If you’re a fan of sports, you’ll know that performance-enhancing supplements represent a controversial talking point.
At the heart of this are regulatory differences between groups such as the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (Vada) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada), which causes confusion for athletes regarding the substances that they can take while out of competition.
British boxer Billy Joe Saunders is the latest to fall foul of this uncertainty, after he tested positive for the stimulant oxilofrine during a voluntary drugs test. While this substance is banned entirely by the Vada, however, it’s only prohibited in competition under Wada regulations.
There’s little doubt surrounding cannabidiol (or CBD to you and me), which was removed from Wada’s list of banned substances in September last year. In the post below, we’ll look at this further while asking why sports officials now allow the consumption of CBD.
Exploring the Difference Between Cannabis and CBD
Let’s start with a simple question; how can CBD be permitted while cannabis remains banned?
Fortunately the answer is simple too, as while CBD is one of many derivatives found in the cannabis plant there are several crucial differences between these two substances.
Most importantly, cannabidiol is a natural compound that’s extracted from the leaves and stalks of the hemp plant, and one that is used as a primary ingredient in supplement such as CBD oils and isolates.
CBD products are also legally bound to contain no more than 0.3% THC, which is the psychoactive agent that gets cannabis users high. In fact, premium CBD manufacturers use the C02 extraction process to create exceptionally pure products that contain no THC at all.
This distinction is important, as it earmarks CBD as a completely safe product that does not unnaturally alter the human mind or its ability to perceive threats.
Natural cannabinoids also interact holistically with the body’s CB1 and CB2 receptors, with a number of these located throughout the endocannabinoid system (ECS). CBD triggers this system and individual receptors to govern and control a number of internal bodily functions, including immune response, appetite and our reaction to stress.
If CBD is not Considered as Performance Enhancing, why do Athletes Take it?
If you’re a UFC fan, you’ll probably have joined us in taking a sharp increase of breath when Nate Diaz boldly used a vapouriser following his dramatic rematch defeat to Conner McGregor.
While many feared he would be targeted by Wada and the USADA after he confirmed ingesting CBD to reduce his post-flight inflammation, the former quickly moved to remove CBD from its banned substance list and spared Diaz’ blushes.
The ban on CBD was officially lifted in January 2018, after the organisation revealed that the compound does not pose a risk to athletes or violate the spirit of a particular sport.
The group has also determined that it does not artificially or unfairly enhance sporting performance, with most clinical tests and anecdotal evidence suggesting that it instead aids physical recovery following intense competition or workouts.
Not only does this explain why international doping agencies will no longer test for the presence of CBD in athletes, but it also offers an insight into why athletes continue to consume this compound on a global scale.
One particularly interesting body of research has explored the potential of CBD as an effective anti-inflammatory. Inflammation is best described as the bodily response to potentially harmful stimuli, injury, and excessive physical exertion. It usually manifests itself in pain, swelling, and soreness, and can seriously hamper athletes who have to compete regularly over time.
In the case of CBD, studies have shown that this compound activates the CB2 receptors within the ECS. Thanks to the unique way in which CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system, it’s capable of producing an increased number of natural cannabinoids that minimise inflammation and aid a quicker physical recovery.
At the same time, it enhances the body’s immune response and the way in which it reacts to physical stress going forward. And if you don’t believe us, we reckon that you should take it up with Nate Diaz himself!
A standout study published in 2016 investigated the effects of CBD on rats with arthritis, which remains one of the biggest triggers of inflammation. The results found that the application of CBD gel significantly reduced joint swelling, without the emergence of any noticeable side-effects.
Aside from this and helping to ward off colds and flu viruses, CBD is also thought to be an effective regulator of human appetite. This is crucial for athletes, who often gave to adhere to strict diets when competing and must account for every single calories that they consume.
Ghrelin is the natural hormone that stimulates hunger, and is in turn activated by CB1 receptors (this is why THC and cannabis is renowned for giving you the munchies). CBD is an effective blocker of CB1 receptors, however, making it capable of supressing the production of ghrelin and increasing leptin levels to create a feeling of satiety.
Is CBD Legal?
The new attitude of the Wada has a great deal in common with the laws of the UK, which stipulate that CBD is completely and 100% legal (as well as being safe to use).
This makes CBD unique among all compounds derived from the hemp plant, as it’s the only one to be approved by Wada and similar doping organisations.
From a legal perspective, all CBD products are viable for sale as long as they contain less than 0.3% THC. Manufacturers that produce CBD supplements with a higher percentage of THC cannot legally sell their goods in the UK, which is why Wada and other organisations urge competitors to be selective when choosing specific oils and isolates.
The issue is a little less clear when it comes to sport and CBD, however, as while some sporting bodies allow the use of this compound there are others that don’t.
This is very much at the discretion of individual organisations and authorities, although it’s fair to say that the decision of Wada has encouraged several bodies to follow suit in the months since.
The Last Word
The benefits of CBD are becoming increasingly apparent, while athletes have long since recognised these and incorporated this compound into their dietary regime.
The decision of Wada to remove cannabidiol from its list of banned substances definitely represented a seminal moment for the compound, helping manufacturers to capitalise on rising demand levels across the globe in the process.
The most exciting aspect of this is that athletes can finally take a compound that can aid their physical recovery, enabling them to enhance their performance in a fair and natural way.