The Changing World of CBD for Sports
Some of the biggest fans of CBD out there are professional athletes. That’s why we have Team cbdMD to sing our praises – from golfers to MMA fighters, athletes have been flocking to CBD to help them relax and recover from their exertions.
One type of professional athlete that’s been tougher to land, though, is anyone belonging to a major league. That’s because most of the big athletic associations have strict rules about what substances their members can use, and have regular drug testing to back it up. So many athletes are reluctant to take CBD products until they know exactly what’s in them, down to the last microgram.
To that end, cbdMD recently became the first CBD company to receive NSF International’s Certified for Sport designation. This ensures that no banned substances are in our products. To learn more about why that’s such a big deal, read on.
Why Use CBD for Sports?
First of all, the primary question: just why do athletes like CBD oil so much? It’s not a substance that really enhances athletic performance in the manner of a hormone or a steroid. Instead, the pros like it as a tool for recovery that helps them rejuvenate before going out in the field again.
CBD Oil and Recovery
CBD operates through the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is a network of neurotransmitters and receptors found throughout the body and brain. The ECS helps to stabilize many bodily functions – mood, memory, immune response, and many other things that science is still discovering.
When athletes take CBD before or after a workout, they say that this stabilizing effect helps to relax them and soothe muscle soreness from exercise. Many also say that it helps them get good sleep, which is another crucial part of recovery from exercise and preparing for the next day’s labors.
Research into the potential benefits of CBD is still ongoing, and it hasn’t been FDA-approved to treat any specific ailments. But athletes tend to go by the experiences of themselves and their friends, and experience has been strongly in CBD’s favor.
What Do Athletes Who Use CBD Say?
Golf star Bubba Watson admits to being a chronic worrier, and he says CBD helps him to stay calm – and might even prolong his career.
“I see Phil Mickelson winning at 48, so I’ve got at least eight more years of having a shot of winning some tournaments,” Watson told CNN in 2019. “So for me, it was about how I create longevity in the game of golf and spending time with my kids running around.”
For younger athletes, the appeal can be more in the immediate benefits. Longboard surfer Kassia Meador told the Inertia that CBD “helps me sleep, combats jet lag if I have it, (and) helps my body recover from training and surfing.”
Some athletes also use CBD as part of pain management. The effect of CBD on pain is still undergoing research, but one popular way to use CBD products for this purpose is in topical products that incorporate approved pain relievers like menthol and lidocaine.
Topical CBD also has the advantage of never entering the bloodstream, which means that you won’t feel systemic effects but it won’t set off a drug test. This is important because up until recently, all the major sports authorities banned CBD.
What the Sports Authorities Say About CBD
The most important organization regarding drugs and other controlled substances in pro sports is the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), formed in 1999 to create a global code harmonizing local policies. For WADA, all those potential benefits have to be weighed against the fact of where CBD comes from: the cannabis plant.
Because of cannabis’ history of use as a recreational drug, the plant has long sat in the most dangerous category of the DEA’s controlled substances list. And for a long time, the sports leagues similarly banned use of cannabis and everything related to it.
However, not every part of the cannabis plant is actually intoxicating. Decades ago, scientists realized that the real culprit for that is tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is related to THC but has no intoxicating properties. But it shares many of the same benefits.
Legalization Leads to Discoveries
Despite the DEA scheduling, over the last 25 years, many states have started loosening laws governing cannabis. This led to the development of many new cannabis products, and many athletes took advantage.
However, this also created some conflicts with sports organizations that still followed WADA policies banning all cannabis products. In 2015, fighter Nick Diaz was suspended from the UFC for five years after testing positive for marijuana, even though he was licensed to use it in California.
Not everyone thought this was fair, especially since not all cannabis-derived products are even intoxicating. A year after Diaz’s suspension, his brother Nate caused a scene by taking a hit from a CBD vape pen during a press conference after a fight. But in the end, nothing happened to him.
This may be because even WADA realized that things were changing.
CBD for Sports Goes Legit … Kind Of
The turning point for CBD for sports came in 2018 when two things happened. Congress passed a new version of the Farm Bill that federally legalized products of industrial hemp. Industrial hemp is also cannabis, but it’s bred so that it’s no more than 0.3 percent THC by dry weight. So CBD that comes from hemp is likewise legal.
At the same time, WADA relented. Its 2018 list of prohibited substances said that CBD was no longer prohibited, but warned that “cannabidiol extracted from cannabis plants may also contain varying concentrations of THC, which remains a prohibited substance.”
That’s the rub for many athletes. Because of its newness, the CBD industry isn’t regulated by the FDA in any normal way, so users can’t always be sure that a product contains exactly what’s on its label. And there can be quite a steep price to pay if you misplace your trust.
The NSF Certified for Sport Certification
CBD products actually aren’t the first type of supplement to have this problem. A whole lot of different substances are banned by WADA, and athletes want to know if the supplements they’re taking might trip up a drug test.
This is where NSF International stepped in. The 80-year-old organization has a long history of setting health and sanitation standards, so it naturally turned this expertise to dietary supplements. NSF created the Certified for Sport program to rigorously test the content of health supplements to ensure that the labels are accurate and they contain no banned substances. NSF also evaluates the quality and safety of the manufacturing processes behind the supplements.
Most of the major U.S. sports organizations recognize or recommend the Certified for Sport label, including Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, the Professional Golfers’ Association, and NASCAR. But no CBD product had been certified for sport – until now.
cbdMD’s NSF Certified for Sports Products
In February 2022, cbdMD announced that two types of CBD oil softgel capsules had received the NSF certification. These are the original CBD softgels with 50 mg of CBD per capsule, and the CBD PM softgels with 16.5 mg per capsule, and a blend of melatonin and soothing herbs to aid sleep. We’re planning to submit more of our products for approval, but currently, those are the two approved by the NSF for sports.
The softgels are among the easiest CBD products to use. Just swallow them one at a time with a glass of water or other beverage. You can take the regular softgels any time of day, but we advise starting with a regular daily schedule to establish a baseline of CBD in the system.
Because it takes about an hour for them to work through your system and hit your bloodstream, you might want to take one right before the activity so you will feel the benefits during or after (depending on how long you’re at it). Some people find it makes them feel a bit sluggish though, so they prefer to take a softgel post workout.
The CBD PM softgels should be taken only before bedtime because they can make you too drowsy to do anything but sleep. Like the regular softgels, they usually take effect in an hour or so.
Are There Side Effects of CBD for Sports?
The safety profile of CBD is one of those things that hasn’t received an official FDA evaluation, but the evidence so far indicates that nearly everyone tolerates it well. As mentioned earlier, some people feel sleepy or sluggish after taking CBD, in which case you might only want to take it before bed. A few people also experience minor intestinal upset.
You should talk to your doctor before starting a CBD regimen because it can interfere with the effectiveness of some medications. Be sure to tell your doctor about any supplements you’re taking, as a general rule.
The Sports World Keeps Marching On
While the Certified for Sport label ensures that there’s no THC in our products, there are signs that the sports world in general is getting more open to the possibility that cannabis has much to offer athletes – even with THC.
Recently, the NFL awarded a $1 million grant to two research laboratories studying CBD and THC, one on recovery from sports-related injuries and the other for pain management and protection from neural damage. So maybe in the near future we can step out of the dark ages when it comes to cannabis, and understand just how the plant can benefit all of us.