CBD and sport: can it improve performance?

CBD and sport: can it improve performance?

Cannabis is strictly prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency. For those unfamiliar, this organisation is the international body that ensures no professional athlete engages with prohibited substances. Many athletes, however, have started to voice their disagreement on the prohibition of weed. Specifically, athletes point to the pain-relieving and mind-clearing powers of the herb that bring them relief and enhance their performance. Whether it's ultra-marathon runner Avery Collins, UFC star Nick Diaz, or the myriad of NFL players that have begun to advocate for it publicly, the cosigns are there. This is especially true for CBD in sports.

Big steps are already being made with CBD. Evidence suggests that it offers the anti-inflammatory and analgesic benefits of whole-plant cannabis, without the psychoactive effects that cause controversy. This, of course, has made it extremely popular among professional athletes.

One example is former NFL running back Jake Plummer, who regularly discusses CBD's role in fighting his pain and inflammation. Another fan, although not quite an athlete themselves, is the World Anti-Doping Agency, who recently declared CBD is no longer prohibited for athletes under their oversight. Sure, WADA lifting the ban doesn't directly say CBD does everything people claim; however, there are multiple recent studies that point in that direction.


Cbd and sport: can it improve performance?

As we've alluded to, recent studies into CBD have showcased a variety of potential effects. Amongst CBD's effects that have stuck out, especially among athletes, is its potential to tackle inflammation and acute/chronic pain. Another area CBD is being shown to benefit athletes is assisting with sleep. If you've ever put in a hard day of work as an athlete, you know how pivotal sleep can be in your recovery. So, how exactly might CBD aid in an athlete's performance and recovery?

Let’s take a closer look.


First, let's discuss specifically how CBD has been shown to tackle inflammation. In 2011, Free Radical Biology & Medicine released a review of studies that detailed how cannabidiol interacts with the immune system to lower oxidative stress, which in excess can cause organ dysfunction and damage. This sounds specific, but this property shows great potential for CBD to tackle conditions ranging from neuropathic pain and hypertension to rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer's, and both type 1 and 2 diabetes.

Furthermore, in a 2012 study on mice, CBD was shown to significantly decrease inflammation caused by an acute lung injury. There's still much more research to be done, but the current science is encouraging.


Along with inflammation, there is growing evidence to support CBD's pain-relieving potential. In a 2012 study by the Journal of Experimental Medicine, researchers discovered that CBD can suppress both neuropathic and inflammatory pain by interacting with α3 glycine receptors.  

Another study, conducted in 2017, details how CBD interacts with certain parts of the brain to stop sensory neurons from detecting pain. The test was conducted on rats, but results suggest the cannabinoid may be able to combat the sensorial and affective aspects of human pain. As with the other studies, these are analyses of specific situations, many of which are preclinical in nature. Ergo, the results shouldn't be considered as outright proof. However, the properties displayed in these contexts shouldn't be discounted either.


Cbd and sport: can it improve performance?

Sleep and sports performance are directly and inseparably connected. Athletes, like anyone else, have to be well-rested to perform at their best. It goes even further, though, since our bodies produce muscle-building hormones while we sleep. REM sleep (the period of deep sleep when dreams occur) has also been shown to relax muscles and relieve tension. So, where does CBD come into play?

In one study from the Journal of Psychopharmacology, scientists studying rats found systemic acute CBD administration to lengthen sleep time. Six years afterward, in 2019, a review of self-reported sleep times by CBD patients found that two-thirds of them experienced better sleep during the first month. Their results began to fluctuate over time, and the study acknowledges that controlled tests need to be conducted, but it's a great sign nonetheless.


You can listen to scientists talk about it, sure, but who better to hear from than athletes themselves? Riley Cote, for instance, dealt with chronic pain after eight brutal seasons in the National Hockey League. Thankfully, three years later, he tried CBD. He described it as a "game changer", leaving such an impression that he now takes it twice a day and has started a CBD business of his own.

Scott McCarron, the #1 ranked member of the PGA Champions Tour in 2018, felt a similar way. He was given a sample during a tour that year, and upon trying it found himself able to sleep the deepest and longest he had in years. Amongst many other senior professional golf players, he's become a strong proponent. Considering how CBD is replacing opioids in some of these instances, retired NHL players like Ryan VandenBussche are also thankful there's a new way to relief.


As far as whether we'll be seeing CBD in the future of professional sports, the short answer is probably. The way research is going, and the safety profile CBD is considered to have is making it an attractive compound for professional athletes, and that is unlikely to change. As we mentioned earlier, CBD is no longer prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency. Research continues, and as regulation comes into place, CBD is likely to have a much larger role to play in sports.