Having recently written about medical cannabis currently being banned for use in sports, I thought I would expand on the subject. Although THC is a banned substance, CBD has been removed from the banned substances list. But does it play a potential role for the health of athletes, and can it help with recovery after exercise?
WHAT EXACTLY IS CBD?
Cannabis contains many chemicals known as cannabinoids. Two of these cannabinoids found in abundance – Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). THC is recognised as the substance in cannabis which has psycho-active properties, and leads to people getting high, or stoned. However, CBD does not possess any psycho-active properties, meaning if it is taken as an isolated product, individuals will not experience the same effects on their mental state as THC produces.
CBD works by helping to maintain some of the body’s homeostatic processes, via the endocannabinoid (ECB) system. Essentially, when something is “out of balance” from normal within the body, the ECB system begins to work, helping to restore that imbalance.
CBD has been shown to assist with the functioning of the body’s natural ECB system, by helping to stimulate the ECB receptors which help to regulate and maintain homeostasis within the body.
CBD use for medical purposes has grown rapidly over recent years. It can be prescribed to treat a range of mental health conditions such as anxiety and sleep related disorders. It has also been used to alleviate cancer treatment issues such as nausea and vomiting, and cancer pain; as well as helping to manage neurological disorders such as epilepsy and Parkinson’s Disease.
HOW CAN IT HELP WITH AN ATHLETE’S RECOVERY?
Athletes put their bodies through quite a bit….and as a result, fatigue can build up quite quickly. Allowing the body to rest and reset from this fatigue is vitally important, which is why recovery is such a large area of focus.
One of the areas CBD can help athletes is with mental health problems. The ECB system has been shown to help maintain stress, anxiety and emotional responses. By helping to minimise these mental health issues, athletes are able to focus more clearly on their training and sports performance. In addition, athletes may be able to get a better quality of sleep, which is essential for both sports performance and recovery.
Pain relief and reduction in inflammation is also a potential benefit of CBD for athletes. Some studies have shown that CBD can provide some anti-inflammatory benefits, in addition to providing some neuro-protective benefits, which can assist in maintaining muscle function.
While there are no performance gains to be had from CBD for athletes, the studies show that CBD as a recovery aid may be of benefit. By allowing the body to rest and recover adequately, and reducing stress and anxiety, CBD can assist athletes to keep their bodies functioning at their best.
IS IT BANNED?
CBD, by itself, is no longer on the banned substance list. However, if you are considering using CBD as a recovery aid, you will need to be cautious. CBD products are available in a few forms, the most common of which are “full spectrum” oils and “isolate” oils.
Full spectrum oils contain mostly CBD, but also contain a small amount of THC. However, isolate oils should only contain CBD, with no THC present.
While CBD is not a banned substance, THC is. Care needs to be taken, and advice should be sought as to whether the oil you are considering using is a full spectrum or an isolate product. Being caught out with THC in your system and getting banned from the sport you love is not an ideal outcome, especially if it’s due to simple carelessness. Remember, as an athlete, you are responsible for what goes into your body.
AVAILABILITY OF CBD
As of 2022, in Australia, CBD is technically available as an over the counter product. There are restrictions as to strengths and quantities, but it can be sold without a prescription. It isn’t quite that simple to obtain though.
Previously, CBD products were heavily regulated, and could only be purchased with a prescription from an Authorised Prescriber. When the rules were changed and CBD products were down-regulated, none of the companies who produce CBD products sought to have them rescheduled. Hence, all proprietary CBD products are currently still registered as “prescription only”.
However, some compounding pharmacies are now making their own CBD oil, upon recommendation. The regulations allow for smaller quantities and maximum strengths to be specially made and supplied where it is deemed appropriate, which can be sold directly to customers over the counter. It is still worth having a chat to your GP about the use of these products, and you will definitely need to seek advice from a compounding pharmacist as to whether these products may be of assistance to you though
SHOULD ALL ATHLETES BE RUSHING OUT TO USE CBD PRODUCTS?
While the theory behind the use of CBD products for athletes, especially as a recovery aid, seems to be valid, more research is needed.
Current studies are unfortunately still limited, and mostly based upon animal studies. CBD products definitely won’t provide a performance boost, but the limited evidence shows they may be of benefit as a recovery aid. As further research in this area is conducted and more valid results are obtained, the use of CBD may become common place as a recovery aid for athletes.