Fighters are going Nuts on CBD, why?
In combat sports (MMA, Muay Thai, JiuJitsu,...) and sports in general, athletes are very keen on gaining every edge possible over their competitors. This is why athletes are prone to hypes (and superstition). These hypes can come in the form of training methods, supplements, diet, etcetera. Over the years I’ve seen many of them come and go. Some of them we've covered on this website, like intermittent fasting, cupping therapy and the vegan diet.
The last years my social media feed has been blown up by fighters promoting CBD products. In these sponsored posts on Facebook, Twitter and most of all Twitter, they explain how these products have helped their athletic careers. The hype is unlike most I've seen in the past. I would even sincerely state that the list of high-level fighters who've never promoted CBD products, is smaller than the ones that have. So let's have a look at the scientific evidence of the claimed benefits, shall we?
First of all, what exactly is CBD. CBD stands for Cannabidiol, which is a non-psychotropic component of cannabis. In plain English this means that it doesn't make you "high" or "stoned". These days you can get CBD products in all kinds of forms: oil, gels, gummy bears, drinks, ...
Claimed benefits & science
So why the big interest in CBD by the public and athletes if it doesn't give you a high. According to the (sponsored) posts of these athletes on social media, the CBD products have helped their athletic careers significantly in various ways. Let’s have a look at the acclaimed benefits:
Nate Diaz caused turmoil in the UFC in august of 2016. At the post-fight press conference of ufc 202 he inhaled from a vape pen. When asked what he was smoking, he answered:
"It’s CBD. It helps with the healing process, the inflammation and stuff like that. You want to do this before and after a fight, during training, it will make your life a better place."
Research on the use of CBD on recovery in athletes, is non-existent. But research on the possible benefits of CBD to treat arthritis, pain, epilepsy, acne, etc has found strong anti-inflammatory properties of CBD. For athletes keeping their inflammation levels in check to recover well after training and competition is essential. This makes the use of CBD for recovery a promising supplement.
Pain is part of being a professional athlete. Pushing your body every day in training and competition will cause some aches. This is especially true in combat sports, where hurting your opponent is the goal. Reducing these aches will highly increase the quality of training and the overall wellbeing of the athlete.
The effect of CBD on pain relief is one of its most promising benefits. Although the mechanisms behind it are still not known, numerous studies have confirmed the efficacy of CBD in alleviating pain.
If you consider the inflammation-reducing properties of CBD, as well as the pain-alleviating properties, you could argue that CBD would be a possible alternative for NSAIDs, a class of painkillers that also act anti-inflammatory, f.e.: aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen. Long-term daily consumption of NSAIDs is linked with heart, stomach and kidney problems. Beware: CBD has not been linked with negative side effects, but the products are fairly new, and research on long-term use is non-existent.
The most sought-after health effect, by the public in general, is the decrease in stress and anxiety. Most evidence on this topic, however, is anecdotal. Only a few small scientific trials have been done. Some showed a small anxiety-reducing effect of CBD and others did not. So I would say the jury is still out.
But what's for sure: CBD alone won’t resolve serious anxiety issues, at the most it can take some off the edges of.
A good night’s sleep is obviously very important for an athletes' training and performance. Anxiety and (lack of) sleep are closely connected. Earlier we saw that CBD probably does not have a substantial effect on anxiety. Not surprisingly, when we take a look at the few trials that have been done on sleep specifically, a few found a small positive effect and others did not. So again: I would say the jury is still out, but don't expect it will resolve serious sleep issues.
CBD is not the miracle cure-all product many people make of it. However, it could be an interesting supplement to lower inflammation in the body and deal with pain.