Cannabinoid therapy has gained a lot of attention recently in the world of sports. First, there is approval of Cannabidiol (CBD) by the World Doping Agency, therefore permitted for use in the Olympics, then we have a long list of athletes advocating for the benefits of recovery, performance, and possibly even treatment.
So what are the benefits that are worth advocating for? As it turns out, there may be many. Here we discuss the more well-studied actions of certain cannabinoids that have the potential to benefit athletes.
When exercise is particularly strenuous, athletes may encounter what is known as exercise-induced muscle damage, which impairs muscle function and leads to inflammation that may delay recovery and prolong soreness or pain. Cannabinoids have been researched to be anti-inflammatory, in fact researchers use terms such as “novel” and “potent” to describe their anti-inflammatory actions.
The potential of alleviating the muscle inflammation may be able to enhance recovery time by decreasing muscle tension, soreness, and pain. While CBD is among the most studied for anti-inflammatory actions, Cannabis sativa contains several other cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids that share the same potential benefits. This includes, but is not limited to, cannabinoids THC, THCA, CBDA, CBN, CBC, and CBG; terpenes caryophyllene, borneol, nerolidol, linalool, limonene, and pinene; and flavonoids Cannflavin A, and B.
Neuropathic pain is observed among wheelchair athletes with spinal cord injuries. It can also develop as a result of surgery for a sports injury or repetitive irritation of peripheral nerves from endurance sports. Preclinical studies have observed significant pain-relieving effects of combined THC and CBD on chronic neuropathic pain, suggesting the cannabinoids as possible therapeutic agents for a clinical problem that has proved difficult to treat.
Exercise is known to improve bone strength and reduce the risk of fractures. However, for athletes, traumatic injuries that may occur could cause or contribute to the development of bone fractures. One animal study reported that CBD and THC improved femoral fracture healing, proposing the treatment process of bone fracturing may be enhanced with cannabinoid therapy.
Concussions in athletes are very common. Recent reports show that in the U.S. there are about 3.8 million concussions that occur each year from sports related-injuries. Concussions may lead to long-term consequences. Increasing evidence shows that a traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a risk factor for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Studies have shown the impact CBD has on animal models with neuronal injuries and that it may lessen the impact of behaviors that may follow concussions and TBI’s such as anxious and aggressive behavior, depression, pain, and impaired social interactions.
The neuroprotective effects of CBD, in particular, may involve the molecule’s ability to decrease inflammation, oxidative stress, and excitotoxicity. Additionally, CBD has shown to regulate cerebral blood flow and enhance neurogenesis.
When it comes to recovery, having quality sleep is very important. The first way cannabinoids may assist in improving our sleep is by mitigating the conditions that may be keeping us awake, such as sports performance anxiety (SPA). These conditions may have an effect on our body clock function, therefore leading to sleep disorders.
CBD may directly assist in aligning our circadian rhythms, one of which being the sleep-wake cycle. The actions of our endocannabinoid system appear aligned with our circadian rhythms, therefore may modulate them. CBD, being a modulating molecule, has the potential to improve our sleep wake cycles, leading to an increase in the percentage of total sleep overtime.
THC has shown in studies as having an effect on mental and physical sedation as well as lessening nightmare presence and intensity in PTSD study participants. In addition, THC shares properties of our endocannabinoid known as Oleamide, which is known to benefit apneic events.
Preclinical and clinical studies show that targeting peripheral inflammation by topical therapy is effective. For wound healing, two of our endocannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2 are involved in the process of limiting inflammation, proliferations, and tissue remodeling. Although data on the clinical application of cannabinoids for inflammatory-related pain or aiding the process of wound healing is scarce, the research and anecdotal evidence is promising.
Topical therapy has become a growing option for athletes who are looking to avoid ingesting full spectrum products, but still reap the potential benefits for problem areas or injury.
Further Research and Finding a Product
While research to support the potential of cannabinoid therapy to benefit athletes is still considered to be in early phases, there are many recommendations by the scientific community to continue to study these plant-based options. Observational studies that anyone can join, such as Realm of Caring’s Observational Research Registry, are simple and effective ways to help legitimize this form of therapy.
When looking for a product to aid you in your sports performance and/or recovery, it is always recommended you choose a well tested and high quality product you can trust. Visit Realm of Caring’s supported brands page for our list of trusted products and reach out to our free one-on-one support for guidance on administration by email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Realm of Caring Foundation specifically invokes the first amendment rights of freedom of speech and of the press without prejudice. These statements have not been evaluated by the food and drug administration. the products discussed are not intended to diagnose, cure, prevent or treat any disease. Realm of Caring always recommends when and wherever possible that licensed local healthcare professionals be consulted.
The Realm of Caring Foundation is an independent nonprofit with its own governing board. We do not produce or sell cannabinoid products, nor do we receive funds from the sale of other company’s products.