Once considered taboo or rebellious, cannabis use is now becoming more mainstream. One cannabis derivative, CBD, is showing up more and more frequently in fitness circles. What are the risks and benefits of CBD for athletes?
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a derivative of the cannabis plant, a plant with more than eighty known biologically active chemical compounds. Another compound, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, is perhaps most commonly associated with cannabis. THC is one of the ingredients in marijuana and is the ingredient that makes users feel “high.” CBD, on the other hand, does not contain THC (or contains trace amounts), giving the user many of the benefits without the high.
CBD comes in many forms: oil, cream, oral liquids, and vape solutions.
Is CBD Legal?
Because CBD does not contain THC, the component in marijuana that causes a “high,” the rules regarding CBD use are different.
Marijuana (with THC) is either medically or recreationally legal in more than half of U.S. states, but still considered illegal federally. Your state regulations determine whether marijuana use is legal in your location.
CBD, however, was effectively legalized in all 50 states under the 2018 Farm Bill. As long as the CBD product contains 0.3 percent of THC or below, the product is legal in the United States and can be transported across state lines.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to research CBD and its effectiveness. Currently, the FDA does not directly regulate CBD production. Therefore, CBD products fall under the same rules as many supplements. Like all medications and herbal supplements, CBD has potential side effects. Read the most updated information from the FDA regarding CBD here.
Benefits of CBD for Athletes
Consistency is the key to an excellent fitness program. Injuries can derail your workouts for days, weeks, or months, therefore derailing the progress you’ve made. Like traditional treatments, CBD has been proven to decrease inflammation, reduce pain, and improve sleep, all of which are beneficial for athletes. You can read more about the fascinating benefits of CBD for athletes in this post.
Besides the physical benefits, CBD has shown great promise in treating certain psychological disorders as well. Several studies from well-trusted medical organizations prove that CBD can effectively treat anxiety, insomnia, and addiction in many patients.
CBD vs. Traditional Treatments
As athletes, we put a lot of strain and stress on our bodies. Sore muscles, achy joints, and mild to moderate injuries seemingly come with the territory. Many of us stick with the traditional treatments for our aches and pains: anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen or naproxen sodium, or pain-relieving medications like acetaminophen.
While these traditional pills may seem harmless, they all pose significant long-term side effects like:
- Intestinal issues
- Stomach irritation and ulcers
- Increased asthma symptoms
- Increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and blood clots
Unfortunately, in the last two decades, many athletes also turned to more potent medications to manage chronic or acute pain related to sports injuries. The opioid epidemic took hold in America in the mid- ‘90s, when OxyContin was approved for use. Since that time, drug manufacturers have encouraged over-prescription of the habit-forming drugs, leading many down a dark path of opioid addiction, athletes included.
It’s hard to know just how many people have died from drug overdoses related to opioid addiction, but an estimated 100,000 died in the last year alone.
One way to reduce opioid prescriptions—and therefore reduce addiction and deaths—is to substitute CBD for opioids. While this practice is still new, promising evidence shows that CBD may be a safer alternative to opioids. CBD offers many of the same pain-relieving benefits with far fewer side effects.
Potential Downsides of CBD for Athletes
Even though CBD is now federally legal, some sports governing bodies continue to regulate its use among athletes. When CBD became legal in 2018, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed it from its banned substances list, as did the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). However, THC, the ingredient found in marijuana, is still a banned substance.
While CBD products are supposed to contain 0.3 percent or less of THC, the FDA does not regulate its production. Therefore, it’s up to each athlete to closely examine third-party testing to ensure THC levels fall within acceptable levels. Using CBD products with higher THC amounts could result in positive THC tests and subsequent disqualification.
Besides potential consequences in competitive environments, CBD’s long-term effects haven’t been studied in-depth. Studies have shown that CBD users might experience side effects like:
- Blood thinning
- Abnormality in liver-related blood tests
These side effects often mimic those of traditional pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications.
The benefits of CBD for athletes are just coming into focus. However, more research needs to be done to fully understand both the benefits and risks of CBD use.
The information here is in no way a substitute for medical advice. You should always speak with your doctor before taking any supplements or medications, including CBD.