Why Some Athletes Swear by the Pain-Relieving Effects of CBD Oil
Engaging in physical activity is hard work. After a killer session at the gym, you’re likely to feel the effects of muscle soreness the following day – real proof that your workouts are doing something.
Professional athletes are all too familiar with pain, since their lives revolve around physical endurance. Some sports are of course more physically demanding than others, and many athletes are used to injuries because they play contact sports or engage in activities which make physical damage likely.
Over the years, athletes have used a number of pain medications and drugs to get around these negative effects so that they can keep on grinding. Some of these substances have been banned by various sporting federations, either due to their dangerous qualities or because of their ability to allow athletes to ‘cheat’ in some way.
But recently, several athletes have opened up and spoken publicly about their use of CBD oil to relieve their bodies of pain – even a couple of popular UFC fighters who of course put their bodies through some of the most rigorous and demanding situations possible.
In this article, we check out what it is that’s drawing some athletes to CBD. But first, there’s probably a lingering question on your mind…
Is CBD oil legal?
In terms of federal legality, CBD oil is legal as long as it adheres to strict laws regarding THC content. This means that it can only contain trace amounts of THC (the psychoactive component of marijuana). Since the THC content is so little (under 0.3%), CBD oil is perfectly safe to consume, allowing many people to reap the benefits that this cannabinoid has to offer, without experiencing any of the high.
Now, let’s talk about whether CBD oil is legal in sports. Performance-enhancing drugs of any kind are of course completely illegal in sports, with only a few exceptions and loopholes. Professional cyclists, for example, have long known the significant effects that an asthma inhaler can have on performance; even if the user does not have asthma, the inhaler can open up the airways more and allow the cyclist to take on more oxygen, bettering performance. They might cross the finish line just a few milliseconds faster than their opponents, but in professional cycling races, this is all you need. Asthma inhalers aren’t considered a performance enhancing drug, though, meaning they are still legal.
This raises questions about what a performance enhancer actually is. Of course, this is a whole other question – we’re talking about CBD here. And CBD does not actually fall into this category.
A history of cannabis in sport
In 1998, the Olympic authorities added cannabis to the list of banned substances for competing athletes, one year before the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) was even established. But then, since performance enhancers like steroids and HGH became center stage as a problem, the issue of marijuana in sport took a back seat.
However, in 2009, a photo of Michael Phelps smoking a bong went viral, and suddenly the issue was front and center once again. He was suspended from competition for three months as a result.
In 2013, the World Anti-Doping Agency raised the tolerated amount of THC in the body of Olympic athletes. There was not much fuss about this, and so, in 2016, they tweaked the rules again. As it currently stands, Olympic athletes are now allowed to smoke weed, but not during competition season. This means that it holds a similar status to alcohol – it is allowed in free time, but not during periods of competition.
What is not in the list of banned substances at all, however, is cannabidiol (CBD). Even during competition season, athletes are allowed to use CBD oil. In fact, WADA have recently declared outright that “cannabidiol is no longer prohibited.”
Why are athletes using CBD oil?
CBD oil affects our body in a number of ways. Unbeknownst to many, the body has its own endocannabinoid system (ECS), which contains a number of receptors that can react with the cannabinoids in plants – as well as the cannabinoids produced naturally in our own body. CBD interacts mainly with the CB1 and CB2 receptors, found in the brain, nervous system, and immune system.
So with this in mind, how might CBD oil affect the body in a way that is beneficial to athletes?
Reduces stress hormones
Stress is a very common feeling that we all experience, and it is triggered due to the adrenal glands producing hormones. The adrenal system is activated during physical activity, as more quantities of cortisol are released.
A study conducted at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil found that CBD might be able to prevent the secretion of cortisol. This reduces the total amount of cortisol in the blood, which could make it useful for athletes in that it reduces stress levels that are spiked by physical exercise.
CBD has been known for years to be able to reduce inflammation. This could be extremely beneficial for athletes, because inflammation is an issue that plagues their bodies. It can have a strong impact on their performance, meaning that it is an issue they want to fix… and fast. But do the anti-inflammatory claims about CBD hold true?
A study out of the National Institute of Health has suggested that CBD targets certain receptors in the body and can reduce inflammation. In the study, rodent subjects were administered cannabidiol in the circulatory system and spine, and it was found to reduce inflammation as well as pain caused by the issue. Furthermore, it didn’t create any tolerance to analgesics (pain relievers).
Another study found that topical CBD application reduced inflammation in arthritic mice. This could be huge for athletes, as it means that CBD could be applied directly to the problem area in order to relieve inflammation and pain.
Consider what goes through a sprinter’s mind as he sets up on the starting blocks. Anxiety is a huge factor in high-level sports, since every moment in an athlete’s life has been building up to this moment. This can be a huge problem because the way we think can significantly impact our performance. Apparently, the more positive and confident we feel, the better our performance will be.
Consider, by way of example, American long jumper Mike Powell. In 1991, he broke the world record at the world track and field championships – a record that had stood for 23 years. How? Because his biggest rival, Carl Lewis, had beaten the same world record just one jump earlier. Mike Powell was so determined to beat him – his mental strength was so strong – that he did it.
Anxiety can hinder our self-confidence, and thus affect our performance, which is why CBD might be helpful to athletes. A rather famous study administered a group of participants with CBD before giving a public speech. In this study, the researchers found that CBD relieved stress and anxiety, allowing the participants to perform better.
