On January 1st, 2018, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed CBD from their list of banned substances. This has led to a surge in CBD use amongst professional and amateur athletes alike. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests CBD has potential anti-inflammatory properties.
CBD and Sports Athletes (with a focus on Rugby)
For some time now, athletes and international sports federations have removed CBD from their list of prohibited substances. Although CBD’s anxiolytic, antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties have been shown and reported, the research is not conclusive; in fact, scientists are testing these new cannabinoids on the health and performance of athletes.
The physiological mechanisms by which CBD influences sports performance are not yet fully understood, although there are several scientific studies that show evidence that CBD can help athletes recover from physical and emotional fatigue.
Recovery from fatigue due to physical exertion has become a key problem in modern sports research. After physical, physiological, and cognitive exertion, the functional ability of the athlete must be evaluated, but anxiety and depression are also frequent symptoms of central and peripheral fatigue, especially when combined with competitive pressure.
How does CBD work in the human body?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a phytocannabinoid found in the Cannabis sativa plant. Unlike the psychotropic molecule THC, CBD is neither addictive nor psychoactive. Instead, CBD has been shown in clinical trials to help treat chronic pain and spasticity, mood and sleep problems, immunosuppression, and anxiety.
As CBD is generally approved for medicinal and recreational use, its application among athletes is increasingly gaining momentum, especially in the practice of sports injury treatment. There is a variety of scientific information on the possible benefits of CBD, although, without a direct study of the potential of CBD in sports rehabilitation, there can still be no proven scientific evidence.
The endocannabinoid system directly impacts the human brain, positively affecting mood and memory, and giving a feeling of induced pleasure, tranquility, and bliss. Endocannabinoids such as anandamide and 2-Arachidonoyl (2AG) behave like cannabinoids by activating CB1 and CB2 receptors, while the breakdown and absorption of anandamide enhance receptor binding of the CB1 and CB2 endocannabinoids found in the CNS and SNP. Here is scientific research that offers an introduction to the endocannabinoid system, in case you want to learn more about it.
CBD in sports medicine and sports injury treatment
Further studies are needed to better understand CBD’s impact on physiological process; as the interest in the use of CBD in the rehabilitation of sports athletes continues to develop, the CBD molecule would allow many athletes to treat conditions of physical stress and joint pain in an effective and completely natural way, without risking doping charges.
When taking CBD before, during, or after a workout or competition, its effects should be further examined for its possible benefits, efficacy, and safety profile. Future studies in the field of sports science and medicine are focusing on the role of CBD in physiological processes such as the inflammatory process, neuroprotection, analgesic, anxiolytic use, muscle strengthening, and neuromechanical function.
Other possible research areas include, but are not limited to, an optimal dosage based on physical and physiological load; effectiveness in terms of administrative timing; chronic and acute effects; cumulative responses with other recovery strategies; differences in tolerance and effectiveness by gender, professional level, and level of fitness; and other individual and variable conditions. The inflammatory signaling of CBD is an important part of the healing process; while there is still a lot of work to be done, studies indicate that CBD should be compared to conventional drugs in terms of efficacy.
Focus: Rugby and CBD. How CBD has changed the lives of professional rugby athletes
Rugby is a physically demanding sport, and as athletes get older and stronger, their pain and physical health management increases. Recovery for rugby athletes relies on strength and exercise, diet, and sleep. But that’s not always enough, so players turn to drugs like anti-inflammatory pills and opiates like Tramadol.
The culture of rugby has changed over the past five years, making it more difficult for players to take opioid drugs and pain relievers, but the agony of the sport persists, leaving players searching for natural and healthy alternatives.
Jerome Kaino, a two-time World Cup winner with New Zealand, was “always” taking anti-inflammatories before training and matches before discovering CBD and told the BBC: “You would be amazed how many athletes use the heavier painkillers to get rid of pain due to impacts, for us pain is a physical condition we have to live with every day, in the long run, the anti-inflammatories I was taking made me sick. I was constantly having stomach problems, but I had to take them to make my joints work properly and to be competitive.” Given the ease of availability, Kaino claims to have seen teammates become addicted to opiates.
In recent years, the star in rugby is certainly CBD oil. The use of CBD oil by athletes has increased considerably after CBD has been removed from the list of prohibited substances in 2018, many athletes, for example, have used the CBD products to quit smoking and detoxify from nicotine addiction, and this has allowed them to have better athletic and cardiac performance.
In the world of rugby, more than any other contact sport (except for the “cousin” sport, American football), athletes are subjected to high doses of physical and mental stress. As rugby is a very violent contact sport, rugby athletes are subject to multiple joint and motor problems. In recent times, 28% of rugby athletes, therefore, decided to replace anti-inflammatory and pain relievers with CBD-based products, as CBD not only helps decrease muscle / skeletal inflammation but also helps the athletes in the recovery phase, improving sleep.
Scottish rugby union player Finn Russell uses CBD to sleep, New Zealand rugby union player Jerome Kaino uses CBD for knee pain, while Scotland national team player Jim Hamilton stated that he needs CBD to deal with his physical ailments, even though he has ended his sports career. Among others, many other players of the British and Irish Lions, the Scotland national team, and the two-time World Cup champions All Blacks regularly use CBD to manage the agony caused by the violence of the sport.
More about scientific research in the medical and sports fields
There are many scientific studies about the role of CBD in sports recovery, and they all suggest that CBD increases the effectiveness and efficiency of recovery processes during exercise and sports-related fatigue. Cannabis-derived CBD appears to have several characteristics that could help athletes recover faster after exercise, practice, and specifically after sports injuries. These properties include anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, analgesic, anxiolytic and pain-relieving effects.
