Today, CBD for athletes is one of the hottest topics in sports. A handful of high-profile early adopters – like pro golfer Bubba Watson and UFC superstar Jorge Masvidal – drive that conversation. But only a couple of years ago, this valuable cannabis-derived compound languished in obscurity. Only a few people, inside or outside of sports, had even heard of it.
The rise of CBD in sports happened quickly, but there’s more history to the boost of CBD for athletes than you might think. That’s especially the case in North America where cannabis, and anything made from it, faced decades of unwarranted stigma and prohibition.
The history and eventual rise of CBD oil for athletes, and anyone else who finds it useful, is somewhat complicated. So let’s have a look at where we’ve been, where we are now, and how the future of CBD sports may look.
What is CBD? Where does it come from initially? Isn’t it just marijuana or something?
In order to understand how CBD worked its way into mainstream sports, you should know where it comes from and what forms it takes in products. It’s also crucial to understand what CBD oil and other CBD products aren’t.
Understanding Marijuana, THC, Hemp, and CBD Oil
In the United States, marijuana is still an illegal Schedule I drug at the federal level. While many states have completely legalized pot for recreational use, it’s not legal to transport it across state lines.
Broadly speaking, people grow marijuana to produce high tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels, the psychoactive substance in the plant that causes feelings of euphoria.
However, the hemp strain of cannabis contains high CBD content and minimal THC. Therefore, it is non-intoxicating, and it recently became legal in the U.S.
As a result, the vast majority of CBD products available to Americans derive from hemp, not marijuana, and will not cause a ‘high’ feeling at all.
To be absolutely clear – many CBD oils contain THC, if only in tiny amounts.
But What About Drug Tests?
Drug testing is a major concern for professional athletes. The degree to which THC and the minor cannabinoid CBN can trigger a drug screen depends on several variables. Among the things that can affect drug tests include the products an individual uses, that person’s metabolism, and the type of drug screening used.
For instance, full spectrum CBD oils (sometimes referred to as full plant hemp extracts) contain some THC. Drug tests can detect such small amounts possibly.
Broad spectrum CBD oils – typically meaning full plant extracts that undergo additional processing to remove THC – are less likely to trigger a false positive drug test for marijuana. But broad spectrum hemp extract can still cause problems. Some low-end urine analysis drug screens cannot distinguish between CBN and THC.
This possibility isn’t much of a problem when it comes to pro athletes and CBD since their testing is far more sophisticated. But it’s worth considering if you’re looking for a new job or are otherwise subject to testing.
Also of note, manufacturers of full spectrum and most broad spectrum products cannot make levels of THC and rare cannabinoids, like CBG and CBN, consistent across all batches.
CBD oils and products formulated with pure, isolated CBD are the least likely to cause false-positive drug tests. As a result, when companies create CBD for athletes specifically, it’s generally an isolate, or in some cases, a broad spectrum formula with carefully measured amounts of rare cannabinoid isolates.
But even with all these different varieties of CBD types, there’s more to consider.
A Range of Delivery Methods
On top of the different extract types, CBD for athletes comes in an endless variety of infused oils, capsules, foods, candies, creams, gels, and almost anything else you can imagine. Some even combine CBD with other helpful ingredients. But generally speaking, they fall into three main categories.
CBD Oil Tinctures
CBD oil tinctures combine hemp extracts with a carrier oil like MCT or olive oil. Directions for these products usually instruct users to hold the oil under their tongue for 30-60 seconds to allow sublingual absorption directly into the bloodstream before swallowing.
Most tinctures aren’t specifically for athletes, but many have reported using them for general wellness or more specific purposes like inflammation, pain, or better sleep.
CBD oil tincture formulas come in a wide range of extract types, concentrations, flavors.
CBD topicals deliver CBD and other ingredients to muscles, joints, and other parts of the body through the skin. They’re available in lotions, creams, gels, patches, and similar.
When it comes to CBD and athletes, CBD topicals are a favorite for many professionals. Many CBD topicals also contain additional compounds like menthol or histamine dihydrochloride to relieve pain.
CBD edibles cover a wide range of candies, gummies, food, and drinks that contain CBD-heavy hemp extracts. Due to the sheer variety, it’s difficult to talk about them in detail.
