The Companion

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CBD wins at the Olympics

The 2020 Olympics to be held in Tokyo are just a few months away and athletes worldwide are mentally and physically preparing themselves for their events. This year, however, many will be packing CBD along for the ride. 

As of 2018, CBD is no longer on WADA’s (World Anti-Doping Agency) list of prohibited substances, making Tokyo 2020 the first Summer Olympics in which Olympic athletes are allowed to use CBD. All other cannabinoids (including THC) are still prohibited in-competition, only CBD with a THC threshold of 150ng/mL or less is permitted. 

CBD (cannabidiol) is a member of a class of compounds known as cannabinoids. Cannabinoids bind to receptors throughout the brain and body, stimulating the body’s own endocannabinoid system to promote homeostasis (equilibrium). Research suggests that CBD can produce a wide range of health benefits some of which are particularly beneficial to athletes such as:

  1. Pain

Sport often results in sore muscles and tendons, either from injury or recovery from intense training. Several studies have shown that CBD can minimize pain and inflammation. Applying CBD topically, for example via gels or creams, is likely to have the greatest effect on localised pain.

  1. Muscle recovery

Workouts causes muscle fibres to break down, forming microscopic lesions in tissues and muscles, that result in inflammation. During recovery, these fibres rebuild themselves and the resultant muscles are stronger and better able to contract than before. The repetition of this workout-recovery cycle builds strength and endurance (this is why we train). Since CBD has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, it can potentially increase the rate of the recovery process, which is beneficial for athletes as it could speed up the process of “gains”, while avoiding excessive inflammation. This is important, as too much inflammation can result in injuries that cannot be regenerated fully. For example, muscle breakdowns, immune system deficiencies, and chronic pain.

  1. Muscle Growth

In addition to aiding the speed of muscle recovery, CBD could also encourage muscle growth by acting as an anti-catabolic. Catabolic hormones are compounds that trigger the loss of muscle. Anti-catabolics reduce the production of these hormones, hence minimizing muscle loss. CBD can potentially act as an anti-catabolic by activating the endocannabinoid system. Thus CBD could reduce muscle loss and, combined with the above recovery effect, could help muscles grow faster.

  1. Increase stamina 

In addition to muscle strength, athletes, particularly long-distance athletes, require endurance. Long-distance runners describe a “runner’s high”, often associated with a feeling of euphoria and the ability to run further distances and for a greater period of time. In fact, scientific research has shown that the endocannabinoid system plays a vital role in a runner’s high. Since CBD activates the endocannabinoid system, it could act to promote a runner’s high, thus increasing an athlete’s stamina.

So why the change of heart in the Olympics? Because finally, the professional sports community have agreed upon the fact that although CBD provides a host of benefits to the athlete, it is not seen as a “performance enhancer”, so does not give athletes an unfair advantage. 

In fact, as the stigma surrounding CBD decreases, the usage of CBD products by athletes is on the rise. The World Anti-Doping Agency carried out a study in 2015 which examined 300,000 athletes worldwide. Of these, 4% tested positive for cannabinoids. There are several professional athletes who have openly demonstrated their use of CBD, including:

  • Michael Phelps, an Olympic swimmer who has won the most Olympic medals of any other athlete, uses hemp flower for pain relief and recovery after training.
  • Nate Diaz, UFC fighter, is a prominent CBD supporter. Taking it during training, fights, and after fights, he uses it to minimize inflammation and help recover from injuries. Diaz famously vaped CBD after his UFC 202 fight against Conor McGregor.
  • Jake Plummer, an NFL quarterback, uses CBD for pain relief due to his 10-year injury.
  • Andrew Talansky, a triathlete and Ironman competitor, uses CBD to alleviate chronic pains, help him sleep, and reduce competition-related stress. In fact, his biggest sponsor is a CBD brand.

With CBD is no longer being classified as a “drug” but rather a “medicinal supplement” many doors are being opened to more “natural” forms of pain relief and recovery. In our minds a huge and more sustainable progression in the right direction!