Athletes are all too familiar with both the positive and negative effects related to putting so much stress on your body. The intense training leads to increased performance but, in the long run, it inevitably results in some wear and tear so injuries and pain are impossible to avoid in the sports world.
At the same time, opioid misuse and addiction has led to a public health crisis. Recent studies have shown that student athletes, with an emphasis on those involved in sports associated with a high rate of injury such as football and wrestling, are particularly vulnerable to misusing and abusing prescription pain-killers which puts them at higher risk of developing an addiction.
Over-the-counter pain medication such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) or naproxen (Naprosyn, Aleve) are also harmful when taken long term. They can cause stomach ulcers, damage the kidneys and liver, as well as increase the risk of having a heart attack or a stroke.
Athletes are aware of these complications and so are their trainers. In such a landscape it makes sense that they would try to find safer, sustainable options for pain management. One of those options is CBD.
What Is CBD and What Does It Do?
Without question, CBD is the newest buzzword in the health and wellness industry. It has gone from a subject that would pop un now and then to part of the mainstream. Everyone is talking about it now. Your anxious colleagues, your boss that has problems falling asleep with all the stress of running a company, friends of your dad who want some relief from their arthritis – they’re all wondering what CBD can do for them.
But let’s first clarify what it is.
CBD is short for cannabidiol which is one of the chemicals found in the Cannabis plant. You know, the plant that is commonly referred to as marijuana or weed. Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, CBD is not a psychoactive substance, so no, it won’t make you high. This is because THC and CBD interact with different receptors in the human brain.
CBD products are usually extracted from hemp, which is a cannabis plant with a low concentration of THC (below 0.3%) and a high concentration of CBD. For more information you can go to https://nanocraftcbd.com/collections/topicals.
Because products derived from CBD have been shown to reduce nausea and anxiety, to improve symptoms of depression and to relieve insomnia, they started gaining popularity on the market. Scientific research has also found CBD to have a positive impact on symptoms associated with epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and withdrawal.
What’s most relevant to the topic at hand is that it reduces pain and inflammation. Our bodies produce neurotransmitters called endocannabinoids. That’s why we have cannabinoid receptors. CBD binds to these receptors and the result is a reduction in nerve inflammation and pain. Because of these anti-inflammatory properties, research is showing promising results in using CBD to treat auto-immune diseases.
Are Athletes Allowed to Use CBD?
Short answer: Yes.
Long answer: In 2018 Wada which stands for World Anti-doping Agency decided to remove CBD from its list of prohibited substances and so did USADA which is the US Anti-doping Agency. The catch is that THC is still prohibited, only CBD was removed. So athletes are still banned from consuming anything with a high concentration of THC like marijuana and hashish.
But the urinary threshold for THC has become more lenient. It changed from 15 nanograms per milliliter to 150 nanograms per milliliter. That was because they want to detect use in-competition, and not occasional use in the weeks before.
To understand how CBD helps athletes recover from sports injuries faster we need to look at what happens when a person goes through strenuous physical training. When you’re exercising a muscle, you’re basically putting stress on it which causes microscopic tears in the tissue. That’s what causes the soreness and stiffness the next day. But it’s actually the repair of these micro-tears that leads to muscle growth.
If these tears don’t have a chance to heal between work-outs, in the long run, it can lead to more serious muscle injuries that could potentially end an athlete’s career. So, they have to walk the fine line of working out frequently and intensely enough to remain competitive, and allowing enough time for their bodies to heal so they avoid serious injuries.
Since CBD has anti-inflammatory properties and stimulates the endocannabinoid system, this means that post-workout, it makes the inflammation subside faster and the tissue begins to repair. CBD also improves the quality of your sleep. This is extremely beneficial for athletes because this is when the body is most efficient at repairing muscle tissue. The melatonin produced reduces oxidative stress and the higher amounts of testosterone and Insulin Growth Factor (IGF) build muscle tissue. Good quality sleep also reduces the levels of cortisol in your body and cortisol is a major catabolic hormone – that means it has a high impact on muscle breakdown.
How Does CBD Compare to Other Pain Killers?
Opioids also attach themselves to receptors, namely opioid receptors, and block pain signals. The downside is that they come with a high risk of developing an addiction and athletes need pain-management options which they can use long-term.
Now let’s compare CBD to some over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen. Ibuprofen works by blocking COX-2 (this is an enzyme) from making excess prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are lipids produced as a response to injury and infection and they’re the ones that cause the swelling, pain and fever. The difference between prostaglandins and typical hormones is that they’re not secreted by any sort of gland, they’re produced by almost any kind of nucleated cells on site, wherever there has been an injury.
Unfortunately, this means that a person who experiences regular muscle tears will also have to take ibuprofen regularly to reduce the production of these lipids. But this leads to digestive issues like heartburn, nausea, vomiting, decreased appetite, as well as dizziness and rashes, liver and kidney damage and cardiovascular problems. Not ideal for an athlete.
Unlike for ibuprofen, research has yet to find significant side-effects associated with long-term use of CBD which is what makes it such a promising pain management alternative in the world of competitive sports.