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CBD and sport sponsorship – the perfect match

Andrew Mernin reports on the emerging potential of cannabis products in elite sport.



Everton FC could be set to join the growing list of sports clubs teaming up with CBD companies in a deal which could kick-start a cannabis sponsorship revolution in the UK.

It was reported last month that Swiss CBD firm Swissx is looking to become the shirt sponsor of the Merseyside club in a multi-million-pound deal; amid rapid growth in the cannabis products market.

The UK CBD market will be worth almost £1bn per annum by 2025, according to the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis.

With such growth comes bigger marketing budgets and the opportunity for CBD firms to buy space on sleeves and chests usually the preserve of gambling, global financial services and beer brands.

While High Street health food stores maybe off-limits due to COVID-19, online sales of CBD are buoyant.

As we reported here, partly this is down to people seeking a general fitness or wellbeing boost at a time of looming healthcare danger.

This added momentum in sales, plus the fact that many sports clubs are facing financial turmoil until normality is restored and will need every ounce of sponsorship they can muster, could create a perfect storm of opportunity for CBD firms.

A YouGov poll last August found that one in 10 UK consumers use products with legal cannabis extracts – but also that 28 per cent of Brits are considering them.

Sponsoring mass market sport could help to convert these floating voters. Then there is the normalisation, destigmatising factor.

For all the progress of the cannabis products industry and the vast body of evidence supporting CBD’s worth, old misconceptions linger on.

For example, a poll published last December found that a fifth of Brits believe CBD is illegal, while 64 per cent do not realise it can be bought in shops.

“Our prejudices and fears towards cannabis have been ingrained over many years”, said Nicola Webster of Vape UK, which commissioned the poll.

As Guy Coxall, chairman of hemp policy think tank Hemptank pointed out at the last big UK cannabis industry event pre-lockdown, there were once as many as 200 cannabis-based products available at the British pharmacy.

But the influence of the US eventually won out. Across the pond, policy had been shaped from the 1930s by Federal Bureau of Narcotics chief Harry Anslinger, and his demonisation of cannabis.

Writing in the Times Literary Supplement, David Nutt, the Edmond J Safra Chair in Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, explains: “Cannabis continued as a medicine in the UK, in direct conflict with the international policy driven by the 1934 League of Nations claim that it had no medicinal value.

“The international anti-cannabis stance was consolidated in 1961 under the UN Convention on Narcotic Drugs, where cannabis was put in Schedule 1 along with heroin. Schedule 1 drugs were defined as those with no medicinal value and possessing of great harms. But the UK stood against this policy, and continued to allow both drugs to be prescribed.

“A decade of political pressure from the USA, which demanded complete prohibition internationally, ensued, and in 1971 the UK government caved in and eliminated cannabis (though not heroin) as a medicine under the Misuse of Drugs Act.”

Of course cannabis medicine, via prescription, and CBD as part of a burgeoning health and wellbeing industry, are both legally accessible in the UK (although the former has not been forthcoming via the NHS).

But if misconceptions and fears among the British public are indeed deep-rooted then sport could be the attention-grabber needed to put them to bed.

Certainly in our interviews with cannabis product users, we regularly encounter people who feel there is a stigma and often ask to remain anonymous when we publish their stories. Sports advertising could blow away these taboos and get even more people talking about the benefits of CBD and other compounds.

It would give more airtime to the positivity of CBD and cannabis-based wellness generally, in a nation where certain influential newspapers continue to publish headlines to the contrary, with little substance or balance: like ‘One dose of THC can cause psychosis in people with no mental health history’ (debunked here) and ‘Legal cannabis oil sold in British health shops can get users high and make it dangerous to drive’ (based on a study using an astronomical dose of CBD from a university that has ignored Cannabis Health’s request for an interview).

Sports could be a powerful amplifier of the cannabis-products industries. Research published by the Journal of Advertising Research based on 52 academic papers shows that embedding ads within sport creates an emotional bond with brands, that can ultimately lead to sales.

Meanwhile, more and more elite athletes are using cannabis products for their anti-inflammatory qualities, as well as their ability to help speed up muscle recovery and improve sleep.

In 2018, the World AnitDoping Agency removed CBD from its Prohibited List, meaning athletes were free to use them.

This was a big step in terms of marketing opportunities, meaning cannabis companies could get sports stars to use their products, while promoting them at the same time.

Despite this positive move, there are relatively few athletes who openly use CBD, with combat sports being among the keenest embracers of such products.

