Can CBD be Used in Professional Sports? NFL, NBA, MMA, College Sports & More!

Updated: Mar 31


A trending topic for some years now is CBD use in professional sports. These athletes experience an array of painful, oftentimes debilitating injuries.  After all the stress that their bodies go through, it is imperative that they take the necessary steps to heal and recover. For players both active and retired, opiates and anti-inflammatory medications are commonplace. THC-Free CBD products have become popular among athletes looking for a health and wellness supplement, and a natural, non-toxic alternative to pain medications. So let's dive in and take a closer look.



What is CBD?


Cannabidiol, otherwise known as CBD for short, has taken the world by storm. CBD is classified as a chemical compound often found in the hemp plant. CBD however, is found in much higher concentrations in the hemp plant as opposed to finding higher concentrations of THC in marijuana. The main distinction between CBD and THC is that CBD is "non-intoxicating" meaning that it doesn't give the user a "high". Today, CBD can be purchased online with a wide variety of products such as edibles, topicals, tinctures and so much more!


When you ingest CBD, the CBD binds on to certain receptors called the CB1 and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors are found all throughout the brain and spinal cord, along with other small tissues. CB2 receptors are primarily found in the immune system. Without these receptors, CBD would prove to be nearly useless. In a real-world comparison, its like buying a brand new car (CBD) but without an engine (receptors)


Is CBD Legal for Athletes?



As of early 2018, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) officially declared that CBD be removed from the banned substance list, whether it's used in or out of competition (Full WADA drug list). The WADA is the first major sports organization to acknowledge CBD as a compound separate from marijuana. The US Anti-Doping Agency did the same.  

This new policy now allows athletes governed by these agencies, to use CBD before and during competition, as well as for recovery afterward. Although CBD as a whole was taken off the list, other similar compounds like natural and synthetic cannabinoids still remain on the list. Some leagues look as if CBD and cannabis reform is in the future, while others cannot be budged. 


CBD oil still remains on the NFL’s banned substances list, despite the 2018 Farm Bill removing hemp from its classification as a controlled substance under federal law.


Cannabidiol is not listed on the NCAA 2018-19 Banned Drugs List. However, the list states, “Any substance that is chemically related to one of the above classes, even if it is not listed as an example, is also banned!” So with that being said, it is lead to believe that the NCAA considers CBD to be “chemically related” to tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and is, therefore, CBD is banned. The NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports (CSMAS) voted on a recommendation that would change the NCAA’s banned drug classes to reflect the prohibited list established by the WADA. Under this change, CBD would not be prohibited. However, it appears, at this time, that the NCAA does not feel the pressure to acknowledge CBD as either a potential health supplement or a banned substance.


College athletes wanting to use CBD should speak with their Athletic Director first!



6 Benefits of Using CBD for Athletes



1. Alternative to NSAID's


Just as dangerous as opioids are NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), which are sold over the counter and also prescribed. Examples of some NSAIDs are Aleve, Advil, Tylenol, and Ibuprofen. It is common for people with medical conditions that cause pain and inflammation to use NSAIDs. Athletes have been taking these pills for decades. It is the belief of most, that these drugs are safe as they are classified as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and are said to not have addictive characteristics. However, these NSAIDs may actually be much more harmful than we once thought, and cause serious issues.(Link). Athletes like runners are told to avoid NSAID's before races as they increase the risk of renal damage. NSAIDs have adverse side-effects to the human body if taken for an extended period of time.


The way NSAIDs work is by obstructing enzymes called COX-1 and COX-2. These enzymes produce compounds created by our cells called prostaglandins. COX-1 protects the digestive system lining and promotes blood clotting while COX-2 works to control inflammation. When there is a blockage of any of these enzymes, negative side effects will most likely follow. Some serious side effects of NSAIDs include liver failure, high blood pressure, stomach ulcer, and kidney damage just to name a few.


Instead of taking NSAIDs, CBD can be used to reduce the severity or find relief from body pain and inflammation.


The cannabinoids in the hemp plant have anti-inflammatory properties that perform different actions, including the obstruction of pro-inflammatory compounds that the body produced due to injury or disease. As CBD interacts with your body's ESC (Endocannabinoid System) and regulates the body’s general state of balance, it blocks the COX-2 enzyme more effectively than NSAIDs and regulates pain and immune response.


2. Alternative to Opioids



The excessive use and accessibility of opioids (morphine, codeine, oxycontin) have resulted in this current epidemic in the U.S. with tens of thousands of deaths linked to overdose and addiction. Opioids are effective for short term pain relief but come with significant risks. Many opioid users develop horrible addictions which oftentimes lead to an overdose or death. Although opioids and NSAIDs are effective in dealing with extreme pain, acute pain and minor pain respectfully, CBD would be a better choice for effective pain management. CBD usage eliminates the possibility of becoming addicted to opioids and experiencing its adverse side effects. Like opioids, CBD blocks pain at the neurological level. However, it simultaneously promotes whole-body homeostasis by reducing inflammation and relaxing muscles at the site of the trauma.


