Can the use of cannabidiol (CBD) help professional athletes gain an edge in competition?
CBD is one of the dozens of cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant.
Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD does not induce euphoria in people who use it.
However, it does provide a significant amount of wellness benefits according to a number of studies.
CBD has been found to be an anti-inflammatory, anti-convulsant, and an antioxidant and can help treat neuro-inflammation, epilepsy, vomiting, and nausea.
With so many wellness benefits involved, some people and regulatory entities have stated that CBD is a performance-enhancing drug as it relates to sports competition, which is problematic.
Cannabis prohibition in sports is ‘justified’ in different ways
Most professional sports leagues ban cannabis in all forms. It doesn’t matter if the cannabis consumption is medical in nature.
Leagues that currently prohibit cannabis use include (but are not limited to):
- National Football League (NFL)
- National Basketball Association (NBA)
- Major League Baseball (MLB)
- Major League Soccer (MLS)
- Professional Golfers Association (PGA)
The National Hockey League does not include cannabis on its list of controlled substances, but that distinction is very rare in the sports world.
The justification that is currently being offered up by sports leagues that prohibit cannabis is that cannabis is a harmful substance that has a negative impact on players who use it.
However, as that talking point continues to erode, it’s quite possible that sports cannabis prohibitionists will pivot to a new talking point – that cannabis is a performance-enhancing drug.
But is cannabis really a performance-enhancing drug?
It’s certainly a life-enhancing substance for many people, but what about it being a performance-enhancing drug as it relates to sports competition?
The World Anti-Doping Agency weighs in
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is a foundation that was created in 1999 at the initiation of the International Olympic Committee.
WADA serves various functions, and its guidance is relied upon by not only the Olympics but also such athletic organizations as the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
WADA does not set drug testing and policy standards for all sports leagues, however it is considered by many to be the preeminent voice when it comes to which substances are considered to be performance enhancing drugs.
At the start of 2018, WADA will no longer include CBD on its list of banned substances according to a recent announcement.
This means that not only does WADA not consider CBD to be harmful, but it also means that CBD is not considered to be a performance-enhancing drug.
That is not to say that CBD does not provide wellness benefits, because CBD certainly does, but the benefits are not such that it gives athletes an edge in competition at a level that is in the same ballpark as anabolic steroids.
The announcement only applies to CBD. THC is still strictly prohibited.
How can CBD help athletes?
If a person plays sports and/or regularly exercises, it’s only a matter of time before they experience aches, pains, and injuries. This is particularly true if they compete in contact sports.
For professional athletes, experiencing injuries or developing conditions is virtually a guarantee if they compete long enough.
CBD can help athletes that deal with:
The cannabis plant can literally help athletes heal faster, which is something that every coach and team owner in professional sports should want.
Leadership in professional sports league offices should want to increase the longevity and health of their players.
So why do they continue to prohibit cannabis use by players, even when the use is for medical purposes?
Further cannabis reform in sports is still needed
CBD’s removal from WADA’s list of banned substances is significant and should definitely be celebrated by both the athletic community as well as the cannabis community.
However, the celebrating should be tempered because the rest of the cannabis plant is still prohibited by WADA, and there is no current plans to remove the rest of the cannabis plant from the banned substances list.
CBD on its own provides some wellness benefits, but not nearly as much as when it is combined with other cannabinoids via a whole-plant extraction process.
Cannabinoids help carry other cannabinoids throughout the human body via a process known as the ‘entourage effect.’
If athletes only use CBD on its own, they will not receive as many wellness benefits as they would if they were consuming products that involve the entire cannabis plant.
Advocates inside and outside of the sports world need to keep pushing for reform to help ensure that athletes can make the safer choice without being penalized.