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The all-natural pain killer: Is CBD the future of OTC pain management?

By Patrick M. Davitt, PhD

Published on November 19, 2019

If you just got done lifting at the gym, a game of basketball or a long run and are popping ibuprofen or aspirin, you might want to think again and reach instead for some Cannabidiol, more commonly known as CBD.

Modern professionals recommend against taking anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving agents immediately post-exercise because they blunt the natural recovery and adaptation process that should be occurring in the body. Studies have shown recently that CBD can offer the same pain relief as traditional over the counter pain medications but without the adverse effects to the body’s natural recovery process or harmful side effects.  This is why CBD has won the praise of professional athletes including former Flyer Riley Cote and Hall of Famer Terrell Davis, among others, and has led the NFL Players Association to form a committee to study the use of CBD.

CBD is abundant in cannabis, but does not contain THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the “psychoactive” component of marijuana. Most CBD comes from the hemp plant, not marijuana, and when CBD is extracted from Hemp, it will contain 0.3% or less of THC. Many companies remove THC entirely.

CBD is popping up everywhere these days. In everything from your morning coffee, ice cream and even dog treats, this dearth of CBD products can be traced back to the Hemp Farming Bill, passed by Congress in 2018, which federally legalized growing hemp as an ordinary commodity. 

So, what is CBD and why should you care about using it in relation to your athletic endeavors? CBD makes up about 40% of hemp extracts and when ingested, effects within the body are based on the different receptors within the endocannabinoid system, a naturally occurring system in the brain. These cannabinoids and associated receptors have been linked to the “runners high” people talk about. 

There are a multitude of ailments and conditions that CBD is claiming to improve, such as pain, anxiety, inflammation, soreness, insomnia, addiction, and even acne. However, the science behind CBD-specific products is still in its infancy. One such study comes from the World Health Organization (WHO), which released a report stating WHO “found no adverse health outcomes associated with CBD”. Again,  CBD research is still in its infancy and many of the therapeutic benefits CBD remain unknown. What we are seeing shows much promise, so get prepared for likely very positive research data to emerge.

Even pharmaceutical companies are jumping at the multitude of benefits CBD has to offer. Take the only FDA approved “cannabis-derived” drug, Epidiolex. If the FDA puts this product on its list of items generally recognized as safe, the CBD market will have the boom it has been waiting for. The World Anti Doping Agency has also added cannabidiol (CBD) to their list of approved substances, as long as it doesn’t have any THC. 

One population that is actively choosing to use CBD, and seemingly embracing it, is athletes. From elite and professional athletes to amateurs, many are turning to CBD to help their bodies recover. Many report anti-inflammatory, analgesic, relaxing and stress-reducing effects of CBD consumption, as well as the muscle and pain relaxing effects of topical CBD creams. Because CBD can have all of these benefits with seemingly little to no side effects, it has become a popular option for many athletes. 

Many athletes pop an ibuprofen or other NSAID pre- and post-exercise, but these have been shown to block many of the body’s natural responses to exercise. CBD does not block the body’s inflammatory pathways, like NSAID drugs, but simply lowers or regulates it without any side effects that come with the chronic consumption of traditional pain relievers. Athletes have been reported to overuse NSAID drugs, so the potential of CBD for treatment of common ailments, without the negative side effects and hazardous physiological implications, has real promise. 

When shopping for CBD products try to look for more “pure” products with no added ingredients. A stamp of approval from the US Hemp Authority is a good sign, although,  some products will even come with a lab-certified document. If you plan to travel with CBD products, there are a few states that have local laws banning marijuana and CBD products. Otherwise, order it from your own home, go for a run or do your workout, and you can start enjoying the benefits CBD has to offer, without the side effects of many over-the-counter medications.

Patrick M. Davitt PhD, is the director of the Health Sciences program at University of the Sciences and assistant professor of kinesiology. He specializes in exercise physiology and studies endurance and ultra-endurance athletes, energy metabolism, wearable activity trackers, and dietary and exercise interventions. Dr. Davitt is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and has a Functional Movement Screen certification. His work has been published in international, peer-reviewed journals and he has been featured in a variety of magazines and media outlets. 

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