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Cannabinoids and running
In runners, the strain experienced during training sessions and competitive running is consistent and can cause injuries. About 70% of recreational and competitive runners sustain injuries from competition and training sessions. Of all recorded injury cases, 42% are knee-related injuries, 17% are foot-related, 11% are hip-related, and 13% are injuries of the lower leg. The commonly reported overuse injuries in runners include patellofemoral pain syndrome, tibia stress syndrome, meniscal injuries, plantar fasciitis, and patellar tendinopathy. These injuries significantly reduce performance level and present with inflammation and painful sensations.
Current trend of CBD use among athletes
In 2004, the use of cannabis-derived products in sports was officially prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)—a body responsible for ensuring adherence to anti-doping policies and substance use regulations by athletes. This directive officially banned cannabidiol use in sports despite researches evidence on its benefits for athletes. Recently, WADA reviewed its initial stance and allowed the use of cannabidiol (a cannabinoid derived from cannabis) in sports.
The long ban on cannabis-derived products in sports reduced research interest in cannabis use in sport. As it stands, only a few research survey on the cannabis use patterns in elite athletes have been published. In 2017, the British Journal of Sports Medicine published a report on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) consensus statement on pain management in elite athletes. Contents of this report suggest that the IOC considers the current volume of research supporting cannabis use in sport as insufficient. However, there exists accumulating evidence detailing the benefits of cannabidiol in endurance sport athletes, especially runners.
Benefits of CBD to runners
- Management of pain and inflammation
The early use of cannabis in humans was to manage chronic pain, and as such, there is much anecdotal evidence supporting the use of cannabis-derive products in the management of and inflammation, acute and chronic pain. Common injuries reported in athletes present with painful sensations, which in some cases can be resistant to conventional pain relievers. With the sudden and repetitive movement of the body parts, the incidence of microscopic muscle tear and lactic acid buildup increases significantly. This contributes to muscle fatigue and eventual muscle tear.
Drug molecules that activate cannabinoid receptors have shown efficiency in regulating the normal body response to pain stimulus. Animal model studies also suggest that cannabinoids block pain signaling to different degrees. A report published by the International Journal of Neuroscience detailed the importance of cannabinoids in the central neuronal pain circuits. Cannabinoids induce dopamine release and in mid-brain areas and effectively control the sensory path of descending pain stimulus. Cannabinoids also modulate inflammatory effects by upregulating cannabinoid receptor activity and increasing endocannabinoid production. Research reports also suggest that cannabidiol affects the microglial cells and reduces the neuroinflammatory mechanism. The science is overwhelming; however, CBD has shown potential therapeutic benefits for the management of pain and inflammation in runners.
- CBD improves motor coordination
Beyond injury management, there is different anecdotal evidence on the beneficial effect of CBD in improving athletes’ motor coordination. Runners and other endurance athletes are known for methodical, tiring, and repetitive movements that involve gait balancing and proper body coordination.
Cannabinoid 1 receptors are distributed in the basal ganglia—a forebrain system responsible for integrating cortical information necessary to coordinate the signals regulating motor activity. By modifying this receptor’s activities, it is expected that cannabidiol can influence motor coordination in humans. In animal studies, CBD has been shown to significantly improve the symptoms of motor improvement. In large part, the evidence supporting CBD’s use for motor coordination improvement presents conflicting results; however, the distribution of CB1 receptors in the central nervous system proves a point for CBD use.