Back in late 2017, the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) quietly issued an update to its prohibited substances list. While the announcement drew little press, down on the third page was a potential game-changer for athletes around the world.
“Cannabidiol (CBD) is no longer prohibited” read the first sentence of the second bullet point underneath their list of prohibited Cannabinoids.
What this meant was CBD oil, which has exploded in over the counter sales over the last few years for a variety of uses (everything from pain management and anxiety to acne and heart disease) was now fair game for many professional athletes.
Derived from hemp plants, the extract can be made and sold in a concentrated formula.
Cannabis and CBD Market
Cannabis industry analysts estimate the CBD market could hit US$22 billion by 2022, and marijuana use is now legal in 10 American states while Canada just became the first G7 nation to legalise recreational marijuana.
According to testing figure reports from Wada for 2017, more than 322,000 professional athletes gave samples that year, which represents a huge swathe of international competitors, everyone from Olympic athletes to marathon runners and cyclists.
In June of 2018, the BIG3 (a three on three basketball league which features a number of retired NBA players including Chauncey Billups and Jermaine O’Neal) announced it would allow CBD oil to be used by its players.
Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, had previously announced his league would examine the overall issue of medical marijuana and its potential in detail.
While research into marijuana as a painkiller remains in its infancy, the studies on CBD oil’s health benefits are quickly piling up.
A paper published in the US National Library of Medicine looking at treating symptoms of epilepsy, anxiety and dementia, found that “CBD has a better side effect profile” than current drug treatments.
However a largely unregulated space means many companies are touting CBD oil as a cure-all with little to no scientific backing for their product’s claims other than testimonials.
Marijuana’s illegality in most nations has hampered the medical community’s studying of the plant, which has forced the private market to forge ahead without scientific proof.
CBD Oil and Athletes
Some athletes have specifically latched onto CBD oil’s potential anti-inflammatory properties, as well as possible antioxidative and neuroprotective effects in recovery.
Products touting CBD oil are now slowly starting to find promotion within the professional sports community, the most notable being triathlete Andrew Talansky, who is sponsored by Floyd’s of Leadville, a Colorado company launched in 2016 by former pro cyclist Floyd Landis (who tested positive for performance enhancing drugs and was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France win).
In an interview with Outside magazine, Talansky said he first turned to CBD oil in 2017 to help with a strained hip flexor.
“I took it for a couple of weeks, and there was a noticeable difference immediately. And it wasn’t just that my hip was feeling better. I was less anxious, and I was sleeping better.”
Famous “sleep doctor” Dr. Michael Breus, who is a clinical psychologist and both a diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has a sleep booster product which contains 200 milligrams of hemp-derived CBD.
While marijuana is still an illegal narcotic when it comes to US federal law, industrial hemp is now legal nationwide, which means products can be marketed and sold across state lines.
Marijuana is illegal in Hong Kong and China, however hemp is one of China’s most largely produced products and has seen a resurgence in sales in the past few years. Some Asian countries are now flirting with legalising medical marijuana, the most notable being Thailand, who passed legislation late in 2018.
While current professional athletes, especially in North America, are hesitant to admit to using marijuana for pain management, many former NFL players have been vocal about both marijuana and CBD oil use.
In an interview with CBS Miami, former NFL player Larry Chester, who played seven seasons in the league as a defensive lineman, said “CBD saved my life”, adding that chronic pain and an addiction to opioids was destroying his relationships:
“I lashed out on my children unnecessarily, lashed out on my wife, I even lashed out at people at the grocery store.”
Chester said he now uses topical CBD oil to help with knee pain, which he gets through a medical marijuana prescription , among other general uses of marijuana.
Part of the misinformation concerning CBD centres around the tendency for people to lump it in with THC (the psychoactive part of cannabis). Former NFL player Cullen Jenkins, who uses CBD oil for anxiety and pain management, said he was incredibly sceptical before trying it.
“I thought I was going to be high,” he said in an interview with SBNation. “I thought I was going to be just tripping the same things as weed. But it wasn’t anything like that. It’s more of a mellow, calming, smooth feeling. I felt pretty good.”
Admissions like Chester’s were buoyed recently by a open letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell from Dr. Lester Grinspoon, the Emeritus professor of Psychiatry Harvard Medical School, who urged the NFL to study the potential benefits of medical marijuana for its players.
However there has been resistance from various leagues when it comes to marijuana in general. In March of last year NFL running back Mike James made history by becoming the first player to file for a “therapeutic use exemption” in using marijuana to help with pain management related to injuries he sustained while playing.
The NFL denied his application. James, who got addicted to prescription opioid painkillers after sustaining an ankle injury in 2013, said he used medical marijuana to both wean himself off the drug and help with pain management.
Originally seen on South China Morning Post