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Is it safe for athletes to take CBD?



A growing number of sports and athletes are beginning to embrace the benefits of CBD

While many sports people are reporting its benefits in aiding recovery, others remain skeptical and reluctant to take the risk – so what is the official consensus on CBD?

Rugby players James Haskell and Dominic Day, footballer Meghan Rapinoe and MMA star Nate Diaz are just a few of the athletes who have spoken out about their use of cannabinoids, or CBD, and the benefits they have experienced.

CBD is one of around 110 known cannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant. Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound in cannabis, CBD won’t lead to users feeling ‘high’ – which is why many have turned to it as a remedy for conditions such as anxiety and depression, as well as physical ailments and pains.

Its seemingly positive impact on pain is what has led to athletes of all sports turning to CBD to support them through injury and recovery. But, despite its popularity continuing to rise, many are still skeptical over the use of the remedy – so, is it safe for athletes to use, and how exactly can it help?

First and foremost, CBD is not currently listed on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Prohibited List and, as a result, is permitted to use in sport. However, all other cannabinoids such as cannabis, marijuana and THC are prohibited in competition due to the receptors activated in the brain which cause a ‘high’. 

In terms of the UK Anti-Doping’s position on cannabidiol in sport, it advises that CBD products should be considered in the same way as all other dietary supplements and used at the athlete’s risk.

However, if an athlete did use a CBD product that led to an Adverse Analytical Finding for a prohibited substance, their use of the remedy would not mitigate their fault. 

This means that, despite the permitted use of CBD, athletes must still consider the risk of inadvertently ingesting a CBD product that either has a higher THC concentration than expected or contains another cannabinoid that is prohibited. 

From excessive training to long roads of recovery when injured, there’s no denying being an athlete is tough on the body – but with proven effects such as weight loss and improved sleep, CBD could be the ideal remedy.

One 2018 review assessed the impact CBD has on relieving chronic pain. The review examined a number of studies, concluding that CBD was effective in overall pain management and didn’t cause any other negative side effects. 

In addition, it has been suggested that CBD can speed recovery and fight fatigue – welcome news for athletes suffering from long-term or recurring injuries. When you exercise, stress is put on your body to encourage it to grow. This physical stress leads to increased oxidative damage, which can harm performance and slow recovery if too high. By reducing oxidative damage, it is believed that CBD can help athletes recover faster and perform better.

Even athletes at the top of their game are known to suffer from stress, anxiety and/or depression, all three of which are known as motivational disorders and can deter us from getting active. Research is still ongoing, however several studies so far have shown that CBD may help combat these mental health issues, in turn improving mood and athletic performance.  

While it would seem that CBD is safe and unprohibited for athletes to use, it’s important to keep in mind the risk of inadvertently ingesting similar products which aren’t permitted. 

Sarah Sinclair is a respected cannabis journalist writing on subjects related to science, medicine, research, health and wellness. She is managing editor of Cannabis Health, the UK’s leading title covering medical cannabis and CBD, and sister titles, Cannabis Wealth and Psychedelic Health. Sarah has an NCTJ journalism qualification and an MA in Journalism from the University of Sunderland. Sarah has over six years experience working on newspapers, magazines and digital-first titles, the last two of which have been in the cannabis sector. She has also completed training through the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society securing a certificate in Medical Cannabis Explained. She is a member of PLEA’s (Patient-Led Engagement for Access) advisory board, has hosted several webinars on cannabis and women's health and has moderated at industry events such as Cannabis Europa. Sarah Sinclair is the editor of Cannabis Health. Got a story? Email / Follow us on Twitter: @CannabisHNews / Instagram: @cannabishealthmag


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