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Saturday, October 1, 2022

Cannabidiol: new favorite substance of top athletes?

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Professional athletes are sometimes subject to a sustained pace of competition, which puts their body to the test. The recovery stage after each physical effort is in this case crucial to maintaining performance, and researchers are striving to find new strategies to make it as effective as possible. The objective is mainly to fight against fatigue related to the effort, which manifests itself by pain, inflammation of the tissues, muscle weakness, etc.

The cannabis sativa (or cultivated hemp) contains many chemical compounds with potential bioactive effects, including at least 28 cannabinoids. Among them, Δ-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (or CBD) are the most studied. CBD — which unlike THC is not psychoactive — was first isolated in 1940; it first aroused medical interest for its anticonvulsant properties, and in particular showed good results in patients suffering from two rare and severe forms of epilepsy refractory to conventional treatments. The Food and Drug Administration has also approved, in 2018, the first CBD-based drug (Epidiolex) to treat these specific diseases.

As research on this substance progressed, other therapeutic effects emerged and various CBD products appeared on the market. Cannabidiol thus comes in many forms, including oils, capsules, patches, sprays, or topical preparations for use on the skin. It is also marketed in the form of CBD flowers, the scent of which can be inhaled using a herbal vaporizer, or which can be consumed in the form of an infusion (like a classic herbal tea). Note that a decree published in the Official Journal on 28 December prohibits the sale and consumption of CBD flowers and leaves in France — by decision of the Council of State of January , the execution of these provisions is for the moment suspended.

Anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects

Over the past three years, many businesses offering CBD-based products have appeared throughout France – responding to a growing demand from consumers who wanted to take advantage of its soothing effects. Several clinical trials have in fact suggested that CBD can reduce anxiety and help fight insomnia. Other research has shown that it can relieve chronic pain thanks to its analgesic effects (however, larger and longer studies are still needed to assess its long-term efficacy and safety in this context). More recently, it has emerged as potentially effective in improving and accelerating the recovery process in athletes.

Several natural products have already been evaluated as recovery strategy: this is particularly the case with ginseng, green tea, curcumin or even beetroot, which have all shown anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and analgesic properties – as well as other cognitive advantages – promoting recovery after intense effort. CBD would therefore be added to this list of plant products, known to be particularly beneficial to health.

Preliminary studies have indeed reported that CBD exerted a number of physiological, biochemical, and psychological effects that could benefit athletes — without the mind-altering side effects of medical cannabis. As a result, its use is becoming more and more common in the sports world – especially since the World Anti-Doping Agency removed CBD from its list of substances prohibited for athletes, in 2019.

A narrative review published last year in Frontiers in Physiology2019 reports that a third of cyclists, triathletes and runners are or have been consumers of cannabinoids (THC + CBD). In contact sports such as rugby, the rate of use of CBD is 28% and increases with the age — with pain relief and improved sleep quality being the top benefits reported by consumers.

Positive effects on models of heart disease

A study conducted in 2019 showed that the effects of CBD on physiological and cognitive functions are mediated by the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is involved in the maintenance of homeostasis of the organism; this biological system is involved in many important regulatory functions (fertility, pregnancy, immunity, mood, memory, etc.). When playing sports, the ECS mediates the positive effects of exercise, such as happiness, well-being, and euphoria. Similarly, cannabinoids activate type 1 and 2 cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2), inducing appetite suppressant, anti-inflammatory and anxiolytic effects, identical to those caused by physical exercise.

In order to rule out potential adverse health effects, a study published in 2020 in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences2019 looked at the effects of CBD on the cardiovascular system. The study was conducted on healthy animals and volunteers. The researchers found no significant deleterious effects. “Although CBD exhibits vasodilating and antioxidant properties in hypertension, it did not affect blood pressure in hypertensive animals. The hypotensive action of CBD has been mainly revealed under stress conditions”, they report. Its use for medical and/or well-being purposes therefore does not seem to present any risk, quite the contrary: “ Many positive effects of CBD have been observed in experimental models of heart disease”, write the researchers.

Due to the lack of studies on top athletes, CBD-based products remain an unproven recovery aid to this day. “To confirm these effects, more scientific evidence in specific sports-related populations is needed

,” the narrative review concludes. Nevertheless, the first studies on the subject argue that they could actually improve the efficiency of the process. They may also help relieve a variety of hard-to-treat conditions, particularly through pain relief. Experts have also pointed out that it could be of certain interest in the fight against opioid addiction (or other types of addiction, such as alcohol and tobacco).

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