As a delivery method of CBD for athletes, sports drinks containing the substance is a promising idea. However, CBD is not water-soluble, so this presents challenges.
Safety Profile for CBD and Athletes
Sports scientists, physicians, and trainers still have work to do on this front, especially when it comes to uncovering any long term effects from ingesting CBD and other hemp extracts. With that said, people generally tolerate supplemental doses of CBD well.
Some individuals report minor side effects, including digestive issues and drowsiness. Some physicians also raise concerns about the possibility of liver injury with high doses over time.
Mislabeled and Contaminated CBD Products are a Problem
Numerous news outlets, scientific bodies, and regulatory agencies have conducted studies on consumer CBD products over the past three years. All of them showed mixed results.
Most of those investigations found that some of the CBD oils for athletes found in stores and online shops contained a different amount of CBD than listed on the package. In some cases, the products contained very little or no CBD at all. Researchers also found that a few formulas contained alarming concentrations of THC – well over the amount legally permitted in hemp products.
Finally, the biggest safety issue concerning the athletic use of CBD relates to contamination.
Hemp tends to pull and store large amounts of nutrients and other substances from the soil in which it’s grown. If the plants are grown in soil contaminated with pesticides, heavy metals, or biological agents (bacteria, fungus), the hemp extracts can also contain those substances.
Responsible CBD makers and sellers utilize good manufacturing practices (GMP) – standardized production, storage, and quality control methods intended to prevent contaminated products from reaching consumers. Unfortunately, only a handful of CBD manufacturers use GMP, and even fewer follow the same standards set forth by federal agencies.
Therefore, athletes and consumers of all types need to research CBD companies and their production methods carefully.
The Road to Acceptance for CBD and Athletes
Even outside the realm of professional and amateur sports, history describes a strange and challenging journey for cannabis acceptance in the United States and Canada.
It was a major cash crop in the U.S. until the early 20th century when the prohibition of the plant began to take shape. Today, only the hemp variety of Cannabis sativa is federally legal to grow and process into consumer goods. By definition outlined in U.S. federal law, hemp contains 0.3 percent THC or less.
Canada recently legalized and regulated all forms of cannabis, including recreational marijuana.
CBD Removed from Banned Substances for International Sports
As it pertains to cannabis and athletes, the shift towards acceptance began in September 2017 when the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) announced policy revisions that removed CBD from its prohibited substances list. THC (synthetic or natural) remained on the list of banned substances.
WADA provides drug policies for international competitions and some national governing bodies in sports. Most notably, the Olympics follow WADA rules for doping and drugs of abuse.
CBD Gains Momentum in North American Sports
Things were relatively quiet in North American sports for a couple of years after WADA’s revisions, but that’s not surprising. Hemp and its derivatives only became fully legal under U.S. federal law in December 2018.
In April 2019, the gates flew open. BIG3 Basketball, a 3-on-3 basketball league, headed by rapper/actor Ice Cube and entertainment executive Jeff Kwatinetz, signed a major sponsorship deal with cbdMD. In essence, BIG3 not only allowed players to use CBD but endorsed the company’s THC-free* CBD products. As part of the agreement, team uniforms featured a cbdMD patch during nationwide broadcasts.
Weeks later, the marriage of cannabis and North American professional sports took a more defined shape. Bubba Watson, a two-time Masters champion and one of the most charismatic figures in golf, partnered with cbdMD and began discussing how he uses CBD to supplement his recovery and sleep routines.
This arrangement was made possible by PGA’s adherence to WADA’s drug policies.
Following this lead, major CBD companies continued to build a truly staggering roster of world champions and other top-tier athletes to talk about CBD and its important role in their lives.
The Big Leagues Make Big Changes
More recently, a significant shift towards cannabis acceptance in American and Canadian professional sports occurred. In late 2019, Major League Baseball (MLB) became the first among North America’s top sports leagues to change its policies on cannabis by no longer classifying it as a drug of abuse. In essence, the league will no longer screen for cannabis and products made from it, like CBD.
To be clear – the MLB’s revised policy is unique in that it permits the use of all naturally derived cannabinoids, including THC.