Some athletes need to manage their weight for a variety of reasons. Fighters, for example, sometimes need to fit into a particular weight category. There have been suggestions that CBD can help with weight loss by inhibiting certain hormones controlled by the endocannabinoid system.
The Polish Academy of Sciences published a study which administered CBD to rats. The CBD regulated the activity of the CB2 receptor, which helped the rats to regulate weight gain. This might be good news for athletes, but more research is certainly needed for concrete evidence.
Let’s talk about the main reason you’re reading this article: pain relief. Cannabidiol is said to have some great pain-relieving properties. Above, we talked about how CBD oil might reduce inflammation, but it can actually work wonders on all other kinds of pain, too.
Many athletes rely on Ibuprofen to curb their aches and pains, and worse still, some turn to opioids. However, these types of medication can have some pretty nasty side effects, including the dangerous risk of opioid addiction, which causes thousands of deaths each year.
Athletes such as Andrew Talansky, a cyclist for Slipstream Sports, have turned to CBD oil to treat their pains. The ones who have taken this route often swear by it, declaring that CBD oil has not only relieved their pain, but also improved their sleeping habits and reduced their stress. Furthermore, it appears to be a natural solution to problems, making it better for the body than prescription drugs.
Athletes that use CBD
Now that we know why athletes would use CBD, let’s look at some that have actually turned to it for help.
Eugene Monroe – NFL Tackle
Now retired, Eugene Monroe took an early leave from football over concerns about his health. He was one of the first active NFL players to advocate for medical marijuana and CBD, saying, “Whatever happens in terms of my professional football career, I will never stop pushing for the League to accept medical cannabis as a viable option for pain management.”
During his career, Monroe claimed to be 100% pharmaceutical free, using only cannabis to manage his pain. He cites his lack of experience of side effects as the reason for this choice, which some might deem radical. However, if Monroe’s example is anything to go by, it seems that CBD really could be a viable option for treating pain in sports, allowing athletes to wean themselves off of destructive painkillers.
Derrick Morgan – NFL Linebacker
An NFL linebacker for the Tennessee Titans, Morgan became the second active NFL player using CBD oil back in 2016, after Eugene Monroe. After hearing about the numerous potential benefits of CBD oil, including watching the CNN documentary “Weed” about Charlotte Figi, Derrick Morgan decided to investigate CBD for his own use.
With so many injuries and concussions suffered in football, Morgan decided to become an advocate for CBD research. He’s currently pushing for more research into CBD, in order that the NFL might be able to help their players endure ongoing injuries.
Gina Mazany – UFC Fighter
Since WADA has lifted the ban on CBD, Gina Mazany has spoken out; “I feel like it’s a conspiracy theory. There are so many ways that CBD can benefit everyone in one way or another, but if people are using a product that they aren’t going to make money off then they are not going to allow it.”
Perhaps she’s onto something here.
Mazany, a professional mixed martial artist, uses a 1:1 ratio CBD/THC vape pen that reduces her anxiety and allows her to sleep better. UFC is a sport where athletes need quick recovery, and it seems that quite a few fighters have turned to CBD for its beneficial properties, with Gina Mazany among them.
Chris Camozzi – MMA Fighter
MMA fighter Chris Camozzi is so open about his CBD use that he even hosted a reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) in February of 2017. Since he lives in Colorado, where weed is legal, he manages to get his hands on CBD oil pretty easily. However, Camozzi uses a hemp-based CBD product, rather than marijuana-based, in order to skirt around USADA laws.
In terms of his experience with CBD oil, Camozzi writes, “I healed my knee faster than my docs had ever seen. I’ll never forget the Dr. saying, ‘I’ve never seen anyone recover from an injury this quickly.’
Clearly, this is a huge step for MMA fighters and athletes. He went on to say, “But it wasn’t just my knee, my whole body started healing faster. I was recovering faster after workouts, [I was] less sore, [there was] less downtime, [and I was] able to rebound in ways I never had.”
So, among the scientific animal studies conducted into CBD’s pain-relieving properties, we also have powerful anecdotal evidence such as this which suggests that CBD oil could be extremely useful for athletes in contact sports.
Nate Diaz – UFC Fighter
Another UFC fighter in this list is Nate Diaz, who openly vaped in the middle of a UFC press conference. In this very conference, he had a gash on his nose and black eyes so swollen you could barely see beneath the skin, but he seemed rather settled. He took a long draw from his vape pen and told the reporters, “It’s CBD.”
Diaz says that he uses CBD after a fight in order to relax and relieve the pain that follows his hits. He also claims it helps him to relax during training and not get too stressed and worked up.
Despite being notorious for getting in trouble with the USADA, Diaz isn’t breaking any rules here – CBD is a perfectly legal (and natural) substance for most athletes.
In this article, we have taken a look at just how beneficial CBD can be for athletes. It can be taken as a pre-workout supplement to reduce stress, or even after strenuous exercise to unwind and relieve pain.
As WADA has removed CBD from its list of prohibited substances, it seems likely that more and more athletes will look into using it as part of their training regimen. And why not? If research is showing that administering CBD really does hold all these effects, and if athletes can’t get into trouble for its usage, then it would be silly not to give it a try.
Already, there are multiple athletes using CBD, including campaign advocate Derrick Morgan and converted believer Chris Camozzi. Only time will tell just how many athletes try out this compound in the future.
Inflammation 1: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22585736
Inflammation 2: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4851925/
Performance limits: nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/07/building-a-better-athlete/
Pain relief: outsideonline.com/2296261/athletes-ditching-ibuprofen-cbd-marijuana