CBD In Sports: Performance, Recovery, and Controversy
CBD oil’s pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties make it an appealing—and controversial—supplement for professional athletes.
Written by Cathy Rozyczko
Edited by Jason Brett on
September 27, 2021
We are all familiar with the infamous ‘runner’s high,’ that magical feeling of hard-earned bliss and contentment that washes over you after an intense bout of exercise.
Interestingly, the cause for this euphoria is not due entirely to endorphins, as once thought, but is in part due to anandamide – a fatty acid neurotransmitter that is almost identical to THC. Anandamide is detectable at elevated levels after a workout.
Anandamide is the ‘bliss chemical’ produced naturally in our bodies and is responsible for feelings of euphoria, pain-relief, well-being, and relaxation. CBD directly increases the amount of anandamide available to our bodies, resulting in increased benefits, and decreased side-effects, from enjoying your favorite workout routine.
Additional benefits of CBD for athletes include:
- Pain and Inflammation: CBD inhibits pain and inflammation through various means, including affecting the TRPV1 receptor, glycine receptors, and adenosine receptors. [S]
- Nausea: CBD is an effective antiemetic, which can help with nausea and feeling of sickness during intense physical training. [S]
- Appetite Stimulation: CBD indirectly stimulates appetite, assisting those such as MMA fighters and power-lifters to consume the added calories needed for building muscle.
- Muscle Spasms: Strained muscles, dehydration, trauma, and damage to the nerves or spinal cord often cause uncomfortable muscle spasms which are treatable with CBD. [S]
- Concussion Protection: CBD has the ability to disrupt the flow of chemicals during a concussion that leads to brain cell death, acting as a neuroprotectant. [S]
This is just a small look into how CBD oil helps not only high-performance athletes but also anyone interested in enhancing the results they experience from exercise. And perhaps one of the greatest potential benefits for exercise enthusiasts is CBD oil’s ability to reducing post-exercise pain and discomfort.
This isn’t necessarily news; even gold-medalist Olympians like Ross Rebagliati have been using CBD for quite some time. Fortunately for Olympians at least, CBD is no longer a banned substance. Other professional sports associations are not as forward-thinking as the International Olympic Committee, meaning far too many professional athletes – and weekend warriors – are forced to deal with lifelong pain from injuries sustained playing the sport they love.
Learning to Live With Pain
Anyone who plays (or has played) a sport understands the aches and pains that are the inevitable result. Full contact sports often include over-stressing joints, doing abrupt defensive moves, and sustaining repeated blows to the body and head.
Basketball, baseball, and soccer players spend tons of time running across the field or court, causing immense strain on their joints and tendons – ultimately resulting in inflammation and often debilitating pain and soreness.
Yet professional athletes of all stripes, from tennis players to figure skaters, are accustomed to the concept of ‘playing through the pain’. Even so, injuries mean time away from the sport, which means the fear of losing their ‘competitive edge,’ and maybe even prize money or sponsorship, were they to take the time needed to recuperate.
For the rest of us who are no strangers to a pickup game of basketball or catching a great wave, but whose livelihoods don’t depend on our athletics, sports injuries are perhaps even more debilitating. After all, the average Joe or Jane doesn’t have a full complement of physical therapists and world-class orthopedic surgeons to tend to our rehabilitation.
Opioids and anti-inflammatory drugs like NSAIDs are the most common approach to dealing with daily occurrences of pain in pros and amateurs alike. But what few realize is that even these everyday drugs come with a laundry list of side effects, including death.
In fact, if NSAID deaths were calculated separately in National Vital Statistics reports, they would be the 15th leading cause of death in the US.
This bewildering statistic does not take into account the far-reaching effects of chronic pain/prescription drug use on a person’s mental well-being, and subsequently every aspect of their life (family, friends, sleep, etc.).
CBD offers a non-toxic, non-addictive, virtually side effect-free alternative when dealing with chronic and acute pain. Despite worldwide cannabis legalization efforts, and the legality of hemp-based CBD in many countries, most professional sports authorities do not take approve of its use. As such, CBD’s therapeutic and medicinal applications remain a topic of heated controversy as research continues to show what many athletes have known anecdotally for decades: that cannabis and CBD could be an ideal way to relieve pain without devastating side-effects.
