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CBD for athletes: can it really help your performance?

Jul 1, 2022 | Health and Wellness

Can CBD really be a viable option for athletes? Enthusiasts and professional athletes are always looking for substances that can improve performance and help with physical recovery. This type of supplement must be “compatible” with anti-doping laws, safe for health and possibly natural.

And it is precisely on the basis of these considerations that CBD (cannabidiol) is gaining a niche of interest among sportsmen, professionals and non-professionals. Cannabidiol is a cannabinoid found in cannabis plants, mainly in hemp varieties, has pain-relieving, anti-inflammatory properties and can help you recover muscle tone faster.

In this article we want to explore the potential of CBD as a sports supplement.

CBD for sport

Most sports organizations consider THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) an illicit substance. This is because of the psychoactive properties that this cannabinoid presents. In contrast to THC, the World Anti-Doping Organization, considers CBD “legal” and allows its use as long as it is in the form of a pure extract isolated.

CBD is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid, and is therefore considered safe for sports use at both amateur and professional/competitive levels.

But what does science say? Is CBD really able to help athletic performance, or is it just the usual exaggerated marketing?

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What studies say about CBD for athletes

Recent medical research, published in 2020 in the journal “Sport Medicine”, has shown several positive effects related to the use of CBD for sports activity.

CBD reduces pain and inflammation

The 2020 research looked at animal studies and clinical trials on human patients, non-professional sportsmen. Researchers have found evidence of positive effects at the biochemical, physiological and psychological levels. One of the main effects highlighted by research is the anti-inflammatory and protective power that CBD exerts on muscles and nerves. In particular, CBD would help athletes to recover muscle tone and function faster after prolonged efforts, such as intense training or a particularly demanding race.

CBD protects the gastrointestinal tract

Athletes and sportsmen who undergo intense training may suffer from disorders of the digestive system. This is because continued physical exertion can reduce the availability of oxygen and nutrients in the gastrointestinal tract. Research in 2020 found positive, tissue protection effects associated with using CBD.

Stress and inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract can greatly reduce sports skills and require long periods of abstinence from physical activity. In this case, using CBD can prevent damage to the gastrointestinal tract, especially by preserving the tissues of the intestine. This can give athletes who integrate CBD into their diet a very important competitive advantage.

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Bone health and CBD

For an athlete, bone health is paramount. Repeated efforts, fractures and traumas can compromise bone health and consequently heavily affect sports performance. Research from 2020 has shown that CBD can help the deposition of new bone tissue, resulting in faster recovery times for both micro fractures and more important traumas.

CBD reduces performance anxiety

The research of “Sport Magazine” also examined the psychological side of sports activity. Especially with regard to professional athletes, performance anxiety is a very common problem. Anxiety can reduce sleep quality, increase energy consumption and impair nutrient absorption. Resulting in a series of long-term physical problems, as well as being a great impediment on a psychological level, to achieve high performance.

As indicated in research, CBD has powerful anxiolytic and anti-stress effects that can be an important benefit for athletes suffering from conditions related to anxiety and stress. Research has also pointed out that CBD is even more effective when used as an adjuvant in psychological and behavioral therapies.

The neuroprotective properties of CBD for athletes

Another research, also from 2020, published in the journal “Pharmacological Research“, analyzed the functionality of CBD for sports with a different point of view: the nervous system, especially the brain.

In the research, the neuroprotective properties of CBD were examined, in relation to the trauma suffered by athletes who practice so-called “contact” sports. This type of sport, such as boxing, martial arts, but also football and basketball, can cause contusion trauma in athletes. In the long term, repeated blunt accidents can create damage to the brain. CBD, with its neuroprotective properties is an excellent supplement that can help the recovery of compromised neuronal tissues and reduce related symptoms such as “ghost” pain, aggression and depression.

In another animal study, CBD oil demonstrated properties that can relieve and prevent damage to the prefrontal cortex, caused by blunt trauma. In addition, CBD has antioxidant properties and is able to reduce inflammation and degeneration of nerve tissues.

The role of CBD in the sleep-wake cycle

Among the various aspects taken into account in the research of “Sport Medicine” on CBD, the researchers also highlighted the role that CBD can play in the daily cycle of sleep and wakefulness. All athletes know that a good restful sleep is essential for physical and mental recovery, before a race but also during demanding training cycles.

CBD has a biphasic effect, that is, at different dosages it is able to promote sleep or the waking state (alert). In addition, also from the 2020 research, it emerged that CBD is able to restore balance in the sleep-wake cycle, especially in cases where mental stress or physical trauma have changed this vital physical function.

The research also pointed out that despite the powerful “soporific” or “stimulating” effect, CBD does not alter cognitive functions in any way and has no negative effects on the functionality and health of the motor system.

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What experts say

Despite promising research, many sports doctors are still uncertain and recommend caution. Mainly because most of the studies carried out so far are on animals or, when done on humans, are too short-term. There is still a lot to learn about cannabinoids, including CBD. For now, the most overt effects are anti-inflammatory ones. CBD seems to be really promising for use in sports, especially with regard to muscle relaxation and recovery.

As for the mode of consumption, the opinion of doctors is almost unanimous: the use of CBD oil for competitive or professional athletes in the form of a pure extract (possibly diluted in coconut oil) should be preferred. In fact, although at very low doses, full-spectrum CBD contains traces of other cannabinoids, including THC which is considered “illegal” and which could compromise any doping and anti-drug tests.

Taking CBD orally is preferable to any other form due to its immediate bioavailability and high absorption. In this way, it is possible for interested athletes and sportsmen to better control the dosages and effects.

Conclusions

As is often the case with cannabinoid research, more research is needed for CBD and sports. The authors of the studies we have cited agree on the preliminary nature of the studies carried out and emphasize the precautionary approach and of course, advise to undertake the use of substances such as CBD always under direct medical supervision. Fortunately, as the world’s attitude towards cannabis and cannabinoids changes, we are beginning to see more and more research funding. One of the most promising studies, currently still ongoing, is the one sponsored by Aurora Cannabis, a Canadian company specialized in the production of cannabis inflorescences, which in collaboration with the UFC (World Organization for Mixed Martial Arts) is thoroughly exploring the potential of CBD at a competitive level. In such a delicate field as health and sport, research is very important, as is education. If you’re interested in learning more about the topic, we recommend that you take a look at these articles on CBD:

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