Regulation and use of CBD in sports

Drug use in sports is strictly regulated by different bodies depending on the region of the discussion. Globally, the World Anti-Doping Agency is responsible for ensuring adherence to anti-doping policies and regulations within sports organizations and governments worldwide. Substances are considered prohibited in sports if it enhances sport performance, increases health risk for athletes, or induces actions considered against the spirit of sport. In 2004, cannabis was included in the List of Prohibited Substances and Methods. This means the recreational use of THC and CBD is banned in sports as different sanctions were enacted to punish violators. Interestingly, traces of CBD were detected in some athletes as a result of out-of-competition cannabis use. To allow for variations as this, the permitted threshold for carboxy-THC—a cannabis metabolite was raised from 15ng/mL to 150ng/mL (Mark et al., 2018). 

Following different research reports confirming that CBD is a non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant with impressive analgesic effects, different athletes have been calling for its exclusion from the banned substances list. In 2018, the World Anti-Doping Agency reviewed the status of cannabis use in sport and ruled that all-natural and synthetic cannabinoids and cannabinoids-derived products are prohibited in sport except for cannabidiol. This changes the prohibition status of CBD use in sports and opens up CBD brands for medical use in athletes with impairments. There are provisions for allowing athletes to use prohibited substances provided that the substance would not enhance performance beyond recovery from injury, there is no alternative non-prohibited medication for use, and health impairment would persist should the substance be withheld. Provisions to use these substances are granted after an applied has successfully applied for a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE).


Potential of CBD in sports injury recovery

Following CBD’s removal from the prohibited substances in sport, athletes turn to CBD brands with proven efficacy in speeding up the recovery process after an injury. Numerous research studies have reported the impressive therapeutic effect of CBD in the management of pain. In 2010, the American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation published the report of a double-blind crossover pilot study, which suggests that cannabinoids may be effective and safe for relieving central neuropathic pain relating to spinal cord injury—a common occurrence in sports. 


  • Management of neuropathic pain and inflammation

Chronic debilitating pain might result from concussion injuries or fractures. Contact sports also involve a higher level of physical activity that increases the risk of tissue damage due to the buildup in the muscle cells. In some cases, the pain experienced from injuries sustained persists for a long time and radiates to adjacent organs. In 2008, the Journal of Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management published the review of a study on the effect of cannabidiol in the management of resistant pain.  As suggested by result data, CBD exerts a multi-nodal effect on nociceptive pathways and offers a complementary therapy approach for neuropathic pain when combined with opioids (Sonja et al., 2018). 

Following an intense workout session, muscle fatigue can result in microscopic tears in the muscle leading to tissue inflammation. A report documenting the review of research conducted to investigate the effect of cannabidiol on inflammation was published in 2015 by the Journal of Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry. Results suggested that CBD’s receptor binding effects significantly reduce tissue inflammation in human subjects and rapidly enhances injury recovery (Burstein, 2015). 



  • Improved sleep quality

Tissue repair involves a series of physiological processes that happen mostly at rest. Athletes undergoing tissue recovery programs are advised to sleep adequately. Processes responsible for enhanced tissue recovery at rest include the removal of damaged cellular debris, stem cell differentiation, and the conversion of lactic acid to glucose. Sleep deprivation has long been linked with a delayed injury repair process. Investigating the effects of acute systemic administration of CBD on the sleep-wake cycle in rats, researchers confirmed that CBD increases total sleep time and sleep latency in the light period of the day of administration (Marcos et al., 2013).  


  • Improved protein synthesis

A balanced supply of nutrients is needed for the recovery processes in injured athletes. Protein is particularly needed to repair the worn-out cells for the injured tissue. CBD-derived products and supplements are used increasingly for this purpose. The mechanism by which CBD improves protein synthesis has been linked to its ability to improve REM sleep and ultimately decrease cortisol levels. Cortisol and other catabolic hormones impair muscle buildup. During sleep, cortisol levels are low, and protein synthesis is increased. With a sustained level of protein synthesis, the worn tissue cells are replaced on time, and the muscle tone improves. In all, the recovery process is enhanced. 

In addition, various research reports are suggesting that CBD relaxes muscle tissue and enhances satellite cell differentiation. These effects reduce the time for injury recovery in athletes. As it stands, safety concerns are the only roadblocks against the use of CBD for injury recovery in athletes.  



Anthony Tribunella

Having experienced the benefits of CBD first hand when it was starting to gain popularity, Anthony decided to spend his working life championing it to the public and his peers in the wider CBD community. As a CBD innovator himself, Anthony likes to remain at the leading edge of scientific and product development to ensure that the potential of CBD has every chance of being fully realized.

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