Let’s take a look at how various professional sports organizations feel about CBD.
The NFL and CBD
Although the National Football League still tests players for both THC and CBD, many expect this policy to change during the renegotiation of league contractual terms in 2020. Many current and former players struggle with chronic pain, opioid dependency, and the life-long consequences that come with both.
This potential change comes in the wake of 1,800 NFL players suing the NFL for violating federal drug laws to keep them playing in the midst of debilitating pain, irresponsibly distributing controlled substances. No surprise, then, that in a survey of retired NFL players, 71% admitted they had misused painkillers while playing, and in retirement use opioids at a rate three times higher than the general public.
Yet, Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner as of this writing, is not in support of the recreational use of cannabis, but claims he is willing to listen to the league’s medical advisors in regards to the role of cannabis in safely treating pain for players:
“To date, [the league’s medical advisors] haven’t said this is a change we think you should make that’s in the best interests of the health and safety of our players. If they do, we’re certainly going to consider that.”- Roger Goodell, NFL Commissioner
Undeterred by the NFL’s official stance, former NFL players like Eugene Monroe, Jake Plummer, Jim McMahon, Ebenezer Ekuban – and even Joe Montana – are speaking out in favor of removing marijuana from the NFL banned substances list:
“Legalization is picking up steam on a global level and I feel like now is the time to spread information about the curing capabilities of this plant.”
– Joe Montana, Hall of Fame quarterback
“It’s time for the NFL to change its archaic standards to better protect its players. For too long, I’ve watched my teammates and good friends battle with opioid addiction and leave the game with a long road still ahead; it’s time to make a change.”
– Eugene Monroe, former offensive tackle
“There’s years I don’t remember, just because I was in such a fog. That’s when I really started using cannabis to combat my pain. I’ve been an advocate for it for a lot of years, and I’m not ashamed of it.”
– Jim McMahon, former quarterback
“I think in due time, the NFL is going to realize that CBD is not a performance-enhancing drug. If anything, it helps with anxiety, helps with concentration, it helps with pain.”
– Ebenezer Ekuban, former defensive end
The NBA and CBD
The National Basketball Association has a rather strict stance on cannabis and CBD, giving players four random drug screens a year, with each ‘failure to pass’ resulting in increasingly severe consequences.
Surprisingly David Stern, the former NBA commissioner from 1984-2014 (who notoriously tightened regulations on cannabis use) recently stated that medical marijuana “should probably be removed from the banned substances list.”
“… If you told the fans that if the players rubbed it (marijuana creams) on their knees that they wouldn’t take a night off, that would really send it over the top.”
– David Stern
Unfortunately, that change in heart hasn’t lead to lifting restrictions on cannabis for current players. Former power forward Al Harrington owns medical marijuana businesses in three states, and has spoken to NBPA president Chris Paul about the possibility of removing cannabis as as banned substance.
There is currently no planned renegotiation of the NBA collective bargaining agreement until the 2023-2024 season. But that doesn’t stop current stars from continuing to speak out in favor of allowing cannabis use among players for myriad reasons. Karl-Anthony Towns, center for the Minnesota Timberwolves, agrees with former commissioner Stern:
“There's a difference between recreational and medicinal. A Vicodin or Percocet is very, very addicting… just because we're NBA athletes, we're not super humans. Some of us have conditions that could use [medicinal marijuana] to our benefit for everyday living…”
– Karl-Anthony Townes
The Controversial History of Cannabis in Sports
Before the establishment of the World Anti-Doping Code by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in 2004, prohibition was left up to the governing international sports federations to ban, or not ban, cannabis from their sport. Cannabis was perhaps the most heated topic of debate at the 2003 World Conference on Doping in Sport, and the result was a ban in virtually every single sport.
The list of prohibited substances is based on these three criteria — a substance must meet two of the three to be banned:
1. Potential to enhance performance
2. Risk to the athlete’s health
3. Violation of the spirit of sport
One may assume that the prohibition of cannabis in sports happened due to the first two pieces of criteria, however, this may not be the case.
In fact, cannabis is often discussed as a substance that has a detrimental effect on athletic performance due to an altered perception of time, distorted spatial perception and impaired coordination.
But the reality is, cannabinoids could potentially allow an athlete to feel less stressed and perform better under pressure. Cannabis may decrease depression symptoms, anxiety, and fear, while also increasing risk-taking behaviors without altering decision-making abilities.
