topical CBD improves function in elite athletes

Topical CBD was ‘well tolerated’ in elite athletes who reported reductions in pain and improvements in function and quality of life following treatment, a new study has found.

New findings have been published from what is thought to be the first study of its kind to examine the effects of CBD in elite athletes. 

Researchers collected data from 20 former professional athletes in US/American football, track and field, or basketball, who were experiencing chronic pain resulting from ‘acute lower extremity injuries’.

All of the athletes had been experiencing chronic pain for at least three months and had undergone previous treatments; from surgery and medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and opioids, to visiting chiropractors, athletic trainers and massage therapists.

The participants received a 10mg dose of topical CBD twice a day for a period of six weeks.

Of the volunteers, 30% reported minor adverse effects, the most common of which were skin rash and skin dryness, none of which required medical attention. 

Alongside tolerability, The Pain Disability Index (PDI) was used to evaluate pain levels and a self-report questionnaire, the Lower Extremity Functional Scale (LEFS) to assess improvements in function and daily life.

The findings showed a ‘significant improvement in self-reported pain levels’ and ‘pain-related disability’. As a result, participants noticed improvements in their ‘family and home responsibilities’, ‘life support, occupational, recreational and social activities’, as well as self-care and sexual function.

“It was determined that all subjects experienced significant improvements in both quality of life, as assessed by the PDI recorded at intake and exit, and relief of pain, as measured by the decrease in pain level over time recorded in the pain journals,” the authors say in the paper’s discussion.

“While there has been a paucity of data on the effects of CBD as a monotherapy in pain management, the initial results reported here are suggestive of a therapeutic response. It is possible that this could be further enhanced through the combined use of CBD with other cannabinoids.”

The researchers are now recommending that further randomised control trials be carried out to build on these ‘promising findings’ and shed more light on how CBD can be used as a tool to help manage joint pain.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to assess CBD treatment in elite athletes,” they conclude.

“As elite athletes are trained and attuned to assess safety concerns due to their professional lives, this population is likely to detect safety or tolerability concerns.”

They add: “Given the promising findings reported in this study, the mechanism by which CBD controls joint pain should be pursued in future studies.

Context around the use of CBD in sport

The World Anti-Doping Agency no longer includes CBD on its list of prohibited substances. However, it is still recommended that CBD products are not used before any competitions in case traces jeopardise their career with anti-doping regulation violations. Any use of CBD products is done so at the athlete’s own risk.

That said, several well-known athletes have spoken out about their use of cannabidiol and the benefits they have experienced, from easing performance anxiety to optimising the body’s recovery.

Cannabis is becoming increasingly more accepted by professional sporting bodies.

In 2021, the NFL (National Football League) and NFLPA pain management committees announced a $1 million grant to support research into the effects of cannabis, cannabinoids and non-pharmacologic treatments on pain and athletic performance in American football.

New reports this week suggest that the NBA (National Basketball Association) will no longer be testing players for cannabis use, following similar moves at the MLB (Major League Baseball) and NHL (National Hockey League).

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