online shows various ‘guidelines,’ with 0.25mg per pound of body weight per day, one of the most frequently cited. This would mean a 160-pound athlete should use 40mg per day. However, we recommend beginning with as little as 5mg to analyze the effect. Gradually increase the dosage until you find an amount that provides satisfactory results.
CBD brands have begun increasing the cannabidiol concentration in their products. At one time, it was tricky to find CBD oil with more than 1000mg of the compound in a bottle. These days, 5000mg concentrations are relatively common.
Also, make sure the brand you choose offers full Certificates of Analysis (COAs) with every batch of its products. COAs help prove that a product contains the amount of CBD claimed on the label. They also provide evidence that the item has minimal pesticides, heavy metals, residual solvents, and other potentially harmful substances.
Athletes Who Use CBD
Those who compete in athletics, soccer, baseball, golf, tennis, and many other sports can freely use CBD. Practically all of the most outspoken supporters of cannabidiol in those sports are now retired. Here are a few sportspeople past and present who believe CBD and athletes are a good mix.
1 – Terrell Davis – NFL
Davis was once among the best running backs in the NFL. Unfortunately, he retired in 2002 after just seven seasons in the NFL; the final three were cut short by injury. A bad knee injury effectively finished him off. The Denver Broncos star believes his career would have been extended if he had access to CBD earlier. Today, he says that his body feels great with no inflammation.
2 – Nate Diaz – MMA
Diaz let the world know about his use of CBD during a press conference in 2016. He casually used a vaporizer pen in front of the media! It was a brave move since the Farm Bill didn’t make hemp legal for another two years. According to Diaz, CBD helps reduce inflammation and aids the healing process.
3 – Lucas Glover – Golf
Glover is one of numerous PGA Tour professionals who admit to using CBD. Indeed, he helped endorse the products of a major CBD firm, Medterra. In 2019, Glover spoke to Golf Digest and said that he was having his best season in a decade was no coincidence. He says CBD helps improve his sleep, reduces anxiety, and it even alleviated his knee pain.
4 – Gina Mazany – UFC
Mazany is a professional mixed martial arts fighter that fought extensively in the UFC. The Anchorage-born competitor believes that CBD can benefit everyone in one way or another. Reports suggest that she uses it to reduce anxiety and boost the quality of her sleep. It makes sense that a fighter would want to do everything possible to aid recovery after training and competing.
5 – Derrick Morgan – NFL
Morgan is another former NFL standout who played for the Tennessee Titans as a linebacker. Like Davis, he retired from the league prematurely after playing for nine seasons. Morgan did some research after reading about chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a condition common in NFL players. He found evidence that CBD could help and was among the most vocal activists during the movement to get the NFL to change its policy.
CBD for Athletes: What Else Should I Know Before Trying It?
Although CBD is generally legal for athletes, it is still wise to get acquainted with state laws. In the United States, cannabidiol isn’t federally legal. However, most locations tolerate its usage as long as it comes from industrial hemp and has a maximum of 0.3% THC.
However, there are some exceptions. In Idaho, for instance, CBD should not contain more than 0.1% THC. In Kansas, cannabidiol products should not contain any THC whatsoever. Please bear these rules in mind before consuming CBD.
It is also important to note that there are potential side effects from using CBD. First of all, it interacts with a significant percentage of prescription and OTC drugs. Therefore, we recommend consulting with a physician before using the cannabinoid.
As a rule of thumb, avoid using CBD if you’re using medication that carries a grapefruit warning. This is because CBD and grapefruit both interfere with the CYP450 family of enzymes responsible for metabolizing various substances and medications. Specifically, both inhibit the CYP3A4 enzyme of the CYP450 system.
Other possible adverse effects from using CBD include:
- Appetite changes
- Weight changes
Final Thoughts on CBD for Athletes
Ultimately, we still need to see further research into CBD for athletes. However, early evidence suggests it could prove a useful alternative for opioid painkillers and even OTC drugs. CBD athletes believe the compound helps promote better recovery, reduces anxiety, and lowers inflammation. While WADA and many sports leagues now allow it, organizations such as the NCAA continue their anti-CBD stance.