Cannabidiol use in professional sport: is it really worth the risk?
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- Background & Objective
- What They Did
- What They Found
- Practical Takeaways
- Reviewer’s Comments
- About the Reviewer
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Lachenmeier, D.W.; Diel, P. A Warning against the Negligent Use of Cannabidiol in Professional and Amateur Athletes. Sports 2019, 7, 251.
Background & Objective
In 2019, Cannabidiol (CBD) was probably one of the most talked about products within the health, sport, and medicine settings (listen to a related discussion with the podcast below). Widely claimed effects of decreased anxiety, fear, memory extension, and anti-inflammatory properties have resulted in many professional athletes taking this cannabinoid and even some beginning their own companies.
This brief commentary presents a clear and robust warning to both professional and amateur athletes against the use of such products.
What They Did
The authors introduce this commentary by highlighting the fact that cannabis is illegal in many jurisdictions and has also been included on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) list as a substance prohibited in-competition.
Although there are claims of cannabis being helpful for extreme sports (e.g. rock climbing, freestyle skiing, skydiving), as it may improve muscle relaxation and reduce anxiety, there are only a few studies regarding its effectiveness, with previous reviews concluding there is a lack of evidence regarding performance-enhancing effects.
Clearly smoking cannabis is not advisable, but more recently the interest lies with CBD, which is one of the cannabinoid compounds naturally found in Cannabis sativa.
What They Found
CBD is structurally related to the main psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is responsible for the adverse effects of cannabis. Although nonpsychoactive, it may be responsible for some advantageous effects, including anti-inflammatory properties, relief of arthritis, and pain-related behaviours, as well as postexercise recovery. Most of the CBD products worldwide are available as food supplements or compounded foods, with CBD or hemp extract as an ingredient. Such unapproved products normally do not comply with quality standards.
The WADA has excluded CBD from its list of prohibited cannabinoids, however, it is important to note that according to the 2020 WADA prohibited list, cannabinoids in general are still listed in group S8 – substances forbidden to be used in competition. Importantly, most CBD products are sold as so-called full-spectrum products, meaning they also contain other cannabinoids. As such, the use of full-spectrum CBD products is definitely prohibited by WADA.
Studies have detected residual levels of THC in CBD products with 10 out of 28 commercial CBD products from the internet and retail market, and more than a third of all the available products would probably lead to a false positive urine doping test.
⇒ The CBD market is a highly unregulated and uncontrolled market currently, making it a minefield for any athlete. The easy answer is to simply not purchase.
⇒ Should your athletes choose to consume this substance, it is wise to know that the threshold for a positive THC test has been set by WADA to 150 µg.mL-1 of 11-nor-9-carboxy-THC in urine.
⇒ Many studies of CBD products have detected considerable mislabeling of content, resulting in athletes not really knowing what they are purchasing. If an athlete wishes to purchase a CBD product, they must ask the producer to provide credible analytical proof for the claims about CBD content on the labels.
⇒ Health Span Elite have recently released Levagen + Sport, a tested product that has similar effects to CBD.
“CBD received a lot of attention last year and this looks set to continue into 2020, with products now containing CBD as a drink (see video below). Although CBD itself is not banned, it’s the actual content of the commercial products that often contain banned substances, such as THC and other unregulated cannabinoids. For me, this risk alone should deter athletes and also be enough of a point for practitioners to raise with athletes who are considering trying it.
If athletes are seeking assistance with things like sleep, recovery, anxiety, soreness, and inflammation, I believe there are many other proven strategies that would help or improve each area for the athlete. For example, if your athlete is sitting on their phone in bed, this maybe the reason they are struggling with sleep. Advise would be to work on their current sleep hygiene practices. Likewise, if they are struggling with soreness, are they eating enough of the correct nutrients to help muscles recover and repair? Advise would be to increase protein intake and antioxidants.”
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