In 2002, after observing that over one-fourth of all positive tests conducted by the French International Olympic Committee (IOC) were positive for cannabinoids, one researcher decided to conduct a survey. What he found was a positive correlation between the level of competitiveness in sports and the usage of cannabis.
Cannabinoids have also been found to play a considerable role in the extinction of fearful memories by interfering with learned aversive behaviors. This effect could be a massive advantage for an individual who has experienced a traumatic event or injury in their sports career.
This study openly acknowledges the cannabis may provide an athlete with an unfair advantage and sports authorities should regulate its use, however, it is hard to ignore the potential health benefits that can also be experienced.
The Future of CBD in Sports
At the start of 2018, the WADA officially removed CBD from its list of banned substances. Due to this major step forward in policy, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) will also stop testing for CBD.
This is great news for many athletes, particularly UFC fighters, who will now be able to legally implement CBD into their performance and recovery regimens. The National Hockey League and Major League Baseball Player’s Association are also among those with much more lenient attitudes on medicinal cannabis.
Considering the influence WADA have on sports organizations worldwide, it will be interesting to see the way this decision to remove CBD from the banned substances list will change the perception of CBD in the coming years. This decision, coupled with the voices of athletes who are now comfortable to speak out about their own positive experiences with cannabinoids, will likely do a lot to remove the stigma associated with cannabis use.
It’s unrealistic to imagine a world where athletes from every sport have access to tailor-made cannabinoid regimens, with specific cannabinoid profiles geared to relieve whatever ails them. Research on the benefits of lesser-known cannabinoids like CBG and CBN is still in its infancy, but early results are promising.
Learn More About CBD
Athletes who participate in impact sports put a great deal of stress on their minds and bodies. Unfortunately, current methods ...Learn More
If you spend a lot of time with horses, then you know that they are incredibly intelligent and sensitive animals ...Learn More
With the passage of the Farm Bill in 2018, CBD became effectively legal in the United States. This ground-breaking legislation ...Learn More
All professional sports require a certain amount of athleticism and endurance, but there is perhaps no sport as physically and ...Learn More
Elevated cholesterol is something many people will have to contend with during the course of their life. So what is ...Learn More
If you’re a regular CBD oil shopper, you may have come across the US Hemp Authority certification seal on CBD ...Learn More
CBD oil is increasingly popular these days; there is a large market of CBD oil products, along with a growing ...Learn More
Whether your menstrual cycle brings abdominal heaviness, mild cramping, or several days of intense, throbbing pain, you're likely not looking ...Learn More
Anyone investigating the therapeutic potential of CBD has likely encountered more than a few sources claiming CBD products are legal ...Learn More
CBD and yoga can – and should – go hand-in-hand. These two vitality boosters are the perfect complement to one ...Learn More
The hemp plant harbors many potential benefits when cultivated and processed cleanly. While the euphoria cannabis is known for comes ...Learn More
CBD oil products are everywhere now, but ambiguity surrounding the use of CBD oil still abounds, especially in the world ...Learn More
Imagine this: you're curled up on your comfortable couch, surrounded by soft throw pillows, sipping a cup of hot chocolate ...Learn More
Though many people are still learning about cannabidiol (CBD) and its many natural benefits, the naturally occurring chemical compound has ...Learn More
A lot of people ask this question - is CBD oil legal in Florida? It appears that there has been ...Learn More
If you're just starting to learn about CBD and its potential benefits, you likely have many questions. There is so ...Learn More
Every plant on the planet has a purpose. Every piece of the ecosystem serves a purpose, and some lucky plants ...Learn More
For decades, people have been raving about the endless benefits of the hemp plant. Surprisingly though, some people may still ...Learn More
I’ve been poking around the interweb a bit for travelling with CBD tips and was a little surprised… I think ...Learn More
Delta 8 THC is the hot new cannabinoid on the wellness scene. As was the case with CBG a couple ...Learn More
The term ‘seed to sale’ is thrown around a lot in CBD marketing. CBD companies that claim to be seed ...Learn More
Delta 8 THC is one of the many cannabinoids found in the hemp plant. Like cannabidiol aka CBD oil, delta ...Learn More
We don’t have to tell you. You already know that CBD oil is one of the most important wellness discoveries ...Learn More
