CBD’s therapeutic potential is something nearly everyone can get excited about. After all, few other compounds out there, if any, can offer the kind of benefits that CBD does with relatively minor or no side effects. It’s just another reason why CBD is so popular, especially among high performing groups such as professional athletes.
As CBD still isn’t FDA approved, pro athletes who turned to this compound initially encountered some pretty significant challenges. Attitudes regarding CBD in the sports world, however, have since shifted significantly, so much so that CBD use among athletes is becoming more and more conventionally acceptable.
One of the biggest issues surrounding CBD is the fact that many traditional bodies did not set it apart from THC. This was the standard practice for a long time at the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which had placed CBD on its prohibited substances list until 2017.
In 2017 WADA made headlines when it removed CBD from its prohibited substances list. This action, in turn, ushered in a new wave of CBD acceptance across a variety of other sports such as golfing (PGA), mixed martial arts (MMA) and wrestling (UFC).
“Subsequently, we’ve seen policy changes in both the PGA and the MLB with respect to CBD, allowing their athletes to use cannabidiol,” says Terrell Davis, a former NFL Hall of Fame player and two time Superbowl champ.
“CBD is also not explicitly banned by the NHL, as they have no specific policy for CBD,” continues Davis. “The leagues are conducting their due diligence on cannabinoids as a viable alternative to managing pain and inflammation in players, and I do believe that with continued education and further research on the very real benefits, the NFL, NBA and other leagues will fall suit in permitting CBD usage.”
The trend Terrell describes is only continuing to grow.
“There’s been a great deal of movement regarding cannabis in major U.S. sports already,” says Ken Cohn, cbdMD’s Chief Marketing Officer. “Major League Baseball and the NFL made extensive revisions to their policies for the 2020 season. We expect that to continue as the science evolves and players associations step up their advocacy for CBD and cannabis in general.”
“When I talk with professional athletes about CBD, it’s really a conversation about recovery – both physical and mental recovery,” explains Dr. Ara. “CBD helps with many aspects of recovery, including muscle soreness. It also helps with sleep and helps with mental recovery, focus and memory.”
“Regardless of the athlete, sport or time of season, these three areas are key to consistent high performance. I’ve seen athletes crippled by performance anxiety do really well on CBD. Similarly, issues with jet lag can be mitigated with CBD.”
To get a more specific idea of how CBD can impact athletes, we spoke to Tom Jenane, a Nutrition & Fitness Expert at Nature’s Health Box. A former personal trainer, Jenane specialized in body fat reduction, strength and conditioning and nutritional guidance.
The first thing to consider, Jenane states, is what type of CBD you can use. While several different types are available—full spectrum, broad spectrum and isolate—each type has its own unique pros and cons.
“Full spectrum CBD oil is the most commonly purchased, but not what we would recommend to athletes or in fact anyone that is drug tested for their occupation,” says Jenane.
It’s likely Jenane sees the most volume for full spectrum CBD oil as the presence of multiple cannabinoids encourages the Entourage Effect. This, in turn, theoretically amplifies the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids and terpenes present, making it the most effective type of CBD.
THC regulations, however, are still extremely strict, so much so that most athletes—many of whom are regularly drug tested—don’t dare risk using a full spectrum product. Many will opt for a broad spectrum or isolate product instead.
Despite these challenges, Jenane’s experience with CBD has been overwhelmingly positive.
“Most athletes that we sell to or have spoken with either use CBD oil and take it sublingually, or they use a muscle recovery lotion. Directly applying a CBD muscle recovery lotion to the area that needs healing can help soothe any inflammation,” Jenane says.
We interviewed several athletes to get a glimpse into how they use CBD in their everyday lives.
Like many athletes in his field Botelho has experienced his share of injury. He’d gone through multiple surgeries, and in 2014, experienced an amputation below his left leg. The combination of the surgeries along with a lifetime dealing with a neurological disease and an autoimmune disorder left Botelho in need of some serious TLC.
Botelho eventually turned to CBD to help manage his condition.
“I take CBD almost like a vitamin every day,” begins Botelho.
Botelho’s CBD routine starts by applying a balanced CBD/THC salve from Mary Jane’s Medicinals to prep his leg “and cover any other problem spots on my body.”
“Once I’m prepped, I head to the mountain to train and as soon as I get done, I take a dropper of CBD tincture,” continues Botelho. “That starts reducing inflammation that may be trying to set in.”
Botelho finishes the day with a CBD gummy and another application of the CBD salve to “take care of any aches and pains.”
“This routine keeps me going strong and helps me comfortably get through the day,” Botelho says. “CBD has allowed me to continue pursuing my passion while keeping my muscles and joints functioning as best as they can. My body would be showing a lot more wear and tear if it weren’t for this easy, non-abrasive treatment.”
“In 2017, I first used CBD to recover after a workout—and it changed my life,” Davis begins.
“I used it daily now to manage my migraines, recover faster between workouts and get relief from injuries incurred during my NFL career. These injuries do not just affect me, as a retired player. Many players have substantial injury histories and suffer from overworked muscles and the deteriorating effects of age. This is what inspired me to share these potential benefits CBD with all athletes, and why I formed a partnership with Beau Wehrle and Megan Bushell to launch DEFY [CBD beverages].”
“As a professional skier, I’ve had my fair share of injuries—two hip reconstructions and multiple, serious head injuries,” begins Erin, a pro skier for Rossignol. “From those injuries, I’ve dealt with chronic joint pain as well as depression and anxiety.”
Much like with Botelho, Spong’s desire to heal her body drew her to CBD.
“CBD is not only allowed, it is heavily accepted in the ski industry as both a pre-skiing and post-skiing recovery method,” says Spong. “Many athletes in the ski and snowboard industry are sponsored by CBD brands and the use of CBD for athletes in this industry grows by the day.”
Spong’s wellness routine begins by adding CBD protein powder from Manitoba’s Harvest into her coffee along with a CBD tincture she takes sublingually. She then continues to supplement her day with CBD as needed.
“When extra soreness warrants, I supplement the CBD I’ve ingested with a topical cream for targeted muscle and joint relief,” adds Spong. She also notes that while ingesting CBD can take up to an hour to feel the results, “topical CBD is a near-instant burst of relief.”
“I also use a vape product throughout the day for the most immediate effects,” Spong adds.
Spong also serves as the Chief Marketing Officer of KeytoCannabis.com, a CBD product review site.
“When I’m in training, which is basically all the time, I need to stay on a strict sleep schedule to help my body recuperate,” Jones begins.
CBD is a key player in Jones’ evening routine.
“I use a supplement called CBD PM that has melatonin as part of my wind-down routine,” Jones continues. “Aches and pains after training also made it difficult to sleep, so I’ve also used cbdMD’s Recover cream at night.”
So what kind of CBD products should athletes be looking for? Dr. Ara has some suggestions. He suggests that athletes rely on a tincture for nighttime recovery and opt for topicals to help with “specific areas which are painful due to training, for example the quads or biceps.”
Dr. Ara also believes that, “The key thing is finding the right type of tincture.” He advises athletes seek out products that meet the following criteria:
Many athletes opt for one of the two whenever possible. “The most effective products, in my opinion, contain a combination of different cannabinoids,” says Bothelo. “A low dose of THC, or THCa, CBDa, etc., can boost the CBD up and make it more effective in controlling pain and inflammation.”
After all these criteria are met choosing the right tincture for you “comes down to taste, formulations—what other ingredients go into the products, and finally dosage options,” says Dr. Ara.
As CBD’s popularity continues to rise, we hope to see CBD use within sports grow and expand with time.