While the effects of CBD are still subject to several scientific studies to prove its effectiveness beyond any doubt, as previously described, many professional athletes have been regularly adopting CBD for some years. Unlike opiates or chemical drugs, Cannabidiol has no side effects, is not addictive, and those who make use of CBD claim it has tangible and concrete benefits, helping their body in restoring physical performance. With further recovery techniques combined with the physiological mechanisms of action of CBD, it is possible to minimize the accumulated fatigue that occurs during a match or during intensive training.
The most used CBD product in the field of competitive sports is certainly CBD oil, which is regularly used for its convenience of administration since it can be both massaged on the painful part and ingested. Some CBD oils on the market combine a blend of medicinal herbs and cannabis-derived CBD, which makes the CBD oils tastier. A good example are the products of MA True Cannabis, which offers a wide range of very effective and pleasant-tasting broad-spectrum CBD oils, blended with essential oils in a combination with MTC oil, that helps in terms of faster absorption by the metabolism.
The potential therapeutic benefits of CBD have been underestimated for years, but the current practice in sports injury treatment may allow for a greater understanding of this natural molecule and its effects. Furthermore, from an administrative point of view, a clearer and more comprehensive strategy for the use of cannabis in sport should also be developed and implemented.
How CBD helps boost the recovery and performance of Rugby players
The use of CBD in rugby and other physically demanding sports is increasing rapidly as more players begin to experience positive results. CBD could help with the recovery process, which has a positive effect on performance. We already see stiff competition when trying to find thebest CBD for energy on the market.
Cannabinoids such as cannabidiol seem to influence various pathways, mainly through the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS helps regulate numerous processes and functions, including appetite, mood, memory, and sleep.
It is a system with two main types of receptors, CB1 and CB2. You will find these receptors throughout the nervous system and brain. CBD appears to interact with these receptors, albeit in a different fashion to THC. Indeed, experts are not in agreement as to how CBD interacts with the ECS. One suggestion is that it helps prevent endocannabinoids from getting broken down.
Despite the uncertainty, research shows that CBD could help with pain, inflammation, sleep, and several other issues. Therefore, the fact that CBD and rugby are becoming a popular combination is no surprise.
CBD in Rugby – A High Prevalence of Use
A recent study published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism in 2020 looked at the high level of CBD use in rugby union and league. The researchers pointed out that rugby is a high-intensity collision sport with low-intensity aerobic activities.
While rugby union and rugby league are two different codes, they involve regular high-speed collisions between players. As a result, players from both games suffer increased levels of inflammation. In many cases, the pain is debilitating and potentially affects daily function. This pain could last for several days after a match and remain an issue for the entire season.
The study then went through a wide array of research into CBD’s potential anti-inflammatory, anxiolytic, analgesic, and anti-oxidative properties. One of these studies was by Mechoulam and Hanus and published in Chemistry and Physics of Lipids in 2002. In it, the study authors discussed the various likely benefits of CBD.
One major issue with rugby is daily muscle pain, particularly nerve pain, which has psychological and physical consequences. CBD in rugby could massively reduce the reliance on painkillers. Rugby players use approximately four times more painkillers than the general population on average.
Apart from addition, consistent use of such drugs could lead to adverse effects, including nausea, headaches, kidney damage, gastric ulceration, and gastric injury. In contrast, CBD has a significantly better safety profile.
CBD in Rugby & Better Performance
What’s clear is that adequate rest and recovery are key components in improved performance. CBD could enable rugby players to recover from inflammatory pain faster. According to the 2020 study mentioned above, up to 80% of rugby players used CBD to improve pain/recovery and sleep. The ‘mean’ use of CBD amongst players is 25%. However, it increased to 39% in those aged 28+.
The results of this use show why CBD in rugby is so popular. A remarkable 67% of players claimed they saw a benefit from consuming cannabidiol. Over 40% reported better sleep, and 14% said they felt improved pain/recovery. In the studies reviewed, none of the athletes reported any adverse side effects. This is even though the industry is unregulated, and some players may have used products with a higher or lower CBD level than displayed on the label.
Rugby players need to use CBD with caution, however. At present, there is a lack of oversight in the industry. As a result, companies can sell products without the legal need to display the cannabinoid content. In the UK, the maximum level of THC allowed in any CBD product is 0.2%. There is a possibility that players could unwittingly consume a higher amount.
An estimated 21% of players who use CBD admitted they have no idea if the batch was tested. This leaves them potentially open to a positive result for THC metabolites during a drug screening. Such an outcome could have serious consequences for their career.
Final Thoughts on CBD in Rugby & Whether It Can Help Recovery and Performance
Further research is necessary, but thus far, there is plenty of evidence that CBD could aid recovery and improve rugby players’ performance. Its apparent ability to reduce inflammatory pain from training and playing matches enables athletes to recover faster between sessions. CBD’s capacity to improve sleep is also important, as sleep is a critical aspect of recovery.
It seems that CBD in rugby is extremely common. The 2020 study surveyed 472 players, and 133 of them had used the compound. Many of those who didn’t use CBD took this step because of a concern over anti-doping regulations. Reputable CBD brands sell products low in THC, so rugby players should have no concerns over failing a drug test.
About the Author
With a Master’s Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics, it is fair to say that Kayla Burns knows more than most about health, fitness, and supplements. After coming across CBD, Kayla decided to embark on detailed research to learn more about whether this cannabinoid is beneficial. She is now convinced that it can help with various issues such as anxiety and is also extremely useful for athletes hoping to recover from their exertions.