Hemp CBD has a confusing history of legalization that it shares with its intoxicating cousin, marijuana. Both the federal and ...Learn More
Like many people, it is likely that you have seen an increase in the popularity of CBD in the last ...Learn More
These days, it seems like everyone is talking about CBD oil and the benefits it can provide. Yet, if you ...Learn More
If you are interested in using CBD oil, but you live in Tennessee, you may have a lot of questions ...Learn More
Although the CBD industry continues to grow by leaps and bounds, many people interested in the cannabinoid's therapeutic potential are ...Learn More
If you live in Virginia, and you are interested in buying CBD oil, you may be wondering several things. For ...Learn More
CBD oil products have come to the forefront of discussions about non-traditional solutions to anxiety, pain, and other ailments that ...Learn More
CBD oil products have gained popularity in Michigan and across the nation because of the potential benefits they offer consumers ...Learn More
For fans of soccer (or football as most of the world calls it), there is likely a lot of speculation ...Learn More
A hemp flower is the most basic form of CBD and serves as the foundation for all other CBD products ...Learn More
The safety, legality, and absence of mind-altering properties make cannabidiol (CBD) a popular choice for those who want to reap ...Learn More
Between 2021 and 2027, the weight loss industry will benefit from a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.6%. As ...Learn More
If you live in Ohio and you are curious about using CBD, you may have a lot of questions. For ...Learn More
Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of more than 100 active compounds found in the cannabis plant. CBD oil manufacturers extract cannabidiol ...Learn More
If you were to ask a group of CBD enthusiasts for product recommendations, you'd soon discover that CBD users seem ...Learn More
In 2014, when the industry was still quite new, CBD generated nearly 50 million dollars in sales. That's pretty impressive ...Learn More
Industrial hemp was one of the very first domesticated crops, a plant harvested throughout history for its protein-rich seeds and ...Learn More
As you have likely heard by now, CBD has quickly become one of the biggest trends in the world of ...Learn More
Surprisingly enough, there are a lot of misconceptions floating around when it comes to cannabidiol. Cannabidiol, more commonly known as ...Learn More
CBD products are becoming increasingly popular in 2021, and CBD concentrates are no exception. If you've thought about trying CBD ...Learn More
Let's talk self care. Though you might think of self care as simply "pampering" yourself, it goes way deeper than ...Learn More
Texas Governor Abbott signed legislation clarifying which hemp products are legal and which are not. Looking for CBD in Texas? ...Learn More
CBD oil has many helpful-- not to mention, natural-- benefits physically and mentally. CBD has been heavily studied to relieve ...Learn More
If you are an avid runner, you are always looking for safe and healthy ways to improve your performance and ...Learn More
Can you use CBD if you are sober? Recovery from drug or alcohol addiction isn't just about abstinence. For many, ...Learn More
If there's anything we've learned from the last few years of incredible development, it's that the cannabis plant can take ...Learn More
By now, you are probably aware that there are a lot of CBD products on the market that can help ...Learn More
If you have never tried CBD oil and you live in Indiana, you probably have a lot of questions. You ...Learn More
CBD (short for cannabidiol) has become an alternative consideration for many parents around the world. Countless families swear by CBD ...Learn More
Birth control remains one of the greatest biomedical advances in the last century, giving women and couples the opportunity to ...Learn More
When shopping for CBD, it's essential to find the best product for your needs and your lifestyle. While CBD tinctures ...Learn More
For people who are considering CBD or have already started trying what is available, one of the most common questions ...Learn More
CBD oil is well known for its ability to regulate pain and inflammation, making it a valuable tool in the ...Learn More
Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS) is a true mystery. It can pop up out of nowhere for chronic cannabis users, and ...Learn More
When you first begin researching CBD oil, it can be hard to understand what you are reading. What exactly is ...Learn More
Death by overdose has become the largest killer of Americans under the age of 50, and with opioids responsible for ...Learn More
The most famous cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is most widely known for its mind-altering, high-inducing properties, ...Learn More
Because harvested and dried cannabis or hemp material only contains trace amounts of cannabigerol (CBG), it is often considered to ...Learn More
With cannabidiol (CBD) oil becoming more widely available, it is being sought out by an ever-growing number of people due ...Learn More
