Sports injuries are common, especially in football. As athletes age and continually go through the wear and tear of the game, their bodies become more susceptible to injury and experience longer recovery times. Most of the time, sports-related injuries are typically treated with traditional opioid painkillers that are addictive in nature. Recognizing the risks that can stem from opioid use, the NFL has decided to look into alternative methods for treating pain. One possible solution they’re considering is CBD for athletes, which is thought to have anti-inflammatory properties that can aid in recovery and pain relief after strenuous activity.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, athletes and sports competitors suffer more than 2,000 injuries per 10,000 workers. When an athlete pushes their body to its limits, they exert a greater amount of stress, which causes the endocannabinoid system to go into overdrive. The endocannabinoid system is a network of neurons and synapses throughout the human body and brain that is thought to modulate inflammation and other immune responses. Therefore, when the body undergoes excessive pressure, it is likely the system will respond with inflammation.
So, where does CBD for athletes come in? CBD is the non-psychoactive component of cannabis that contains cannabinoids. The endocannabinoid system also emits and responds well to cannabinoids on its own. By introducing CBD to the body, it acts as an endocannabinoid system regulator that binds with the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the system. CB1 receptors are located in all tissues, the spinal cord, and the brain, and mainly impact the nervous system. CB2 receptors are mainly found in the immune system tissues and support anti-inflammation. Each receptor responds differently to CBD and produces different effects within the body, but ultimately our bodies respond well to the extra cannabinoids in CBD because our bodies already love them!
As CBD has exploded in popularity, more athletes have been implementing it into their daily routines.
Currently, CBD for athletes is allowed in the following leagues*:
- National Hockey League (NHL)
- Major League Baseball (MLB)
- National Basketball Association (NBA): The Association reported that all random testing would cease during the 2020-2021 seasons due to the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic. The NBA’s stance for future seasons is still TBD.
- National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA): The NCAA tends to fall in a more grey area because CBD is not specified in its list of banned substances, but it is thought to be associated with cannabis, which is banned.
CBD For Athletes and NFL Pain Management Committee
When it comes to the NFL, the NFL-NFLPA Pain Management Committee (PMC) came out with a request for industry research on opioid alternatives in February 2021. The purpose of the committee is to “establish uniform standards for club practices and policies regarding pain management and the use of prescription medications by NFL players.”Looking to expand their knowledge on pain management and athletic performance in NFL players, the committee’s request seeks out qualified researchers who can help them with this goal by conducting studies that may explore:
- Other medications and non-pharmacological options that are considered alternatives to opioids in routine pain management of NFL players.
- How cannabis or cannabinoids would affect athletic performance in NFL players.
- Other medications and non-pharmacological options that are considered supplements in routine post-surgical orthopedic pain management in NFL football players.
This request also comes after the NFL issued a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in early 2020. The new CBA included various amendments and a new drug policy, which would prevent players from being suspended due to cannabis or cannabinoid use. The change includes a shorter testing period (two weeks at the start of training camp instead of four weeks), an increased threshold for the amount of THC (from 35 nanograms to 150 nanograms), and a new review system for any rule violations (with a greater focus on supporting the well-being of NFL athletes). To highlight the new method of review, this means that if an NFL player tests positive for drugs during the two-week stretch of training camp, their test is reviewed by a board of medical professionals. Once the player’s use of a substance is evaluated, the neutral party decides if a player is okay to return or if treatment is needed for this player to overcome such issues.
CBD and the NFL’s Focus on Mental Health
Ultimately, this new method shows how the NFL is working to focus more on their players’ mental health by meeting those who might need help with substance abuse with support instead of punishment. All of these changes are big developments in the world of sports, as it means players can continue using cannabis and CBD for athletes without the fear of suspension.
Beyond its potential as a pain relief alternative, CBD for athletes is also great because of:
- Its ability to be combined with other active, effective ingredients that help to soothe sore, inflamed, and recovering joints and muscles.
- The absence of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) — a psychoactive compound that results in the sensation of feeling “high” — so athletes can stay on their A-game.
- Its removal from the World Anti-Doping Agency list of prohibited substances in 2018, which states that as long as THC is not present, athletes can use CBD without worrying about drug tests.
- The variety of forms it is available in — from gummies and tinctures to topicals and pre-rolls.
- Its safer nature when compared to opioids like OxyContin, codeine, or morphine which are typically used to manage and relieve pain.
Every time a player takes to the field, they assume the risks associated with the game. In 2010, for example, there were 154 reported concussions in the National Football League’s (NFL) first half of the season and pre-season alone. But athletes deserve to be on top of their game. If the NFL and other sports leagues were to introduce CBD for athletes as an alternative to regular painkiller treatments, their players are more likely to maintain a safe, healthy balance in their body and find relief from the results of a high-pressure environment.
*This list is not comprehensive. Each league also upholds its own specific regulations regarding the use of CBD. Not all regulations are listed and regulations are subject to change.