Aurora Cannabis agreed a deal with UFC in 2019 which aimed to conduct research into how using CBD can be beneficial for athletes in terms of how their muscles recover after exercise.

This then led to fighter Alexey Oleynik becoming one of the world’s first cannabis sponsored athletes after he agreed a partnership with TFMG Alternative Harvest ETF MJ.

MMA (mixed martial arts) is another combat sport to really take to the cannabis industry, with Bellator (the world’s leading MMA league) announcing in 2019 that they would be entering a multi-million-dollar partnership with hemp company cbdMD which would give it branding rights to the sports fighting cage.

The president of cbdMD set out the aims of the deal in a press release, saying “our partnership with Bellator will facilitate a unique opportunity to educate athletes and fans about the many benefits of CBD”.

Other examples of cannabis products working their way into top-level sport come from the fairways of elite golf.

According to Golf Digest, between 15-20 leading players routinely use CBD to help their performance, with Billy Horschel being one of the few to openly admit to using these remedies.

Motorsport has also taken to the cannabis industry, with some F1 and MotoGP athletes now proudly displaying CBD company logos on their vehicles.

Cannabis/tech organisation WeedMaps now sponsors around 20 motorsports athletes, meanwhile.

Furthermore, Israel’s rugby side was sponsored by UK CBD business Provacan in 2019, making it the first international side in any sport to endorse a cannabis company.

Another instance of this is US baseball team the Portland Pickles, striking an exclusive partnership with Lazarus Naturals in 2019.

The Las Vegas Lights also made the news when it became the first football team in the US to associate itself with a cannabis brand.

The sponsorship involves Two Roots, which produces cannabis infused beer that contains THC.

Closer to home, Birmingham City FC entered a deal with Green Monkey – an organisation which produces CBD and hemp-based drinks – in which it agreed to sell products at the club’s ground.

Everton FC could soon follow in Birmingham’s footsteps if its deal with Swissx goes through, although press mutterings by the CBD company have suggested there is some reluctance from the football club’s side of the deal. And Swissx has form in dealing with this type of resistance.

Last year it attempted to acquire the naming rights of FC Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium, but the club ultimately rejected the deal.

Chairman of the firm Alki David criticised the football club, saying it needed to embrace the industry in the same way UFC has.

Speaking to BBC Sport about the Barcelona deal, David said: “The bottom line is they are being really precious about this being a cannabis brand.

“But they’ve got to realise that UFC embraces cannabis, and other sporting leagues accept cannabis. My brand is not a fucking marijuana brand, it’s a wellness CBD brand based on health, not based on recreation.”

Unfortunately for cannabis companies looking to invest into the sporting market, this reluctance to endorse CBD products is mirrored in other elite sporting leagues outside the US.

Perhaps a deal between Everton FC and Swissx could be the catalyst for more at the top level of European sport.

There is clearly an ambition in the cannabis products industry to move into sports sponsorship, underlined by rapid growth of the sector. It is only a matter of time before these aspirations are realised on a vast scale, especially as other markets falter in the ensuing global recession.

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You are what you eat

When it comes to CBD, most people think of balms and oils, but snacks containing the active ingredients are growing in popularity.



When it comes to CBD, most people think of balms and oils, but snacks containing the active ingredients are growing in popularity. Cannabis Health finds out more.

Britain is a nation of snackers. With 66 per cent of the population snacking at least once a day, the appetite for new products is growing all the time.

And one of the largest growth markets is in so-called ‘healthy’ snacks, although some may feel this is somewhat of an oxymoron.

Nevertheless, with the way we eat changing – increasingly busy lifestyles mean more and more people are eating on the go – consumers are looking to get more out of their snacks than just something to eat.

Kale chips, rice cakes, protein bars – these have all risen in popularity over the past few years, as snackers look for something that offers them something in the way of nutritional value.

Research has found that 44 per cent of adults see snacks as a good way to boost their nutritional intake – and with only half of Britons getting their recommended five a day, healthy snacks play a growing role in helping the nation make healthier choices.

With a health-conscious audience keen to try new things and a variety of innovative – and tasty – foodstuffs available, it’s fair to say that CBD snacks have definitely found their time to shine.

Epicurium is a health food distributor based in Consett, County Durham, which has been selling innovative, on-trend snacking products since 2011.

Always keen to offer retailers and consumers something new, the site has been stocking a range of CBD products for nearly a year now.

