Can CBD Enhance Athletic Efficiency?
For elite athletes and those of us aiming for such heights, finding performance-enhancing substances is eternal and challenging. Dietary supplements must comply with anti-doping laws, be safe and preferably natural.
Enter CBD or cannabidiol. CBD is currently causing ripples in athletes seeking benefits as diverse as accelerated recovery from injury, better sleep, and less muscle pain.
Although many organizations consider cannabis' other major cannabinoid, THC, to be an illegal substance, the World Anti-Doping Agency allows the use of pure CBD isolate. A non-intoxicating cannabinoid with anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, anti-anxiety, and analgesic properties, CBD could be a legal, game-changing addition.
CBD products for recreational and top athletes such as cbdMD and fourfivecbd are already being accepted by athletes with different codes.
But is the power of CBD just hype? Is there substantial evidence that CBD can provide this elusive benefit to athletes? Or are these claims just a PR spin for a trendy cannabinoid?
The Complete Guide to CBD (Cannabidiol)
What Are Studies Saying About CBD?
According to a recently published study from 2020, CBD can help athletes in many ways.
Reduced inflammation and pain
A 2020 review published in Sports Medicine analyzed preclinical animal studies and clinical CBD studies in non-athletic populations. The authors found that CBD can promote physiological, biochemical, and psychological effects that may be beneficial to athletes.
One of the key takeaways from the review is that CBD can help reduce inflammatory pain associated with tissue damage and neuropathic pain caused by nerve damage or irritation. This could be an important benefit for endurance athletes: Repetitive long-distance exercise can cause inflammation and irritation of the peripheral nerves.
Protection against gastrointestinal damage
The above sports medicine study also found that CBD can protect against gastrointestinal damage. Athletes who regularly engage in strenuous activities can reduce the supply of oxygen and nutrients to their gastrointestinal tract (GI).
GI stress can adversely affect exercise performance and recovery due to nausea, vomiting, and impaired food intake. Preclinical research has shown that CBD can reduce tissue damage and restore the permeability of the intestines.
The authors named above also provided evidence that CBD can support healthy bone deposition and help heal fractures. Healthy bones are essential for athletes, and bone health is sometimes compromised by traumatic injuries or insufficient energy availability.
Management of athletic performance anxiety
According to the Sports Medicine Review, CBD may also help athletes deal with fear of athletic performance. Fear of competition can lead to loss of sleep, increase energy expenditure, and impair food intake.
According to the review's authors, studies in non-athlete populations have shown that CBD can relieve anxiety in stressful situations. CBD might even be more effective when combined with psychological interventions like cognitive behavioral therapies.
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Neuroprotective properties to protect against brain injury
Another 2020 study published in Pharmacological Research also examined the validity and applicability of existing CBD research for athletes. These authors came to similar conclusions, but with a slightly different focus.
The neuroprotective properties of CBD have been highlighted for its potential to counteract damage that can occur after a sports-related concussion. These concussions are viewed as a variation of a mild traumatic brain injury and can lead to harmful long-term complications such as neural damage.
The study's authors emphasize recent research in an animal model showing that CBD oil may help treat pain, aggression, and depression associated with mild traumatic brain injury. CBD oil also helped counteract neural damage in the brain's prefrontal cortex. The cannabinoid also inhibits oxidative stress and neuroinflammation and gives other neuroprotective benefits.
These are promising results as no effective pharmacological therapies are currently available for the treatment of mild traumatic brain injury. Repeated traumatic brain injuries, which can be common in contact sports, can also lead to chronic neurodegenerative diseases such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Sleep and wake cycles
The 2020 pharmacological research study also highlighted the sleep-altering potential of CBD. Research on animal models has shown that CBD can be both a sleep-inducing and a wakefulness-promoting agent. This ability to produce opposing effects – so-called two-phase effects – depends on the dose used and seems to work most effectively when the natural sleep-wake cycle is disturbed.
Lower doses of CBD appear to promote alertness, while higher doses appear to calm and induce sleep. Both traits can be beneficial: while the pursuit of a solid sleep before a big game is invaluable, being awake can also improve performance for athletes participating in ultra marathons or endurance competitions.
But does one of these benefits cost the performance in the field? Improved rest and healthy sleep may sound attractive, but not when they mean disturbed balance or impaired coordination.
However, according to the sports medicine study, the answer is no. The researchers evaluated clinical studies examining the effects of CBD on cognitive and psychomotor function, and found that current data suggests that CBD is unlikely to have negative effects in healthy individuals.
Does CBD help or hinder sleep?
What do experts and athletes say about CBD?
For Dr. Elaine Burns, Medical Director of the Southwest Medical Marijuana Physicians Group and founder of the ReLeaf CBD products by Dr. Burns, CBD holds great promise for athletes. Burns cautions, however, that current knowledge is limited as most of the data is based on animal studies, where animals tend to receive high doses of CBD.
"There's a lot to learn about how to transfer dosages from animals to humans," she said. That being said, the potential benefits are abundant, especially when it comes to treating and reducing inflammation.
"CBD can help athletes recover by reducing inflammation and helping muscle relaxation," Burns said. "It's an anti-inflammatory agent that reduces anti-inflammatory markers in the body. There is also research showing that CBD is effective in fighting neuroinflammation and makes CBD attractive to athletes who play sports such as football or boxing, which it often does there is concussion. "
For athletes curious about CBD, Burns recommends opting for sublingual tinctures.
Is CBD Legal In Your State? Check this table to find out
“I think sublingually administered drops should be the preferred method. This way, CBD gets into your system faster and has higher bioavailability, so the dose can be reduced. "
For Stu Kam, a jujitsu athlete and owner of ATH Organics, CBD gums are a non-negotiable part of his supplement regimen.
"As a Brazilian jiu-jitsu athlete and competitor, CBD was an important part of my training regimen to aid my recovery and especially my calm," said Kam.
He continued, “I take 25 mg of CBD gums every night to help me sleep better after a workout. Before using CBD, I find it difficult to fall asleep after a workout, which ultimately led to a poor recovery. Since taking CBD, I've noticed a much deeper sleep and the ability to reach my full potential the next day. "
The last word
As is so often the case with cannabis research, more data on the human population is needed to produce more conclusive results. The authors of the studies on sports medicine and pharmacological research emphasize the preliminary nature of their results. While the current data is very promising, clinical research on athlete populations will provide more detailed insights into the benefits of CBD.
Fortunately, such research initiatives appear to be already underway. In 2019, Aurora Cannabis partnered with the UFC to develop clinical research on CBD, athlete wellbeing, and recovery. More research is sure to follow. Expect more studies in this area in the near future.
Emma Stone is a New Zealand-based journalist specializing in cannabis, health and wellbeing. She has a Ph.D. in sociology and has worked as a researcher and lecturer, but above all loves being a writer. She enjoyed spending her days writing, reading, outdoor hiking, eating, and swimming.