News & Education April 22, 2020

CBD and Pro Sports

Whether it’s for training or during competitions, professional athletes put their bodies under intense stress on a daily basis. Over time, the physical demands of training and competition begin to cause wear and tear on an athlete’s body. For much of the history of professional sports in the United States, athletes have been directed by doctors and coaches to seek relief through powerful and addictive opiate painkillers and even surgery in some serious cases. The recent growth of research into CBD has since generated a discussion on whether the use of CBD as a pain relief solution for professional athletes should be acceptable. 


CBD (cannabidiol) is a compound found in all members of the cannabis family of plants and is often extracted from hemp. Unlike THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), CBD is nonpsychoactive, meaning it does not induce the “high” effect that cannabis is commonly known for. When derived from hemp, CBD contains less than 0.3% THC. Research into CBD has found that many people experience a wide variety of positive effects. Some of the most common uses for CBD include seizures, insomnia, anxiety, and pain. 


The Changing Perception of CBD

The pain-relieving effects of CBD have allowed many professional athletes to begin using CBD products to relieve sore muscles, sprains, and other career-related pains or injuries. Not just athletes, but many people can experience tense muscles and soreness throughout their bodies after an arduous workout session. This soreness is actually due to microscopic damage to muscle fibers that is inflicted during the workout. The body’s process of repairing those fibers, which leads to increased strength, is what causes muscle soreness. The combination of pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties that CBD holds is what makes it so desirable to many athletes.


Public perception of CBD has also changed rapidly in just the few years that it’s been available to the general public. As more studies are published that confirm the safety and utility of CBD, opinions change and rules follow. 


Professional Sports Leagues on CBD Use

Perhaps the most important influence on the availability of CBD to professional athletes has been the World Anti-Doping Agency. When the WADA renewed its list of prohibited substances, CBD was notably absent. Despite this huge step towards recognizing CBD as a useful tool for athletes, the WADA advised athletes to continue to be careful about using CBD as each individual sports organization has its own set of rules for prohibited substances. 


The perception of CBD is changing in several sports organizations, albeit at a slower pace. In May of 2019, the NFL and the NFL Players Association came together to create a Joint Pain Management Committee to examine CBD and other alternative treatments. Unfortunately, after the Committee’s research concluded, the NFL issued a statement to team doctors reinforcing that cannabis and its derivatives remain on the list of banned substances. 


The NBA ban on cannabis continues to include all cannabis derivations as well, despite former NBA commissioner David Stern and others’ efforts to change this policy. The MLB and NHL, however, are taking the lead in progressive stances on CBD use. The MLB no longer randomly tests for drugs such as cannabis, and players found to have levels over the MLB limit are unlikely to be suspended. MLB policy has downgraded cannabis to be more similar to alcohol in their substance abuse analysis. 


The NHL is the clear frontrunner, as there are no punishments for an NHL player who tests positive for any cannabinoid. The player may be recommended for review by a doctor, but there are no direct consequences.


Athletes for CBD

Athletes themselves have since become some of the strongest advocates for CBD use as a tool for other athletes. Retired players from a wide array of sports have publicly called for a reevaluation of cannabinoids, including former golfers, NFL players, MMA fighters, and professional surfers. For many of these athletes, the dedication to promoting CBD has become a personal cause. In their post-career lives, many retired athletes are forced to rely on doctor-prescribed opiates to manage their pain, dealing with damaging side effects and a high likelihood of addiction.


 Retired players, like former NHL enforcer Ryan VandenBussche and David Ahrens of the NFL, became concerned about the frequency at which players were given pain pills and began to research CBD on their own. Ryan VandenBussche was so influenced by his experience with CBD that he purchased a 64-acre farm to produce medical cannabis. Fellow retired NHL player Riley Cote started his own line of CBD products and co-founded Athletes for Care, a nonprofit that advocates for the use of CBD in professional sports.


As public opinion shifts over time to become more accepting of CBD and other cannabis derivatives, it can be expected that professional sports regulations will slowly begin to shift as well. The efforts of player’s associations and individual athletes have already shown some effect in reducing penalties for the consumption of CBD. League regulations are of no concern to non-professionals, so many casual athletes and gym-goers have turned to CBD to help them exercise at top performance and assist in recovery after a strenuous workout. The next time you’re feeling sore after pushing your limits at the gym or on the field, consider quality CBD products to help you start making wellness changes in your life.