The Herbivore: The Changing Relationship Between Cannabis and Sports

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Written by: Brett Smith

The Changing Relationship Between Cannabis and Sports

In recent years, the sporting world’s attitude towards cannabis has begun to change significantly. From the backing or founding of CBD and THC brands by athletes like retired NFL star Rob Gronkowski and former NBA player Al Harrington, to public admissions from organizations like the NFL that they are including cannabis in a study of alternative pain therapies, the world of athletics is beginning to take note of the medicinal benefits provided by both THC and CBD. Hemp-derived CBD is a powerful natural anti-inflammatory that provides localized pain relief, alleviates muscle soreness and tension, and also aids in skin repair when used externally. Unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive and does not produce a high. This type of medicinal relief for inflammation and soreness is precisely what many athletes and active individuals are looking for after strenuous workouts.

First, a quick summary as to how cannabinoids like CBD and THC aid in recovery; each one of us has an endocannabinoid system (ECS) which produces endocannabinoids that help regulate pain, immune responses, inflammation, and stress, among other things. Our body’s ECS includes nerve-related CB1 receptors, responsible for the psychoactive results from THC, as well as CB2 receptors, which moderate inflammatory and immune responses. Hemp-derived CBD is received by CB2 receptors – which is why it has such a powerful anti-inflammatory effect when used for sore muscles. Essentially, CBD binds with endocannabinoids (cannabinoids that are naturally present in our body) to help regulate them and allow them to work more effectively. Topical use (direct application to the skin) of CBD allows this change to happen on a more localized level, instead of the chemical effect that over-the-counter meds like Ibuprofen have over your whole body. Given what we now understand about the habitual use of opioids and NSAIDs, it is no surprise that increasing numbers of athletes and active individuals are looking to natural remedies like CBD or cannabis to incorporate into their recovery regimens (Source 1-Teton).

Part of the reason CBD was viewed somewhat skeptically within professional sports is that, until recently, the DEA had classified any substance derived from the cannabis plant as illegal, regardless of whether it was hemp or marijuana-based. The 2018 Farm Bill was a pivotal moment for CBD in the U.S. and a major catalyst for the overwhelming amount of CBD products now available in stores. In 2018, the Farm Bill declassified CBD as a Schedule 1 Drug and as a result, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed CBD from the list of banned substances for athletes (Source 1 – Teton). Cue scores of professional athletes singing the praises of the previously controversial drug. While THC remains a banned substance, the lifting of the ban on CBD has resulted in numerous athletes coming out in public support of CBD for wellness and recovery. Retired NFL star Rob Gronkowski has partnered with CBD Medic, former NBA star Al Harrington founded cannabis production company Viola Brands, MMA fighters Nick and Nate Diaz founded a CBD company. Extreme sports athletes have also invested in the cannabis industry with former Olympic Snowboarder Ross Rebagliati founding Ross’ Gold cannabis and skier Tanner Hall teaming up with cannabis accessories line Black Rock Originals. Additionally, on Monday, October 21st USA Triathlon announced that they have signed a deal to partner with Colorado-based CBD manufacturers Pure Spectrum. The move is the first notable partnership between a national governing body and a CBD manufacturer (Source 2 - LA Times). Part of the decision to partner with Pure Spectrum was due to their use of industrial hemp and strict third-party testing of each batch to ensure products are pure to minimize the risk of violating anti-doping laws.

The stigma surrounding cannabis use may in part have deterred athletes from trying cannabis as an alternative method for alleviating pain or swelling. However, as more and more athletes who have used cannabis for medical relief begin to speak out, the “lazy stoner” stereotype is slowly eroding. Numerous retired professional athletes from the NBA, NFL, and NHL, as well as athletes from the action sports world and the MMA, have spoken out about their success using CBD or cannabis either for pain management or during their training regimens to increase focus. Ultra-marathoner Avery Collins uses cannabis regularly to help him train for and recover from his races that last up to 200 miles through the mountains. In addition to providing relief for sore joints and muscles, athletes like Collins feel that consuming THC before a workout can make the workout more enjoyable, and then medicating afterward as well helps with soreness and inflammation. In an interview with SB Nation, Collins spoke of the benefits of having cannabis as part of his daily training regimen. In addition to using cannabis as a treatment for sore muscles after a workout, Collins advocates for the mental benefits of cannabis use when endurance training saying, “The benefit of being high is you’re more in tune with your body. It keeps you more alert and aware.” (Source 3 - SB Nation)

Here at High Mountain Health, we carry Canna Hemp X products, a line of CBD products made by Canna Hemp that are specifically formulated for athletic recovery. The Canna Hemp X line of relief and recovery products delivers quick results for athletes seeking relief from the aches and pains of day-to-day training. Topical creams that are applied directly to the skin such as the Canna Hemp X Recovery Cream are great for aching or inflamed muscles and joints. The Recovery Cream is made with menthol, capsaicin, and essential oils of eucalyptus and peppermint, providing hot and cold therapy for aches and pains (Canna Hemp X – Source 4). Products such as the Canna Hemp X Recovery and Canna Hemp X Endurance Elixirs are oil tinctures in which the CBD can either be ingested orally or applied topically. In addition to the Canna Hemp X line which contains only CBD, we also carry topical creams that contain both THC and CBD. Products such as the iLAVA Touch Topical Cream, Chronic Health Pain Re-Leaf Ointment or Chronic Health High CBD Ointment are ideal for MMJ patients looking for topicals that have both CBD and THC.