After several high profile deaths of hockey athletes, most of whom had pharmaceutical drug addictions, the NHL has opened that "CBD" door. The National Hockey League (NHL) allow their athletes to use CBD as a recovery method or pain relief for the injuries and beating that their bodies sustain in hockey.



3. Reducing Inflammation



People often define pain as inflammation. Pain is not inflammation but rather, a symptom of inflammation. Inflammation occurs when the body’s natural immune system is triggered to respond to an injury or what it perceives as a threat. This perceived threat could be a foreign object or a germ. Inflammation doesn't start only as you feel pain, it starts the moment the body detects a harmful irritant. The pain comes after. There are two different types of inflammation. They are chronic inflammation and acute inflammation.

Most people seek treatment for chronic inflammation. This type of inflammation can be caused by many different conditions like IBS, arthritis and Chron's Disease, just to name a few. Chronic inflammation happens when your body continues to try to fight off an internal perceived threat even if the inflammation response isn't to heal. This can lead to your white blood cells attacking your body because your immune system switch stays on as it is in protect mode at this point. Because of the ongoing pain and potential damage that can come to the body, people tend to turn to NSAIDs but this is where CBD would be clutch because it calms the immune system.


As scary as it sounds, acute inflammation can be a good thing. This is your body's protective response to surgery, irritation or an injury. This process draws blood flow the affected area which results in fluid buildup. As the body's protective response increases, you experience the symptoms of acute inflammation which causes pain, swelling, heat, redness. Fear not! This is a sign that the immune system is functioning healthily.


When thinking about inflammation and the issues that come with it, one might want to stay away from it altogether. However, small amounts of inflammation can prove to be beneficial for athletes as it stimulates positive training adaptation. Too much, however, can hinder your recovery and performance. The CB2 receptors are essential for controlling inflammation throughout the body. The CB2 receptors are found in immune tissue and when cannabinoids bind to this receptor, your body begins to produce less cytokine (cell messengers). If an athlete takes CBD after a hard workout, the CBD will bind to the CB2 receptor to help in the recovery process.


4. Assist Your Gut


Inflammation in the small and large intestine is quite common in endurance runners and is one of the leading reasons they drop out of races. While CBD won't help in hydration or overheating, it can help with underlying inflammation in tissue which is the cause for stomach pain after exercise. The way your intestines become inflamed after exercise is quite simple, you're either dehydrated, overheated, or your body has produced to much acid in your stomach, causing an inflammatory response. Again, CBD calms this reaction in your gut to eliminate inflammation as it lines your gut.


Stress and anxiety play a role in digestion. So managing stress is crucial when it comes to gut health. CBD decreases anxiety and promotes stress resilience. It is important for people, not just athletes try to manage daily stress as stressful days can lead to even more serious health conditions. CBD is definitely a great option for this. CBD can also help to relax the intestinal tract and reduce spasms. This can provide relief from digestive issues like cramps, bloating, and diarrhea.



5. Manage Sleep Quality


The greatest recovery tool for any athlete is ample sleep. Athletes who consume CBD report that they would have greater ease falling asleep along with an uninterrupted night of sleep. The main reason is that CBD impedes the reuptake of adenosine. (Sleep Study)


Adenosine breaks down in your brain as it burns carbs for energy. During this process, adenosine accumulates in the brain. As this process is taking place, the adenosine binds to receptors and lets out neurotransmitters, slowing down brain activity and inducing sleep. As you sleep, adenosine metabolizes low concentrations in your brain to help you wake up and repeat the process.


CBD binds onto the same receptors as adenosine, therefore inhibiting adenosine reuptake. During this process, the adenosine accumulates quickly and helps you fall asleep sooner.



Professional Athletes and CBD




Retired NFL Superstar Rob Gronkowski actively promotes CBD use.

Although major leagues and associations like the NBA and NFL don't allow their athletes to use CBD, other sports like the UFC didn't shy away when CBD was removed from WADA. Many professional fighters like Jorge Masdival and Jon Jones openly use CBD and promote certain companies throughout the CBD industry. These fighters would normally apply CBD topicals to reduce inflammation and continue their rigorous workout regimes without having to worry about injury. Retired athletes like the legendary Rob Gronkowski (NFL) have recently opened up about thoughts on CBD, all of which have been positive. Other current and retired athletes that promote the use of CBD are Terrell Davis, Paul Pierce, Nate Diaz and Mike Tyson, just to name a few on a long list.


CBD has become a more widely accepted alternative, as we look to avoid a nationwide epidemic of opioid addiction and seek a more natural solution. It can help athletes reach their peak performance, protect brain cells and speed recovery due to its ability to manage inflammation and pain. It is a natural choice for anyone looking for a safe alternative to pharmaceuticals or just looking for an aid to health and wellness during competition and training and overall health. So whether you are training for a professional league or just sore after a workout, CBD can help.


If you are an athlete looking for CBD relief, we highly recommend taking a look at our CBD stick. Our CBD stick is made of three all-natural ingredients that are packed into one powerful stick. The stick function also allows you to massage the CBD into your body, adding additional therapeutic value.


We hope this article has been useful, but if you have any questions please do not hesitate to reach out as our team will be more than happy to respond. You can reach us via phone at 954-533-0089 or via email at info@gogreenhemp.com


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