Cannabis has a bad rep in the sports world, but can CBD oil help athletes with pain? Here are some experts on the pros and cons of CBD.
If you were to ask the people in your life for product recommendations to relieve muscle strains, pain, inflammation or anxiety, it’s likely the conversation will lead to CBD oil. In the past two years cannabidiol oil has been touted as the be-all, end-all solution to everything from tumours and seizures to depression and insomnia. The research is scant, however.
Years of cannabis prohibition and a lack of third-party medical studies have made the plant and its properties a veritable mystery to scientists in North America. Of the available research, studies are inconclusive when it comes to CBD oil’s long-term effects.
Here’s what we do know: CBD is not psychoactive. While the marijuana plant does contain both CBD and the active agent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), quantities of the latter are higher and CBD is commonly extracted from hemp, a close relative. Nevertheless, CBD oil is still a regulated product in Canada that can only be purchased at registered retailers—not the neighbourhood health food store or barbershop.
CBD oil’s alleged benefits would come as a welcome relief to athletes who otherwise resort to addictive medication for pain relief, but without proper acknowledgment in sporting communities, its use could also lead to disqualification or legal backlash. While those restrictions are changing, progress so far is murky, at best.
In September 2017, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed CBD from its list of prohibited substances, which meant that athletic organizations like the International Olympic Committee, U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), and Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports (CCES), all of which adhere to the WADA policy, became open to CBD. The NBA and NFL are among a large number of organizations that continue to enforce CBD bans, however, and both the USADA and the CCES advise athletes to proceed with caution. That’s because unregulated CBD oil products often contain traces of more than 100 other banned cannabinoids including THC, which could spell trouble.
Here, industry experts weigh in on the benefits and risks of CBD oil for athletes.
Khurram Malik, CEO, Biome Grow
“CBD is primarily a strong anti-inflammatory and also helps with certain types of body pains. Unlike THC, which can dramatically improve performance, CBD is more of a preventative tool that prevents problems from developing down the road. Since CBD has a more gradual impact on the body than more conventional medicines, it may not be the go-to solution where significant immediate relief is needed after an injury.”
Lisa Harun, Co-Founder, Vapium
“The US government actually holds a patent—No. 6630507—stating that CBD has powerful effects as an antioxidant and neuroprotectant. This can benefit several diseases associated with oxidation, as well as athletes in high-contact sports who suffer from repeated head or body trauma.”
Dr. Jason Busse, chiropractor and doctor of health research, Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research, McMaster University
“The benefits of CBD to facilitate physical activity are not well studied, and currently rely largely on anecdote or indirect populations (e.g., spastic muscles associated with multiple sclerosis, seizure disorders). Oral CBD has poor bioavailability meaning that you have to consume high doses to acquire therapeutic effects, which is costly. Topical CBD products are emerging, but typically with limited pharmacokinetic data to establish that they can penetrate the aqueous layer of the skin (as CBD is very lipophilic) and remain localized.”
Lorilynn McCorrister, Co-Founder, Weedbox
“Athletes are so conscious of what they put in their body, and, in my opinion, something natural like CBD is a no-brainer. As opposed to other pain relief meds that some athletes use every day, it is not a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, so it won’t wreak havoc on your heart and your organs long term. Beyond helping with muscle soreness and inflammation, it also helps ease the anxiety and stress that can come with being a high-performing athlete.”
Dr. Carolina Landolt, rheumatologist, Summertree Medical Clinic
“Usually CBD is well tolerated with minimal side effects. From a benefits point of view, besides helping with pain and recovery, CBD appears to help with anxiety. This is an aspect of CBD that many find particularly beneficial as part of an overall wellness routine aimed at physical and mental health. The key to incorporating CBD into sports to aid recovery is education and access to consistent, laboratory-tested products.
Joy Phillips, doctor of immunology, The Donald P. Shiley BioScience Center, San Diego State University
“Two words: opioid addiction. The bigger issue for recovery is how little we still know. For example, CBD may prevent long-term damage from traumatic brain injury. I’m trying to study this, but there are still huge legal barriers to CBD research. Since there’s no science, people end up using themselves as guinea pigs based on advice from the internet. I’d rather test this in a lab than on a loved one.”
–CBD was first chemically synthesized in 1965 by Raphael Mechoulam, an Israeli organic chemist
-According to Chicago-based Brightfield Group, the hemp-CBD market in America alone could hit $22 billion by 2022.
-Legal CBD oil in Canada can only be purchased through a licensed producer (LP)
-In February 2019, Scientists at the University of California at Berkeley created cannabis compounds in a lab for the first time, instead of by harvesting them from a plant according to Nature journal.
-In 2017, World Health Organization experts said that CBD in its pure state “does not appear to have abuse potential or cause harm.”
-Beverage companies like Coca-Cola said it had no interest in marijuana or cannabis but “along with many others in the beverage industry, we are closely watching the growth of non-psychoactive CBD as an ingredient in functional wellness beverages around the world,” according to CBC.