However, MLB medical personnel may not prescribe or recommend CBD or any other cannabis product. Whether MLB will allow players to sign endorsement deals with CBD companies isn’t clear.
Moving forward, the league will treat cannabis the same as alcohol. Incidents involving those substances (e.g., criminal charges, violent altercations) will be evaluated, but their use isn’t banned outright. And players who appear under the influence during team functions, like games, practices, workouts, or meetings, can still face punishment.
Synthetic THC, opioids, fentanyl, cocaine, and other federal Schedule I or Schedule II drugs will still fall under MLB’s Drugs of Abuse Policy.
Following MLB’s lead, the National Football League also made changes to its cannabis policy in the league’s 2020 collective bargaining agreement with players. The new rules raise the threshold for a ‘positive’ test by nearly five times and will no longer punish players for cannabis use. Instead, the league will take a treatment-based approach by referring players to medical professionals if abuse appears to be a concern.
As a result of these changes and with further action likely in other major sports leagues, the discussion of CBD for athletes is no longer the taboo it once was. And it all happened in less than three years.
And since CBD is already a topic of great interest among many of the world’s top athletes, it doesn’t require great leaps to predict that CBD will soon become a significant part of many MLB and NFL players’ training routines.
CBD and Athletes: What Does it Do?
First, it’s important to note that no sports-related body lists CBD or any other cannabinoid as a performance-enhancing drug (PED). There’s no evidence to suggest that cannabis or its constituent compounds can increase speed, strength, stamina, or similar attributes the same way stimulants, anabolic steroids, or synthetic human growth hormone can.
Similarly, cannabinoids have no known ability to mask or flush PEDs from the body.
Of course, THC is widely known to impair decision making and motor skills, along with a wide range of other undesired effects for athletes. Therefore, athletes are overwhelmingly discouraged from competing while under the influence of THC.
On the other hand, athletes report using CBD for a range of desired effects, mostly about support and recovery needs. Often, the formulas athletes choose will combine CBD with other substances such as pain relievers, anti-inflammatories, and sleep aids.
It’s important to note that while many athletes speak favorably about their experience with CBD or specific hemp extract formulas, most physicians want to see more evidence. Early research provides insight into the potential of CBD for athletes – particularly for inflammation, anxiety, better sleep, and pain relief. But these preliminary studies do not provide definitive proof of CBD’s effectiveness for such issues. Only expanded, double-blind trials using control methods will accomplish that goal.
What we know for certain is that CBD and other cannabinoids influence a series of cellular receptors found throughout the body known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The 100+ cannabinoids isolated in cannabis interact with these receptors in different ways, causing a multitude of effects. But again, research on this subject remains in the early stages.
cbdMD: CBD for Athletes
Scores of active and retired athletes now use CBD, but cbdMD has focused a lot of its attention on creating CBD oil for athletes specifically. And while the company formulates its products with pro athletes in mind, the same products hold incredible value for rec league superstars, fitness enthusiasts, and anyone who wishes to live a healthier life.
After all, if these formulas are good enough for the pros, they’re certainly good enough for all of us.
But who among sports’ top athletes use CBD?
Mixed Martial Arts Superstars
Two of the biggest names in the mixed martial arts (MMA) world, Daniel Cormier and Jorge Masvidal provide valuable insight into the power of CBD, particularly cbdMD’s topical formulas.
Masvidal, best known for his incredible striking ability, frequently talks about how he uses cbdMD Recover to care for his hands. As you can imagine, a fighter’s hands take an incredible beating while dishing out said beating. So if cbdMD Recover formula provides relief for someone of Masvidal’s caliber, you can certainly understand how well it may work for pick-up basketball legends.
But Cormier and Masvidal are just a couple of the biggest names in the game among combat sports’ heaviest hitters who know how CBD for athletes can make a difference. Others include Tyron Woodley, Chael Sonnen, and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.
For many, participation in the Summer or Winter Olympics represents the pinnacle of sporting achievement. The opinions of these competitors on CBD for athletes carry significant weight.
Both Kerri Walsh Jennings and Lolo Jones have taken their messages on how CBD became a major part of their lives to social media and major news outlets. Jennings, a three-time Olympic gold medalist, chooses cbdMD’s CBD PM (Winner: Product of the Year 2020 - CBD Sleep Aid) to support her recovery from tough workouts and long days caring for her three young children.
