The growing recognition of topical CBD for athletes

There’s been a lot of buzz around CBD products, especially after a couple of states in the US have legalized its use for medical and recreational purposes. Cannabis and products derived from it have been gaining mounting acceptance, and more and more research works are underway to establish their benefits. But, more than cannabis as an individual product, cannabidiol, or CBD oil is experiencing increasing recognition owing to its non-psychoactive property, especially amongst athletes.

But, before we dig deeper into the subject, let’s get an idea of what cannabinoids are in reality. The cannabinoid is a product of cannabis, but it’s different from the psychoactive compound called THC derived from the same plant. Cannabinoids are seen to exist in the human body, and there is an endocannabinoid system (ECS) that is responsible for modulating the neural activity in the brain.

Within the human nervous system, two endocannabinoids, namely 2-AG and EAE, are released in postsynaptic neurons (downstream) and then pushed into the synapse. These endocannabinoids stick to receptors called CB1 and CB2 present on the presynaptic neuron (upstream). Moreover, they both act to prevent the release of some neurotransmitters. The CB1 receptors are found throughout the brain, the length of the spinal cord, and other body tissues. The CB2 receptors are also found in these parts of the body, but more of them are present in the body’s immune system tissues. There is a more significant effect on the body’s central nervous system when CBD binds to the CB1 receptors, but a significant reduction in inflammation is seen when CBD binds to the CB2 receptors.

Athletes subject their bodies to an enormous amount of stress—something that’s both positive and negative. It’s true that the more they stress their muscles, the more trained they become at their sport. This certainly gives a significant boost to their performance, but the cost of doing so is seen in the level of wear and tear and physical trauma they undergo. It manifests in the form of pain and injuries, all of which call for effective pain management methods.

The go-to option for athletes when it comes to pain relief is heavy doses of over-the-counter medications. Naproxen sodium and ibuprofen are a few of the many over-the-counter medications that athletes go for to relieve muscle pain. But, these medications are seen to do more harm than good to their bodies. There have been ample cases where consumers of these pain relief medications have fallen prey to opioid addiction—a crisis that America has been struggling with quite some time now. Not to forget, overdoses of these medications have also proven fatal.

The legality of the use of CBD by athletes

 In such a scenario, athletes around the country are eager to learn more about cannabidiol (CBD), especially its topical products. The substance is believed to be relatively less harmful compared to over-the-counter medications. But the use of CBD by athletes is subject to controversy, and people often ask whether or not its use is legal. The answer is yes.

In early 2018, a list of prohibited substances was issued by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), who excluded CBD from it. The USADA (US Anti-Doping Agency) also followed their footsteps to remove the “prohibited” tag from CBD. Also, the agency created an FAQ page that clarified all the rules relating to marijuana-based products. It’s only CBD that’s been removed from the list, while marijuana or any other psychoactive substance is still banned.

How does topical CBD benefit athletes?

 Let’s check out some of the benefits that topical CBD has in store for athletes:

  1. Pain relief

By now, you may have figured that topical CBD works great in alleviating muscle and body pain that athletes go through during or post their training. Topical CBD is now available in the form of pain relief sprays, pain-relief creams, as well as pain-relief roll-ons. When athletes compare these products to over-the-counter pain relief medications, they are likely to see some noticeable differences.

The numerous over-the-counter medications undoubtedly alleviate body and muscle pain altogether, but at a huge toll on athletes’ body and mind. These medications can fog their thinking and give them a temporary sense of ability. But that’s not the right way to deal with injury or body pain.

Also, anti-inflammatory drugs can lead athletes to renal damage when consumed during long training periods and events. Even when the training or sports events are short, prolonged consumption of these drugs can possibly lead to stroke and heart attack.

On the flip side, topical CBD has proven far less harmful by lowering the repercussions of the prolonged use of over-the-counter pain relief medications. It positions itself as a much clearer method to fight pain for athletes since it does not fog their thinking.

Topical CBD, when applied to the pain area, is absorbed by the skin. It then works by engaging the endocannabinoid system of the brain. The product is shown to reduce discomfort by releasing more anandamide, which is a natural endocannabinoid produced by the body.

The best part of using topical CBD is that it works fast. Since the absorption process takes place through the skin, there’s hardly any impact on the athlete’s digestive system. With topical CBD products, such as pain relief sprays, pain-relief creams, as well as pain-relief roll-ons, athletes can target the specific area where they experience pain. So, there’s no need for them to ingest them and put extra pressure on their digestive system.

  1. Improves recovery and reduces fatigue

Athletes undergo rigorous training sessions, both before a sporting event and on a regular basis. These training sessions give a complete work out to their bodies. The benefit of these sessions is that their bodies grow stronger, and their muscles become more flexible. But, the stress is also seen to increase oxidative damage—something that can slow down recovery and impede their performance at their sport.