In 2018, the United States saw exponential growth in CBD oil product development and sales. Halfway through the year, the ...Learn More
The cannabis sativa plant contains hundreds of cannabinoids, each one presenting its own unique qualities and potential benefits. You may ...Learn More
Cannabinoids have taken over the natural health discussion, and with good reason. Research is continuously finding new ways in which ...Learn More
One of the lesser-known cannabinoids, cannabichromene (CBC) may be able to do some pretty incredible things. Recent scientific study has ...Learn More
Learning about the phytocannabinoids that exist in the cannabis plant family can feel a little bit like sifting through alphabet ...Learn More
Cannabidiol (CBD), is becoming widely used for its reported therapeutic benefits, which include pain reduction, nausea relief, and mood elevation ...Learn More
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is probably the best-known cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. THC is the psychoactive, intoxicating, and mind-altering compound ...Learn More
Of the many phytocannabinoids found in cannabis plants, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are likely the most well-known. That's why ...Learn More
The role of “Big Pharma” in healthcare is a contentious subject and one that’s working its way into discussions around ...Learn More
With more and more research coming out that shines a light on the reported health benefits of CBD and essential ...Learn More
Researchers are finding that CBD oil may be able to treat the symptoms of a whole host of diseases and ...Learn More
When you first decide to use CBD oil, it can be hard to know where to start. With so many ...Learn More
Health supplements are becoming increasingly commonplace as average Americans struggle to meet their recommended daily intake of vitamins and minerals ...Learn More
If you've spent any time reading about CBD oil and cannabis lately, it is likely you've seen terpenes mentioned more ...Learn More
If you’re interested in purchasing CBD oil but aren’t sure if it’s legal in your state, you’ve come to the ...Learn More
The CBD oil industry is one of the fastest-growing in North America and as such, it should come as no ...Learn More
Not long after the first cannabinoid was isolated from the cannabis plant, scientists discovered the human body produces similar substances ...Learn More
Those friendly neighbors on the northern U.S. border have a reputation for being fairly liberal minded. In fact, as of ...Learn More
As people continue to abandon cigarettes, vaping is becoming increasingly popular. And, as the range of vape oils, vape juices, ...Learn More
Ready to make your first CBD oil purchase but aren’t sure where to start? Well, you’ve come to the right ...Learn More
With so many CBD oil products and delivery formats available for purchase, knowing which one is right for you can ...Learn More
The hemp plant produces flowers just like its THC-toting cousin marijuana. Typically, this flower is processed and cannabidiol (CBD) is ...Learn More
CBD oil drops are one of the most popular ways to take cannabidiol (CBD). They are a cost-effective and convenient ...Learn More
If you’re new to the world of CBD oil, there’s a lot of new terminology to take in; one term ...Learn More
Is there nothing cannabidiol can’t do? The wonder compound—more commonly known as CBD—has been hailed as everything from a digestive ...Learn More
As an athlete, the less time you can spend doing online research, the more time you can devote to your ...Learn More
CBD oil microdosing is a concept that gets thrown around a lot these days, but what does it actually mean? ...Learn More
Because CBD oil has also been shown to reduce inflammation and swelling while promoting cell reparation, CBD topicals (e.g. balms, ...Learn More
When investigating cannabis products, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by all the varieties available. Cannabis oil, hemp seed oil, CBD ...Learn More
People are quickly becoming aware of the potential benefits of CBD oil, but this awareness has lead to one very ...Learn More
Today, it’s hard to go a day without hearing something about CBD oil, and for good reason. Cannabidiol (CBD) is ...Learn More
There are tens of millions of Americans who smoke cigarettes and millions of others who are suffering from smoking-related diseases ...Learn More
There are two main types of cannabidiol (CBD) extract utilized by vendors - purified, crystalline isolate, often labeled as ‘CBD ...Learn More
With frequent news reports about newly discovered uses for cannabidiol (CBD) in healthcare, a number of parents are investigating its ...Learn More
There is an increasing amount of coverage in the media about CBD oil and its potential uses and benefits. Everywhere ...Learn More
CBD oil interacts with the brain and central nervous system to produce a number of beneficial outcomes from reducing inflammation ...Learn More
The short answer: Yes...and no. If you’ve been following the national conversation about cannabis, you may have felt confused at ...Learn More