Despite removing CBD from the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) prohibited drugs list in 2017, the rule change didn’t come into effect until 1st January 2018, too late for athletes preparing for the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, so athletes competing in Tokyo 2020 have been able to incorporate CBD into their training routines for the first time.
High-profile athletes such as US footballer Megan Rapinoe has been very open about her use of CBD to help her performance, promoting her sister’s CBD brand, Mendi, and in the UK, British world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua has recently become an Ambassador for Love Hemp, the official CBD partner of the UFC.
The US Triathlon Federation has partnered with CBD brand, Pure Spectrum who, as of March 2020, is sponsoring US Weightlifting. This high-profile activity on both sides of the Atlantic positions CBD as mainstream and very much in the public psyche.
What are the benefits of using CBD to elite athletes?
CBD has been shown to reduce inflammatory pain by blocking pain receptors and modulating serotonin receptors to help with social anxiety, performing in public and sleep, according to Dr Leigh Vinocur, a cannabis clinician.
Calming, reducing social and performance anxiety
Help with sleep, reducing insomnia and issues of competing in different time zones
Pain management, easing muscle stiffness and general aches and pains
CBD is now legal in almost all European countries, as long as THC levels are below 0.2 per cent, and with routine anti-drug testing in place, most athletes would still choose to come off CBD ‘just in case’ the extremely low levels of THC could be picked up in urine or blood tests. Although the performance-enhancing effects of THC wear off within just a few hours, it’s known to stay in the system for up to seven days.
Rachael Rapinoe’s Mendi CBD brand is focusing on “athlete-friendly CBD” (CBD isolate) which contains 0% THC so poses no risk in terms of anti-drug testing.
CBD permitted for athletes
Strict cannabis laws in Japan have meant that even athletes openly incorporating CBD into their training regimes in the run-up to Tokyo 2020, have not risked taking it to the country or using it during the games. Forbes reported no athlete took CBD to Tokyo 2020.
For now, experts agree that CBD plays no part in enhancing an athlete’s performance aside from pain reduction but the effects of THC need further research to establish just how performance-enhancing it may be. Until then, it seems likely that other cannabis-based products will remain banned from sport.
As we look forward to the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games it’s a promising sign that elite athletes and professional sportsmen and women are openly supporting CBD as it works its way into the mainstream market.