Performance and Recovery: How Athletes Have Adopted CBD into Wellness

CBD’s popularity has taken off like few others before it: Despite the fact that the compound was only legalized in late 2018 as a result of the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, an astonishingly high 1 in 7 Americans have used CBD. Many of those users are younger and tend to use it for its potential benefits, like pain relief or help in getting to sleep. The popularity of CBD has fueled the explosive growth of the CBD industry, which is now expected to generate well north of $24 billion over the next few years. One estimate holds that CBD sales will more than double every year for the next three years.

CBD’s popularity comes from its purported benefits, which are many, including the potential to relieve pain, ameliorate stress, and help reduce depression and anxiety. More research is needed, but millions of people have found relief from a variety of symptoms by using CBD. Among those are athletes, whose stressful and injury-filled lifestyle leaves them as primary potential beneficiaries of CBD’s many benefits.

As such, here is an overview of just how athletes are now using CBD, and what implications that may have for you.


How CBD Works

Before understanding why CBD is so popular, it is important to understand just how it works. CBD itself is not a drug. Like marijuana, it comes from the cannabis plant, but that is where the similarities end: CBD will not get you high and generally speaking, will not show up on a drug test.

CBD is short for cannabidiol. It is one of over one hundred naturally occurring cannabinoids that are known to exist. Cannabinoids are found in nature and are also produced in your body. Indeed, all humans and animals are born with an Endocannabinoid System. Your Endocannabinoid System is made up of a variety of parts, including:

  • Cannabinoids that are made within your own body
  • Cannabinoid receptors found all over your body. At the moment, researchers have identified two different cannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2.
  • Cannabinoid-destroying enzymes.

Your body produces cannabinoids. Those cannabinoids then interact with CB1 or CB2, binding together. This can produce an array of physiological impacts on your body, altering a variety of sensations, including impacting pain, stress, anxiety, hunger, fatigue, and more. Upon the conclusion of the reaction, enzymes will break down your cannabinoids.

CBD does not bind with your cannabinoid receptors. Instead, it alters the reactions between your cannabinoid receptors and naturally produced cannabinoids, increasing the strength of the reaction and making it last for longer periods of time.


CBD for Pain Relief

As noted above, CBD has many potential benefits. One of those is pain relief.

Numerous studies found that there may be evidence that shows how CBD can potentially be useful when it comes to relieving a wide array of pain. For example, a 2018 review researched available literature and found that there may be scientific support behind the notion of CBD serving as a pain reliever.

Studies of rats with arthritis specifically found that rats that were given CBD topically showed decreased swelling, increased mobility, and decreased pain signs. The Arthritis Foundation has even put together formal guidance for individuals with arthritis who are interested in trying CBD. The guidance says that CBD may be helpful for people with arthritis, but that they should consult their doctor before trying it. Additional evidence also suggests that CBD can help relieve specific types of pain, pain that occurs as a result of Multiple Sclerosis and cancer treatments.

When it comes to athletes, many have said that CBD has helped them relieve the pain associated with playing sports or injuries. These include athletes from a wide array of sports, including golfers like Billy Horschel, rugby players like George Kuis, and UFC fighters like Nate Diaz. These players, among many others, have said that CBD helps to relieve their pain and recover from tough games, fights, or workouts.

In addition to the available scientific evidence that shows CBD’s pain-reducing capabilities, further evidence shows that the compound is relatively safe. For example, a report put out by the World Health Organization states that CBD is safe, well-tolerated in most humans, and shows no potential for addiction or abuse. This is unlike many other common pain-relieving compounds, including opioids, which are highly addictive and come with an array of side effects. Furthermore, extended use of over the counter pain medicines, like NSAIDS, may increase the risk of stomach and heart disease if used over extended periods of time.


CBD for Sleep

Another use of CBD has been its potential ability to improve sleep. Again, more studies are needed, and the research is in its early phases. However, it does appear that CBD may have positive benefits on sleep. For example, a 2017 review noted that CBD has the ability to reduce both pain and anxiety, and one of the benefits of this was that it made it easier for people to fall asleep and stay asleep. In 2019, another study tested 72 people who reported trouble sleeping and anxiety concerns. By the time the study concluded, almost 4 out of 5 patients reported a decrease in anxiety, and another 2 out of 3 patients reported improved sleep. A longer and larger study from 2016 to 2018 found that CBD and THC could help improve sleep scores.

