- CBD is rapidly trending in rugby as players begin to experience positive effects including reduced muscle soreness, better sleep quality, and accelerated recovery & performance.
- Rugby athletes experience daily muscle pain, particularly nerve pain. Therefore, they use four times more painkillers compared to the general population on average.
- Long-term use of painkilling drugs could lead to adverse effects, including addiction, stomach ulcers, kidney damage, and heart attack. In contrast, CBD has a much better safety profile.
- CBD in rugby would remarkably decrease the reliance on painkillers.
- The 2020 study surveyed 517 professional rugby players, and 25% of them had used this compound. Many of those who didn’t utilise CBD took this step because of fear of anti-doping regulations.
- Major League Baseball and National Hockey League haven’t prohibited the use of cannabis or CBD. The World Anti-Doping Agency also removed CBD from its prohibited substance list.
Current and former professional athletes, including Rob Gronkowski, Megan Rapinoe, and Lamar Odom, are endorsing the use of CBD. While others, including Finn Russell, Jerome Kaino, and Kim Hamilton, use it to ease knee pain, sleep better, and cope with aches, respectively.
This is because CBD has promising properties in treating several conditions related to rugby competition, such as inflammation, joint pain, and muscle soreness.
Based on recent research studies, here’s why players from around the sporting globe are using CBD and what you should know about it.
Why Are Rugby Players Using CBD?
Rugby is a sport that involves both low and high-intensity aerobic/ anaerobic activities including jogging, sprinting, sidestepping, and frequent high-intensity collisions. As a result of repetitive high-intensity collisions, players from both sides of rugby experience muscle soreness and increased inflammation. The resulting pain usually lasts several days after the game, affecting the player’s everyday function, and may last throughout the entire season.
The traditional method to reduce muscle soreness and inflammation is pain medication (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Ibuprofen or opioids like Tramadol. Long-lasting use of NSAIDs can cause stomach ulcers, while opiates-based painkillers are highly addictive. Many players have openly admitted at the end of their careers to being addicted to opiate-based painkillers. Therefore, players and support staff struggle to reduce inflammation and pain and improve recovery strategies without a safer emerging method such as the use of CBD.
Another important benefit of CBD is that it is completely non-addictive, in fact CBD is well recognised and used as an anti-addictive treatment for addictive overeating, to come off smoking and alcohol addiction.
Studies have suggested that CBD has a better safety profile for both humans and animals (1). In a report by World Health Organization, it’s indicated that CBD doesn’t seem to have the potential of dependence or misuse, unlike opioids-based pain killers (2).
These are the main reasons why CBD and rugby are becoming a popular combination.
Pain Management Strategies In Rugby Players
|Traditional Pain Killers||Safety Profile||CBD Products||Safety Profile|
|Non- steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) e.g. Ibuprofen
Side Effects: Stomach ulcers, kidney damage, heart attack and addiction
|No||CBD oils, capsules, and gummies
No side effects
|Opioids based painkillers e.g. Tramadol
Side Effects: Addiction and accidental death
|No||CBD lotions, balms and ointments
No side effects
How Does CBD Help Rugby Players?
CBD is the short abbreviation of Cannabidiol, which is found in the hemp strain of cannabis(3). Several research studies show that CBD does help with pain, inflammation, sleep, and several other issues. It’s a non-psychoactive treatment for pain, which means you don’t feel “high” after using it.
Our body possesses an Endocannabinoid System (ECS) that helps regulate numerous functions including your mood, appetite, memory, and sleep. More than fifteen research studies have shown that CBD helps reduce chronic pain and inflammation by interacting with ECS Receptors (4).
Therefore, CBD should be valuable for athletes participating in rugby and other physically demanding sports.
How Does CBD Help Rugby Players?
Effective for reducing musculoskeletal and joint pain (5).
Improves Sleep Quality
Enhances sleep-inducing molecules, such as adenosine, in your brain (6).
Possess anti-inflammatory effects, thus promotes recovery and performance (7).
Alternative to opioids
As effective at reducing pain as opioids but without any risk of addiction (2).
Alternative to NSAIDs
As effective at reducing pain as NSAIDs but without any risk of addiction, stomach ulcers and heart attack.
What Does the Research Say?
A recent research study published in 2020 glanced at the increased level of CBD use in Rugby Union and Rugby League. In this study, 517 professional rugby players were asked about the use of CBD. The study concluded that 25% of all athletes assessed have either utilised or continue to use CBD. The main reasons for CBD use in those players were reduced recovery and pain and improved sleep, with most of the players reporting a perceived benefit (8).
Legality For Athletic Events
In 2018, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which regulates rugby’s anti-doping policy, removed CBD from its prohibited substance list (9).
Major League Baseball (MLB) removed Marijuana from the drugs of abuse list (10).
National Hockey League (NHL) hasn’t banned the use of cannabis or CBD. However, cannabis use isn’t encouraged. The organization has taken a unique stand on cannabis that doesn’t raise heavy penalties like suspensions and fines. Instead, NHL participants with elevated cannabinoids are only required to go through an assessment by an NHL-approved physician. In some cases, athletes are given recommendations for rehabilitation.
Other major sports and athletic organizations still prohibit the use of THC (Marijuana’s psychoactive component).
What Professional Sports Allow CBD/Cannabis?
|World Anti-Doping Agency||Yes||No||No|
|Major League Baseball||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|National Hockey League||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Matter of Concern
Although CBD is becoming so popular among athletes, the only matter of concern is if the product you buy doesn’t contain what it says on the label. You are at risk of doping violation if the CBD product actually has a significant amount of THC or other prohibited substances. The risk further rises if you take CBD from an unreliable source, as it may be impure or mislabelled.
If you’re an athlete and will be drug tested, you should carefully read product labels. Additionally, do your research and find a reputable brand.
References & Resources
- Machado Bergamaschi, M., Helena Costa Queiroz, R., Waldo Zuardi, A., & Crippa, A. S. (2011). Safety and side effects of cannabidiol, a Cannabis sativa constituent. Current drug safety, 6(4), 237-249.
- World Health Organization (WHO). (2018). Cannabidiol (CBD): critical review report. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO, 36.
- National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2017). The health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids: the current state of evidence and recommendations for research.
- Darkovska-Serafimovska, M., Serafimovska, T., Arsova-Sarafinovska, Z., Stefanoski, S., Keskovski, Z., & Balkanov, T. (2018). Pharmacotherapeutic considerations for use of cannabinoids to relieve pain in patients with malignant diseases. Journal of pain research, 11, 837.
- Halawa, Omar I., et al. “Role of Cannabinoids in Pain Management.” Essentials of Pain Medicine, 2018.
- Murillo-Rodriguez, Eric, et al. “Anandamide Enhances Extracellular Levels of Adenosine and Induces Sleep: An In Vivo Microdialysis Study.” Sleep, vol. 26, no. 8, 2003, pp. 943–947.
- Nagarkatti, Prakash, et al. “Cannabinoids as Novel Anti-Inflammatory Drugs.” Future Medicinal Chemistry, vol. 1, no. 7, 2009, pp. 1333–1349.
- Kasper, A. M., Sparks, S. A., Hooks, M., Skeer, M., Webb, B., Nia, H., ... & Close, G. L. (2020). High prevalence of cannabidiol use within male professional rugby union and league players: A quest for pain relief and enhanced recovery. International journal of sports nutrition and exercise metabolism, 30(5), 315-322.