During training and workout sessions, muscles constantly rub against each other. The friction caused between them leads to a condition called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). As athletes continue with training, their muscles continue to tear—something that makes them feel fatigued to the core. It’s important to note here that fatigue comes when muscles swell, but inflammation happens when muscles get damaged.

Topical CBD in the form of pain relief sprays, pain-relief creams, as well as pain-relief roll-ons is seen to assist athletes in getting over such damage. Since injuries and muscle tears are inevitable, athletes can use these products to speed up their recovery process. CBD-based recovery lotions and body oils are much better than over-the-counter pain relief medications in this regard too.

Given the healing properties present in topical CBD, its use can help athletes get back to their game faster. The lowered oxidative damage lets them flex their muscles more than before and perform better at their sport. These products reduce fatigue and give athletes more energy to perform by alleviating any discomfort in the body.

  1. Improves sleep

Insomnia, a condition that is characterized by the inability of a person to fall asleep at night, is something many Americans are combating these days. About one in four Americans develop insomnia each year and about 30 percent of adults in the country show symptoms of insomnia (Source). When so many adults in the country are facing the issue, how can one expect athletes to be out of the league?

Professional athletes suffer from sleep disorders; they have trouble falling asleep on time or stay awake the whole night. More often than not, the lack of sleep roots from the immense pain that their bodies undergo after a rigorous training session. Going without sleep for a night is understandable, but not sleeping for days is certainly a matter of concern for athletes. A good night’s sleep is essential for athletes because it preserves their physical health—something that can help them maintain their performance at their sport.

Some insomniac athletes tend to go for over-the-counter or prescription sleeping pills, but do they do any good in the long term? The answer is no because these medications can stress their liver and kidneys and lead to further complications. This is where the benefits of topical CBD products are seen. Since these products are good at relieving chronic pain (which can lead to loss of sleep), athletes can experience an improvement in their sleep pattern after applying them topically on areas that are inflamed.

Topical CBD products can reduce soreness in muscles and give athletes the peace of mind to fall asleep. Some CBD-based recovery lotions and body oils are also seen to perform the same function. When they get enough sleep (ideally eight hours), their body is well-rested and more energetic. This is enough for them to be at their best the following day.

Moreover, an improvement in sleep patterns is also related to faster muscle recovery. When athletes sleep better, their bodies produce a growth hormone called melatonin, which assists in muscle recovery. Hence, there’s hard evidence to prove that topical CBD products alleviate symptoms of insomnia in athletes by reducing pain caused by muscle inflammation.

  1. Protects the skin

There’s absolutely no doubt that athletes have to spend an enormous amount of time outdoors. This is because they have to train themselves on the field before the final matchday. From soccer and basketball players to runners and swimmers, all kinds of athletes have to bear with the harshness of weather conditions during their outdoor training sessions.

While such rigorous exercises work well for their bodies over time, their damaging effects are seen on their skin. The harshness of the summer sun often leads to sunburns and tanning. Also, prolonged exposure to dirt and pollution (a common aspect in the outdoor environment) often causes their skin to lose its glow and freshness.

Although athletes may not be very particular about how they look (with a few exceptions, of course), some shield between their skin and environmental factors is necessary. Protecting the skin from sun damage can help inhibit the growth of skin cancer, which is now considered the most common type of cancer. Also, prolonged sun exposure exposes the skin to harmful UV rays, which have a damaging effect on skin cells, leading to cancerous skin lesions.

This is where topical CBD products can come into the picture to save the day for athletes. Besides pain relief sprays, these topical products are available in the form of facial serums, face creams, as well as glow oil. These products perform a variety of skin-boosting and skin-protecting functions, all of which work great for athletes who spend most of their time outdoors.

Also, athletes can use glow oil or a facial cream having CBD as the primary ingredient to hydrate and nourish the skin after spending time in the sun. With the richness of skin-boosting antioxidants and beneficial anti-inflammatory properties, CBD-based topical products can help reduce irritation, redness, dryness, and some serious skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema, which are pretty common issues faced by athletes. Since these issues can worsen with the use of conventional, on-the-market sunscreen lotions, topical CBD facial creams prove to be a better catch.

Bottom line

 The emergence of CBD could determine how hardworking athletes can recover from their training stress and manage their pain. However, there’s still a lot to learn about how topical CBD works and how athletes can best utilize it.

Although topical CBD products are not banned for athletes, whether in or out of competition, the potential risk that athletes should be careful about is the real ingredient in the products they are buying. If the product has a considerable amount of THC or other prohibited substances, then they may be charged with a doping violation.

No matter what, topical CBD products offer ample potential benefits and very few health risks. If these products boost muscle recovery as an anti-inflammatory, pain reliever, and sleep aid, then they have a high potential to enhance athletic performance. Moreover, they can get athletes to lower their consumption of opioids, NSAIDs, and prescription pills, thereby leading to bigger victories.

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