This is very important for athletes, as sleep is virtually a requirement of their job. One study found that athletes who slept longer performed better on both the accuracy and speed of their basketball shots. Similar studies have shown identical results across a wide array of areas, including the importance of sleep when it comes to reaction time and cognitive function. Sleep for athletes is critical. As such, it follows that CBD can be performance-enhancing in helping athletes sleep better.


CBD for Stress and Anxiety Reduction

Another potential use of CBD has been its ability to help reduce stress levels and anxiety among a wide array of people, including athletes.

A 2015 review discussed available literature and explored the theoretical workings for how CBD can potentially reduce anxiety. It discussed the specific chemical mechanisms by which this may occur and noted that there are studies that showed its potential. A variety of other studies have noted that CBD may have the ability to reduce multiple types of anxiety, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and social anxiety.

Perhaps most interesting was a study conducted in 2011, which found that individuals who were administered CBD before giving a speech reported lower levels of anxiety. The study’s authors noted that this may mean that CBD could help to reduce specific, performance-based anxiety. This has significant implications for sports, which are known to trigger this type of anxiety.


Changing Rules in Sports Leagues

When it comes to the sports world, rules are changing. Sports have long conducted drug tests for both illegal and performance-enhancing drugs, often implementing strict penalties against athletes who were found to be violating their substance abuse policies. Among the drugs which have typically been banned is marijuana.

However, there are at least two issues with those prohibitions. First, while it is doubtful and rare, it is possible to test positive for THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the compound found in marijuana that is associated with “getting high”) if you use Full Spectrum CBD. Second, many states have now legalized marijuana. Indeed, marijuana is now legal for recreational use in 11 states and Washington, D.C. It is also legal for medical reasons in another 33 states and Washington, D.C.

As such, these sports rules are outdated. To their credit, some sports have begun to adjust their rules accordingly. For example, major league baseball recently amended its rules to allow for the use of CBD. The World Anti-Doping Agency did the same. Meanwhile, the NBA has temporarily stopped testing players for marijuana while their players are in “the bubble” during this COVID season, although whether or not that will remain once the season can resume in full force remains to be seen.

This may have real world implications as well. For example, there have been instances where police officers have had their jobs threatened after positive drug tests that they attributed to CBD use. If sports rules can be changed to allow for CBD use, perhaps other rules can be adjusted as well.


Athletes Endorsing CBD

Many athletes have endorsed CBD products. For example, Terrell Davis, the former NFL player, went as far as saying that he felt he would have been able to play longer had he been legally able to use CBD as part of his injury recovery.

Of course, Davis isn’t the only athlete or former athlete who has publicly backed CBD for its potential wellness benefits. Mike Tyson, the former boxing legend, believes CBD can help fight opiate addiction in addition to aiding in pain relief for sports-related injuries. Olympic athlete Lolo Jones also uses CBD for pain relief. She also uses it to help with her insomnia that stems from jetlag, saying she is able to “take CBD oil and go right to bed.” Kerri Walsh Jennings, another Olympic athlete, praises CBD for the same sleep benefits.

While many people may believe it’s just for the money, athletes are usually particularly sensitive about lending their name to anything physical which could have an impact on their bodies or those of others. Furthermore, these athletes are just a small group of those who have said they have found CBD to be useful to their recovery and training.


Next Steps for Athletes and You


If you are considering using CBD, make sure to check with your doctor before starting the compound, just like you would when using any other supplement. While research has shown CBD to be safe, there are some concerns about CBD and drug interactions, so it is always worth checking with a medical professional before starting.

Furthermore, you should determine the best way to take CBD so that it fits with your schedule and lifestyle. There are many different ways to take CBD, including:

  • Edibles, which can be eaten. These often come in the form of sweet snacks, like gummies.
  • Topicals, creams, or patches, which can be rubbed into a specific area of concern.
  • Tinctures, which can be taken sublingually (under the tongue) or added to food and drink.

When it comes to dosage, start slow, and work your way up. Use the recommended dose on the bottle and slowly increase until you start to feel the desired effect.

Some users report side effects when it comes to CBD use. These side effects are usually relatively minor and include drowsiness or an upset stomach. They usually go away with time, but you should be aware that some people report these issues and be ready to address any of these side effects that may occur.

To be sure, more research is needed when it comes to CBD. However, as available evidence and the experience of many indicates, CBD seems to have the potential to do a great deal of good for you and for athletes.

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