In the wake of the recent opioid crisis, cannabidiol appears to have become a promising super drug that may lower opioid dependence. Now, CBD, the nonpsychoactive molecule in the cannabis plant and one of the two main components in marijuana has garnered several advocates in other industries, including the world of sports.

“The opioid epidemic has been prevalent in the locker room for years,” said Richie Harrington, founder and CEO of Vaital Organics, a health company based in Los Angeles. “Because of increasing awareness and innovative new technologies and delivery systems, CBD has taken over as the preferred method of recovery for athletes.”

Body benefits

For athletes of all kinds — bike riders, runners, field athletes, weightlifters — the training and performance aspect can place a lot of stress on the body with positive and negative effects. Many athletes are turning to CBD to counter the downsides, use it for pain management and recover from the rigors of practice, lifting and running.

Harrington says from personal experience and conversations he’s had with current and former professional athletes, “CBD is the best alternative to traditional opioids and pain relief methods.”

“Whether its 16-plus NFL games, 82-plus NBA or NHL games, golf tournaments, Olympic sports or more, athletes get banged up and need a way to get back to being game ready as quick as possible,” he said. “CBD is proving that it can be used to help pain and muscle soreness, joint stiffness, improve sleep quality and more. By improving these areas for athletes, their overall health and wellness increases, ultimately improving peak performance and allowing the athlete to perform for longer periods of time at their best.”

He adds that some studies have shown that CBD may help reduce chronic pain by impacting endocannabinoid receptor activity, reducing inflammation and interacting with neurotransmitters.

The body naturally produces endocannabinoids, which are neurotransmitters that bind to cannabinoid receptors in the nervous system, said Erin Intonato, CEO of Jessie’s Branch, a CBD company in Birmingham, Alabama.

“Cannabinoids are naturally occurring in our bodies in the endocannabinoid system,” she said. “Athletes place an enormous amount of stress on their bodies that often can result in pain and inflammation. By supplementing with CBD, we can increase or support the activity of our body’s own endocannabinoid system and its healing abilities by reducing muscle spasms, relieving pain and reducing inflammation. Many studies have suggested that CBD may help with both falling asleep and staying asleep, therefore aiding in muscle recovery.”

Should you try it?

CBD doesn’t alter heart rate or blood pressure, and it doesn’t have negative gastrointestinal effects, Intonato notes, while using opioids for pain management carries a “very strong” risk of addiction and death by overdose.

“There have been no documented deaths from cannabis or cannabinoid-based products,” she said.

CBD oils, pills and edibles are digested, so they’ll take longer to see the effects, according to Intonato, while creams and sprays are more rapid. And topically applied CBD is great for localized use, said Jay Hartenbach, CEO and co-founder of Medterra, a CBD company in Irvine, California.

“For those athletes that may have a specific issue like a sore muscle, a topical can provide the quick relief they are looking for,” he said.

Hartenbach mentioned it’s important that athletes and consumers in general do their homework when considering buying CBD products, as you would with anything that you put into your body.

“For CBD to be beneficial to an athlete, it needs to have a high enough concentration,” Hartenbach said. “Legitimate products will highlight the total amount of CBD in the product on the front of the label.”

Because of a lack of federal regulation, CBD oils can vary in quality and labeling, according to Intonato.

“Many products available contain trace amounts of THC that could test positive for marijuana on a drug test or contain other oils or potentially harmful substances or substitutes,” she said. “We have seen this recently with illicit vaping pens being sold to the public. This is why it is important to do your research before purchasing any CBD products on the market.”