Jones also leans on CBD PM for better sleep but credits CBD Recover to provide pain relief at bedtime.
A different kind of Olympian in his own right, James “Flex” Lewis racked up seven Olympia 212 titles over his incredible career in bodybuilding. While Lewis is a longtime fan of cbdMD’s CBD Freeze for pain relief (Winner: Product of the Year 2020 - CBD Topical), he recently added
CBD Recover to his post-workout routine. In an Instagram post, he described how he uses Recover for his elbows and knees. Now imagine for a second what kind of strain those joints endure!
It’s hard to find better examples of how CBD for athletes can provide support and comfort under such extreme conditions.
Action/Extreme Sports Legends
If there is a better example of how CBD oil for athletes can make a difference, it’s how it provides relief for extreme athletes like motorcyclists in a variety of disciplines, skateboarders, rally drivers, surfers, and BMX riders.
The very nature of these sports causes athletes to experience injury and physical strain in ways that’s hard to imagine, even in contact sports like ice hockey and football. As a result, many use several CBD products.
For instance, CBD gummies and tinctures are popular for everyday maintenance. But for targeted, quick relief for sore joints, bumps, and bruises, these athletes turn to topical formulas.
The sheer amount of action sports athletes who use CBD makes it impossible to list them all. But a few of the greatest ambassadors when it comes to CBD for athletes include skateboarders Ryan Sheckler and Zion Wright, big wave surfers Nathan Florence and Makua Rothman, and motorsports legends Chad Reed and Ken Block.
Bubba Watson, a two-time Masters champion and one of the top golfers of his generation, ranks among the best-known voices on the topic of CBD for athletes. In spring 2019, Bubba became one of the first major competitors to open up about his use of CBD and officially endorsed cbdMD’s products. In numerous interviews, he discussed how he’d integrated the hemp-derived compound into his routine to support better sleep and recovery.
The Future of CBD Oil for Athletes
While current practices on the regiment, serving size, and delivery method of CBD for athletes centers around personal preferences, the future will likely look more scientific.
Hemp’s status as a legal crop in the U.S. and Canada is a relatively new development. As a result, the hard science of CBD for athletes’ use as an anti-inflammatory, pain reliever, sleep aid, or recovery tool is only beginning. But just as the study of CBD continues, so do advancements in sports science.
Professional sports is big business. The North American sports industry was estimated at just over $70 billion in 2018 and nearly $500 billion worldwide. With so much on the line, investment in sports science will continue to grow.
As time goes on, you’ll likely see CBD become a component of highly-specialized products formulated with athletes in mind. These could range from capsules and drink mixes made with multiple compounds intended to enhance specific effects to injections or inhalants administered by qualified trainers or doctors. Such products may be used at key points in training, rehabilitation, or used for more general benefit.
But before that can happen, more research is needed. But while hemp is currently a legal cash crop in the U.S., some barriers may hinder the study of CBD for athletes. For instance, stereotypes about cannabis continue to exist in the 2020s, even if the major governing bodies of professional sports have started to take a more lenient approach. And to get to the bottom of CBD’s potential, sound research may require approval and funding from the likes of MLB and the NFL.
Learn More About Why Pro Athletes Choose cbdMD
You may not make your living by playing a sport. But if you’re serious about fitness and want to integrate CBD into your routine, you may have questions.
For example, you can learn more about what to look for when buying CBD oil in our Buyer’s Guide. You can also learn more about the professional athletes who use CBD and why they choose cbdMD by visiting the Team cbdMD page.
You may also want to follow cbdMD on Instagram. Our stories frequently feature top athletes’ posts about how cbdMD products provide valuable support in their strenuous lives.
Disclaimer: The cbdMD page contains general information about health, diet, lifestyle, and nutrition. Any information provided should not be considered or treated as medical advice and always consult a medical professional before making any lifestyle changes. Products and information mentioned on the cbdMD blog are not intended to be used as a substitute for medical diagnosis, advice, or treatment. Any links to third-party websites are provided as a convenience only and cbdMD is not responsible for their content.