When it comes to pain management solutions, CBD in sports medicine gives cannabis a league of its own.
Professional athletes are consistently placing high-intensity stress on their bodies, pushing themselves to take their performance to the next level. Along with that constant stress comes inflammation, pain and the potential for injury. Whether bouncing back from a strenuous workout or healing from a serious injury, the recovery time can sideline a competitor from their sport.
For years, professional athletes have unofficially used cannabis to treat post workout inflammation as well as pain from injuries. Now as legalization sweeps the globe, cannabis can finally become a legitimate therapy option in sports medicine. Sports medicine is one of the cannabis industry’s greatest opportunities for innovation as companies develop new products tailored specifically to address the needs of athletes and offer safer alternatives to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and opioids.
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Much of the focus for now is on cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive cannabinoid. The market for CBD products is already taking off in the broader medical cannabis market as well as in the nearly US$4 trillion global health and wellness industry.
Signaling the beginning of a shifting paradigm in sports medicine, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) officially removed CBD from its Prohibited Substances List effective January 1, 2018. The change in policy not only opens up opportunities for athletes in need of safe pain management treatments but for cannabis companies as well.
CBD: improved sports recovery and safer pain management
The spreading legalization of cannabis around the world is leading to increased research into the effects of CBD on the human body, providing scientific support for years of positive anecdotal evidence to the therapeutic benefits of cannabis. CBD works in sync with the body’s endocannabinoid system to reduce inflammation and ease pain by binding with CB1 and CB2 receptors, which are found throughout the body, predominantly in central nervous system and immune system tissues. No deaths have ever been reported for CBD product use, and the majority of adverse side effects are considered non-serious.
Fitness fans and professional athletes alike put a lot of stress on their bodies which can result in pain and injury. Too much inflammation to the muscles and joints can hinder recovery and hurt performance. CBD can also help athletes relax and get a good night’s sleep — a critical component to recovery and realizing training gains.
CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties and high-safety profile make it an ideal alternative to NSAIDs like ibuprofen for relieving post-workout muscle soreness. Long-term and chronic use of NSAIDs, once believed to be safe, are now known to cause kidney damage and heart problems, while even at larger doses CBD has minimal side effects. For sports-related injuries, studies have shown that CBD can be an effective substitute for addictive opioids which kill tens of thousands of people each year and ruins countless other lives.
CBD in sports medicine is growing in popularity and product range, including topical creams and gels, capsules, sports drinks, sublingual oils, translingual sprays and transdermal patches. Canadian cannabis life science company Orion Nutraceuticals (CSE:ORI) is working to bring a new cannabis transdermal patch to the market which offers non-invasive, controlled delivery of cannabinoids (including CBD and THC only formulations) into the bloodstream for effective and long-lasting results. The patches can be used for pain management as well as a good night’s sleep.
“We have chosen to prioritize sports medicine as we deem there to be a sizable market for effective, natural treatments with little competition,” Jonathan Fiteni, CEO of Orion Nutraceuticals, told the Investing News Network (INN). “Research in the area has shown that cannabis derived products can treat athletes for everything from inflammation to concussions.”
Research into cannabis pills for concussions — traumatic brain injuries prevalent in contact sports leagues like the NFL — are indeed showing signs of success in improving cognitive function. Researchers at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine are carrying out a five-year study to examine the effects of combining CBD with an anesthetic for the treatment of traumatic brain injury and concussion. Early results have strengthened the researchers’ belief that the combo could “reduce post-injury brain cell inflammation, headache, pain and other symptoms associated with concussion,” stated a recent press release.
While medical researchers continue to study the potential benefits of CBD for the management of pain, inflammation and sleep, many current and former athletes are already choosing cannabis over opioids and traditional sleep aids. Professional cyclist Andrew Talansky told Outside magazine that when he strained a hip flexor in the fall of 2017, he passed over the ibuprofen for CBD to treat his inflammation. “I took it for a couple of weeks, and there was a noticeable difference immediately,” Talansky said. “And it wasn’t just that my hip was feeling better. I was less anxious, and I was sleeping better.”
Emerging market players for CBD in sports medicine
The market for CBD in sports medicine is still emerging, so we don’t have any definitive numbers on the projected size of this sector. However, the total global CBD market is expected to hit US$22 billion by 2022 while the broader medical cannabis market is forecast to reach an estimated US$55.8 billion by 2025.
Currently, many major sporting leagues don’t allow players to use cannabis or CBD products, medical or otherwise. Yet some may be coming around to the idea as more and more current and former players go to bat for revised policies that acknowledge the therapeutic value of CBD in sports medicine and the potential to combat the rising opioid epidemic.
Ice Cube’s BIG3 — a three on three basketball league with rosters made up of retired NBA players like Nate Robinson and Jermaine O’Neal — is in Cube’s own words “ahead of the game” with the June 2018 announcement that it would allow players to use CBD. “This is a no-brainer decision,” BIG3 league co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz said told CBS Sports. “This is a medical decision. It is a medical and a humane decision. To not allow athletes to use CBD and instead to force them to use opioids is irresponsible…It reflects an attitude of not caring about player health.”
There are signs that the major sports leagues are willing to rethink their cannabis policies. The NBA, NHL and the NFL have publicly said they are studying agreements that would allow players to use cannabis in pain management.
Although this may seem like a small step forward, many in the industry have confidence that major sports leagues will eventually play ball. “There are certain industries where you find a battle between old beliefs and progressive decision making. Before we knew the health benefits of plant-based medicine, much of society’s initial reaction was to treat it like a drug worse than alcohol. Fast forward to today, and the evangelist group for marijuana adoption is growing,” former collegiate track runner and co-founder of cannabis business holding company Orthogonal Collective, AJ Agrawal told Forbes.
The market for CBD in sports medicine is still in its early-stages, which represents blue sky potential for early entrants. Understanding this window of opportunity to, as Ice Cube calls it, get ahead of the game, Orion Nutraceuticals is stacking the roster of its advisory board with athletes, sports therapists, alternative medicine advocates, CBD researchers and sports product marketing professionals.
A few other cannabis companies developing CBD products for this emerging market are Isodiol International Inc. (CSE:ISOL,OTC:ISOLF,FSE:LB6A.F), which has developed a line of CBD performance products aimed at the fitness industry and athletes; and Phivida Holdings Inc. (CSE:VIDA,OTCQX:PHVAF), which has recently said the WADA decision will enable the company to expand its business by offering CBD products to the sports medicine market and competitive athletes.
CBD in sports medicine represents a major turnover in how athletes both recover from training stress and manage pain. The ability to improve recovery through safe and effective pain management, inflammation relief and a better night’s sleep not only offers athletes great potential to improve their athletic performance — it has the potential to dramatically reduce the dangerous consumption of NSAIDS, opioids and prescription sleep aids, a huge win for today’s athletes.