Getting Back In The Game
Athletes face a nearly ever-present battle against sports injuries and chronic pain. That much is clear. What’s a little less obvious is the fact that this battle, unlike so many others, has driven surprisingly little innovation… and surprisingly few real solutions.
And since it’s been a while since anything genuinely interesting has happened in the pain-management field, most athletes today simply resort to doing what they’ve always done. This means popping NSAIDs or other pills whenever they feel an injury flaring up. Almost like you’d throw a small glass of water over some searing embers in the hope that the entire forest wouldn’t go up in flames.
Better than nothing, right?
And ultra-endurance athletes might just have it even much worse. A 2013 study found that while “NSAIDs were the most commonly used analgesic medication” among many types of runners during training, “ultramarathon runners were more likely than other runners to use NSAIDs during [their] race.”
What can we say? Having a type-A personality is what gets us interested in these sports and we don’t exactly like the feeling of pain slowing us down midway through our effort.
In the past three or four years however, a new and improved option for pain management has emerged. This one is more holistic, more effective and less riddled by side effects than virtually anything that can be artificially manufactured. Move over Advil, opioids and other band-aid solutions that only glaze over the real root of your pain… CBD is ushering in a whole new era of managing discomfort in athletics.
The Method Behind [Fighting] The Madness
Before we get into why CBD and other cannabinoids are so beneficial to athletes, there’s something we should mention. It’s a concept upon which your appreciation for what CBD is and how it works should be able to freely grow. Ready?
The cannabinoids produced inside the hemp plant are only half of the equation. The other half of it lies within your body in the form of internal substances called endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids (eCB’s, for short) are produced by our bodies, for our bodies. They are the little messenger molecules that make achieving a full-body balance possible.
The complete picture is even more compelling. Endocannabinoids are part of a larger signaling system in our body called the endocannabinoid system. Within this system, eCB’s are both demanded and provided, but there’s nothing arbitrary about it. Every facet of the endocannabinoid system serves a purpose.
Dr. Jordan Tishler of the Harvard Medical School likens the system to “little satellite dishes […] scattered throughout your body, receiving signals” in order to “keep our other systems in balance.” Take it from him that accomplishing all this is “a major job.”
Retired heart surgeon Dr. David Allen amps up the enthusiasm even further: “[in the future], more people will be saved by manipulation of the endocannabinoid system than are currently saved by surgery.”
Because the ECS’s operation is so universal and integral to the body’s performance, it was actually quite easy for science to overlook. Just think; since you’ve been up today, have you taken time to appreciate all the oxygen around you? Sometimes the things we’re most reliant on are the easiest to ignore!
In the last 25 years however, that’s all changed. The endocannabinoid system was fully discovered around 1994 — and since then we’ve stumbled onto a perfect way to positively manipulate it, as Dr. Allen might say.
While there are many substances (both natural and synthetic) that are proven to alter the ECS and its receptor networks, not many of them are without side effects. The psychoactive cannabinoid THC, for example, definitely unlocks endocannabinoid ‘satellites’ en route to providing some health benefits. But it tends to hit the brain’s CB1 receptors a little too strongly, causing great euphoria and other side effects often deemed discomforting. Synthetic analogs of THC used in lab tests have tended to fare even worse.
Thankfully, nature has provided us a better option for plant-based pain management in the form of CBD! It both ‘activates’ ECS receptors and promotes endocannabinoid production, aiding both sides of the system in its battle against threats to our health and resilience.
As renowned cycling coach Chris Carmichael tells NatuRx magazine, “taking in cannabinoids could be thought of as supplementing or increasing the activity of your body’s existing system.” Going back to the analogy offered above; unlike anti-inflammatories or COX-2 inhibitors, CBD doesn’t try to fight fire with water. Instead it may radically alter the overall environment, making it less conducive to the flames of chronic inflammation in the first place.
But if the ECS is so great, you may be wondering why it doesn’t do all this by itself, and why is added CBD needed at all? That’s a question we’re happy to dive into deeper.
Though the endocannabinoid system is amazing, it’s not bulletproof. Just as our body’s innate ability to regulate blood sugar (via insulin) or bodyweight (via leptin) can be eroded by stress and poor lifestyle choices, modern living can prove antithetical to the ECS’s state of balance.
And so can a challenging workout regimen. Carmichael goes on to explain: “athletes apply greater stress to their bodies […] than the ECS can handle. Adding a cannabinoid may help this overloaded system get neurotransmitters back under control.”
From there, better neurotransmission = better communication = more balance = reduced injuries. If you’re interested in bringing theory to practice, here’s how it can be done.
As you know, the best training plans walk a fine line. Work and rest must be carefully balanced in order to reach that super compensated state where your body becomes stronger and more resilient. Muscle soreness is a frequent companion to athletes who walk this path.
But CBD might just make a great antidote for it. Ditch the NSAID’s and try taking 25mg of CBD (via gel capsules) or a slathering of CBD via topical balm instead. It may take some practice to get your dosing right, so we encourage athletes to try CBD in training before using it pre-race. Many experts recommend starting off with 3 milligram of CBD per 20 pounds of body weight, per day.
In the past, athletes who wanted to harness the relaxing power of cannabinoids had to take a puff of marijuana or two. Not good, and in many places, not even legal.
But times have changed. With CBD, athletes can get a full array of benefits from the hemp plant. The compound has shown to reduce anxiety (and associated stress hormones like cortisol) which can help keep you calm and collected on race day.
Is there any type of problem as difficult to address as those related to sleep? Yet CBD seems to effectively address the mental aspects (anxiety is a frequent culprit) and physical aspects (circadian mismatches) of poor sleep. We know that sleep disturbances are the most common health problem in America. Those with sleep issues are poorly served by prescription and over-the-counter sleeping pills and other pharmaceuticals, which have serious risks.
Given the problems with conventional soporifics, medical scientists have been exploring other ways to improve sleep by targeting the endocannabinoid system (ECS). One insomnia study looking at cannabidiol (CBD) indicated that sleep scores improved within the first month for 66.7% of those studied.
If you’re tired of random aches and pains, have hope. Your endocannabinoid system is geared and ready to help. Activating its inflammation-fighting properties could be as simple as taking CBD consistently.
To prevent joint pain from evolving into anything more serious, a multifaceted approach may be needed. Consider taking ingestible CBD and topical CBD in tandem. And even if severe pain has you turning back to Aleve or Advil, don’t worry. There’s no direct harm that can come with taking NSAIDs and cannabinoids in tandem for short periods of time. But with regular use of CBD, many athletes find that these episodes of discomfort don’t last as long as in the past, and often don’t require additional pain relievers.
Modern research shows that head trauma can cause inflammation within the brain itself. And while the brain doesn’t have any pain receptors (so even if your brain is inflamed you won’t feel it!), this is a seriously big deal.
But CBD comes to the rescue once again. It’s a patented neuroprotectant that has been shown to boost neuroplasticity in more than a few animal models. Venga CBD athlete Barbie Keck experienced these benefits firsthand after a brain tumor gave her dystonia and traumatic seizures. “I started taking CBD and I noticed within a month, that I was having significantly less episodes.”
As an athlete, you’re used to doing all you can to help your body overcome sports injuries and come back stronger. To increase your adaptive powers even further, consider directly targeting your body’s master regulator — the endocannabinoid system — with CBD.