Customer engagement manager Michael Ratheram explains: “Research has found that about ten per cent of UK adults have tried a CBD snack, and four in ten Millennials would be willing to try CBD in a soft drink, so the demand is obviously there.

“We sell two CBD-infused drinks brands – Leaf Life and Drink420, along with a baked oat bar called Nooro – all are very new to market as you’d expect.

“The market is still very much at the early adopter stage; a year ago, CBD may not have even been on shoppers’ or retailers’ radars – some will have likely have never even heard of it!

“Having said that, the products we stock have been remarkably popular from the get-go – with about 10 per cent of our customers stocking the range.”

As those familiar with CBD will know, one of its principal uses as a health food supplement is for stress and pain relief, and this is as true for snacks as it is for the more traditional oils and balms.

As Epicurium trading manager James Christie explains: “One of the reasons for the popularity of CBD drinks and snacks is the health benefit. People are using these products to relieve physical and mental pain, such as stress, anxiety and insomnia, and so they’re more than happy to swap a sugary, less functional drink for one that satisfies their thirst and gives them something back.”

Consumers’ growing sense of adventure and desire to be different also plays a part, with buyers always looking for the next big thing.

“Today’s shoppers want more than a standard can of pop and chocolate bar,” says Michael. “Instead, they are open to more adventurous ingredients and healthier versions of sugar laden or more mundane options.

“They’re paying closer attention than ever to ingredients and health benefits, demanding more exciting flavours whilst not compromising on taste, and this is all opening up fresh opportunities for growth in the independent sector.”

Of course, CBD is not without its issues – the comparison with cannabis still endures and many consumers are wary of infused products, with ongoing legislative issues adding to the confusion.

Michael says: “I think above all else, there’s still confusion whether or not it’s classed as an age-restricted purchase for retailers to offer, as well as some concerns around legalities due to a lack of understanding.”

James adds: “We find a lot of customers are concerned over certification and still associate the negativity of cannabis with CBD. However, with the novel food classification coming in in March 2021, we will finally see the grey areas removed, with 74 per cent of people supporting the guidance on the subject.”

Despite the concerns, demand for CBD products continues to grow, particularly among younger consumers and those more attuned with what’s on trend – a fact borne out by the types of retailers buying Epicurium’s stock.

Michael said: Our typical customers are likely to be the early adopters and forward thinking retailers –university campus stores, convenience stores in city centre/transient locations, online snack subscription retailers – it’s those agile businesses who want to keep ahead of the curve.

“Universities are always very eager early adopters of new and innovative products, as it’s the perfect fit for their consumer base; it’s new, it’s in the limelight and with Gen-z and Millennials leading the charge in healthy snacking, it’s the perfect item to stock.”

While CBD oils and balms are still popular, particularly for those looking for relief from physical pain, an increased focus on nutrition, combined with a stressed and anxious population in need of new ways to relax, mean CBD snacks may have found themselves in the right place at the right time.

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Enterprise and education – a CBD story



Mike Peates, founder of Medivita

From selling personalised chocolates to CBD balms and edibles, Medivita founder Mike Peates tells Cannabis Health how his latest venture was inspired by his chronic pain.

As a salesman, Mike Peates was used to spending hour after hour in his car, travelling around 25,000 miles a year.

And when he stopped to set up his own business, making and selling personalised chocolates with company logos printed on them, he found the problem only increased, as he spent up to five hours a day standing.

“The final quarter of the year, from October through to January, would be my busiest time, and I’d be spending most of my working day on my feet,” he says.

“I already had chronic back pain from my years spent in cars, and, over the five years, I had the chocolate business, it just got worse and worse.

“It got to the point where I’d come home from work and I’d be lying on the floor for about an hour to try to straighten my back out. And then the next morning, it’d be very much a question of, ‘okay, how do I move to even just get out of bed?’.

“The pain was so bad; it was a question of doing every action in stages, like pushing a chair back, then standing up, then managing to walk and get out of the house and do a full day’s work. And I managed all this for a couple of years.”

It was a chance remark on a Facebook post that prompted Mike to look into alternative remedies for his pain – despite being a self-confessed sceptic.

He said: “I saw a post from an old school friend about a health food shop in Lincolnshire that was moving to larger premises in order to stock CBD products.

“I happened to be off work for a few days at the time and so I ended up in a bit of a Google wormhole, researching what CBD is and what it could be used for.

