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CBD cautiously finding its way into sports medicine

CBD’s effectiveness as an anti-inflammatory boosts an athlete’s recovery time. But does CBD conform to doping laws and what does this mean in places where cannabis remains a prohibited substance?

The short answer is that this remains uncharted territory, but a significant study published in Sports Medicine in July 2020 starts creating a framework for CBD and sport. Cannabidiol and Sports Performance: a Narrative Review of Relevant Evidence and Recommendations for Future Research by Danielle MacCartney and others reported that “CBD has been reported to exert a number of physiological biochemical and psychological effects that have the potential to benefit athletes”. But they warned the evidence was “preliminary, at times inconsistent, and largely based on preclinical studies involving laboratory animals”.

They called for rigorous, controlled investigations clarifying the utiity of CBD in the sporting context.  Preliminary findings confirmed that cannabinoid oils helped athletes in four main ways:

  • As an anti-inflammatory to treat tissue damage and neropathic pain caused by nerve damage or irritation, especially for endurance athletes niggled by long-distance work-outs;

  • Protection against gastrointenstinal (GI) damage caused by reduced oxygen and nutrient circulation during strenuous activity; preclinical research has shown that CBD can reduce tissue damage and restore the permeability of the intenstine;

  • Promotion of bone health as CBD may support healthy bone deposition and help heal fractures;

  • Performance anxiety mangagement in that CBD helps sleep both sleep and anxiety, particularly in conjunction with behavioural therapies;


These findings were largely echoed in Pharmacological Research 150 (2020) which reported that CBD’s neuroprotective qualities had potential to counteract harm from sports-related concussion; the researchers believe CBD oil could help treat pain, aggression and depression linked to mild traumatic brain injury.  It could also help athletes restore the right sleeping cycles.

The study, Cannabidiol in sport: Ergogenic or Else? by Francois-Xavier Gamelin et al concluded that “CBD can be considered a promising compound in the sport domain to help athletes to manage injury, anxiety, stress or sleep disorders”. 

They found that CBD wasn’t a performance enhancer per se, but could be effective in overall health management programmes because of its restorative qualities.

“Nevertheless, the lack of clinical studies in this context, and the scarcity of regulation and control on CBD products, do not allow to advice athletes to use this cannalbinoid correctly and safely, at least for the moment. Therefore, there is an urgent need to test CBD in appropriate clinical trials in athletes.”

Further research is likely to come from a joint venture between the Canadian cannabis multinational Aurora and UFC, a martial arts organization. The multi-year gobal partnership will be based at UFC’s performance Institute in Las Vegas, Nevada in the US and will involve clinical trials on the relationship between “hemp-derived channabidiol (CBD) products and athlete wellness and recovery”.

Aurora says the focus will be on pain management, inflammation, injury and exercise recovery as well as mental well-being.

Dr Elaine Burns of the Southwest Medical Marijuana Physicians Group says CBD has potential but cautions that most of the research to date has been done on animals.

“There is much to learn about translating dosing from animals to humans, but CBD can help athletes because it’s an “anti-inflammatory that words by reducing pro-inflammatory markets in the body. There’s also research showing that CBD is effective in combating neuroinflammation, making CBD interesting for athletes who play sports like football or boxing where concussion are common”.


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