“And to be honest, I was the biggest cynic ever in regards to what I’d call ‘herbal medicine’ in inverted commas, I always thought it was just one of these fads people are joining up to more and more.”

However, Mike’s curiosity was piqued, and, having thoroughly researched what would be the best product to start with, he decided to give it a try.

“I must admit, the price was a little off-putting, and I was concerned it was quite an expensive way to try it and for it not to work, but then I thought, why not?

“So, I ordered some; it arrived the next day, and I told myself to be open-minded and give it a go.

“Well, I took a couple of drops and within 20 minutes, I could feel a huge difference. I mean, it wasn’t just like taking the edge off the pain; the pain almost disappeared. And that was just my first dose!”

Mike continued using the CBD – “it was just the case that it really, really worked for me” – while working on a project at a tech incubator hub in Basingstoke, where he lives. In need of a little extra cash, he began reselling the CBD he was buying online to family and friends, which was the catalyst for his latest venture.

He explains: “I got talking to my mentor at the tech incubator about it and said, ‘look, I’ve been doing this, I’ve sold about £700 in the first few weeks without even doing any marketing’.

“Now, he knows what he’s doing – he founded two businesses which he exited very successfully – and he suggested we sit down over coffee and have a chat about it all.

“So, one Saturday morning, we have that meeting, we came out and we decided we were going to set up a CBD business together.

“It wasn’t a quick process – it took most of the summer to actually choose a name and choose the branding – but by September we were ready and Medivita was born.”

Mike admits it took a while to get established, and both he and his business partner were keen to ensure they got the right product, which is where his own experiences proved invaluable.

“Because I’d taken CBD before, I knew what worked, but we went through about six or seven different samples of CBD oil before we before we decided on the one we now sell,” he says.

“We knew we wanted full spectrum (a variety typically high in CBD, with only trace amounts of minor cannabinoids, and very low in THC, the main psychoactive compound in marijuana). We knew we wanted it to be full plant and we knew that it actually had to work when I tested it – it actually had to deliver some benefit from taking it.

“To be honest, there were a few that I had which left me just feeling, ‘well, it’s okay, but it’s not great, it’s not just quite hitting the spot’. And supply wise, even a year ago it was actually quite difficult to find people wholesaling and white labelling (the practice of putting a different brand on a product than that of the original producer). I think in 12 months that has really, really changed, and it’s now a lot easier to find wholesalers and white labels.”

Since then, the business has gone from strength to strength, but Mike is keen to stress that Medivita is not simply about selling a product – he works with a number of groups to help them understand the potential benefits of CBD.

He explains: “We sell online and we sell quite a lot locally, but we also do a lot of work in the local area with the Basingstoke Disability Forum, doing talks at their events, to educate people.

“That’s why we closely follow the likes of Professor Mike Barnes and Dr Dani Gordon with what they do. It helps to keep ourselves up to date with what’s happening, but it’s also useful to have that knowledge when people ask us, not simply about our product, but about CBD levels and THC levels and the endocannabinoid system, and so forth.

“We want to become people who consumers can trust, through knowing what we’re doing so that we can give best information and let people make a really informed choice, rather than just buying the cheapest bottle on the shelf.”

Mike is aware of the cynicism surrounding the use of CBD as a food supplement, but, as a former sceptic himself, he is able to relate to a level of mistrust.

“When we’re talking to disability forums and the like, we are met with quite a bit of resistance – which I understand,” he says.

“We do find that because a lot of the people we speak to are on a full regime of medication, they can be quite reluctant to try something new. I remember one lady in particular from when we attended the Chronic Pain Forum, who we’ve just had a testimonial from.

“In January, I went to a meeting and met her, and in May, she bought her first bottle – so that was four months from me seeing her to her deciding to buy some. 

“And you know, she had exactly the same experience as me; as soon as she tried it, she was sleeping better, her pain was better, she’s a lot less stressed. And she wrote and told me, ‘You know, I was a cynic, when I saw you that night and I didn’t believe it’.

“So, we can definitely turn people’s opinions around, but we still meet with resistance.”

As for the future, Mike hopes to see more clarity in the industry, giving consumers the ability to make informed choices.

He said: “My vision, as a consumer as well as a seller, is getting to the point where consumer confidence is there, and I don’t think it is at the moment. I think that’s why some CBD businesses struggle, because we need clarity of labelling, we need clarity of what’s in the bottle, backed up with the lab reports on websites – very much like with alcohol, where, if you go and buy a bottle of wine or a bottle of beer, you can tell how much alcohol is in it.

“I think we need to get to that sort of standard whereby a bottle of CBD tells you exactly how much CBD is in there and how much THC is in there, so that people can make that informed purchase.

“If things continue as they are, then we may get to a position where a lot of CBD is synthetic, made by the pharmaceutical companies and that, from a consumer point of view, isn’t possibly the best way forward.

“In the industry, we know that the natural product is the one that works, and that should be what’s being promoted to the consumer.”

Whatever happens within the industry, Mike says Medivita is here to stay: “We’re quite small at the moment, I make no bones about that, but we’ve got plans to grow.

“We’re not in it for the short term, we’re in it for the long run; we’re not just interested in making a quick buck overnight.”

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Could CBD really boost fertility?



Cannabis Health reports on cannabis oil’s rising prominence in the lives of people hoping to start a family.

With data showing that around 1 in 7 couples in the UK struggle to conceive, and alternatives such as IVF proving costly, many couples are keen to try alternative methods to help them on their journey to parenthood – including CBD oil.

While there may not be much official guidance and advice surrounding the correlation between CBD oil use and enhanced fertility, some studies suggest the oil could play a role in increasing fertility in couples who previously struggled to conceive.

This shouldn’t be confused, however, with the intake of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) through smoking weed, which is shown to have damaging effects on fertility. Previous studies have shown that smoking cannabis can result in reduced testosterone levels and poor sperm count and mobility, making it much more difficult for men to conceive naturally.

Research into CBD and fertility is emerging, with early studies, plus anecdotal evidence from patients showing a potentially positive link.

Firstly, let’s talk science and hormones. Studies have suggested that CBD oil can play a vital role in hormone balancing for both men and women, aiding in the success of conception.

Researchers at the Paediatrics Department at Vanderbilt University said: “The life of the egg and the beginning of a pregnancy, depends on a healthy endocannabinoid system.”

Elsewhere, in the paper ‘The role of the endocannabinoid system in female reproductive tissues’, researchers state: “While the ECS is known to modulate pain and neurodevelopment, it is also known to impact the female reproductive system.”

Various other papers have also indicated a positive correlation between a balanced ECS and improved fertility, in particular the benefit of a specific amount of the endocannabinoid anandamide.

In women, high levels of anandamide – a type of endocannabinoid found in the body – occur at ovulation and are associated with a successful pregnancy, where low levels or a deficiency can be detrimental.That’s where CBD can begin to have an impact, boosting anandamide levels by preventing its breakdown and supporting successful ovulation.

However, timing is everything for in this relationship. Low levels of anandamide are required during embryo implantation, meaning use of CBD after conception may have a negative interference with the pregnancy.

Cannabinoid receptors have also been found in female ovaries, including granulosa cells or follicles cells of secondary and tertiary follicles.

According to researchers from the University of Naples, Italy: “Cannabinoid and adrenergic systems coordinate together oviductal motility for normal journey of embryos into the uterus.”

Researchers in Canada also found that CBD can have a positive impact at the very start of conception, linking female sexual arousal to activity in the endocannabinoid system.

Meanwhile, research conducted by Dr. Hans Hatt at Ruhr University in Germany has found a link between CBD and the impact on male fertility.

The study found that a receptor (GPR18) previously thought to be part of the ECS is also present in sperm cells, providing a link between cannabinoids, the ECS and fertility.

Evidence suggests CBD may play a key role in an essential biological process for procreation called the acrosome reaction.

When the GPR18 receptor in sperm cells is activated, this acrosome reaction is triggered, altering the sperm slightly to remove the protective ‘cap’ on its head and allowing it to effectively penetrate the egg.

While more research is needed, early indication is that CBD can positively impact the chance of conception in both parties.

Anyone who has had difficulty to conceiving will know that mental health can often have as much of an impact as physical causes.

Stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions can have a hugely negative impact on fertility in both men and women by lowering hormones necessary for egg and sperm production.

Again, this is where CBD can help. It is widely reported this can directly activate serotonin (the ‘happiness chemical’) receptors, helping to boost mood and relax both partners.

CBD has also been found to regulate cortisol secretion, the stress activating hormone. Among other things, stress can also delay ovulation, making it difficult for women to attempt conception at their most fertile.

So, while research and guidance from industry bodies is still emerging, preliminary studies are showing a positive relationship between the use of CBD oil and fertility.

With ever-increasing sales, it seems more and more are opting to try something new on their journey to parenthood.

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