CBD vs. Opioids: Pain Management Landscape

You don’t need us to tell you that the United States is in the middle of an opioid epidemic. But one normally healthy group may be more vulnerable to opioid addiction than most: endurance athletes. Here’s what the research says:

  • “The problem of abuse and addiction to opioid analgesics has emerged as a major issue for the United States in the past decade and has worsened over the past few years.” [NCBI]
  • “Over half (52%) [of NFL players] used opioids during their NFL career with 71% reporting misuse.” [NCBI]
  • “Having an injury, being a varsity athlete, and being male were all significantly associated with NUPO [non-medical use of prescription opioids].” [NCBI]

The above study, which looked at college athletes in particular, described an urgent need “to create effective prevention and intervention programs that target the health and wellness” of athletes.

Which leads us to some much-needed good news: when it comes to health and wellness, we have an underrated ally in CBD!

This hemp-derived plant compound is unique in that it may reduce both the causes and effects of opioid abuse — both the “prevention” and “intervention” sides of the equation. And that’s just the beginning of CBD’s benefits, as we outline here.

The Problem of Pain

cbd for injuryLet’s face it, even athletes who live for the agony and ecstasy of intense training are decidedly less enthusiastic about any pain that they can’t control. It’s one thing to do battle against the weaker parts of yourself as you scale a mountain by foot or several mountains by bike — but it’s another thing entirely to be stuck with unrelenting pain when the only thing you’re doing is sitting on the couch. It’s in those moments when adrenaline has come back to baseline and “runner’s high” (which is endocannabinoid-mediated) has worn off. From there, pain can creep unhindered back to the forefront of one’s awareness.

As you might imagine, it’s in this scenario that athletes are most tempted to turn to fickle pharmaceutical allies like opioids or NSAIDs.

And turn they often do. According to a 2015 review, both opioid and NSAID use are rampant among endurance athletes, even though “the effect of NSAID use on aerobic performance in endurance athletes is unknown.”

Another downside? NSAIDs and opioids alike come with serious side effects. The list includes tiredness, nausea, constipation, respiratory depression, liver and/or kidney damage and others. On top of all that, there’s very little proof of opioids’ effectiveness. A 2015 study states that “evidence is insufficient to determine the effectiveness of long-term opioid therapy for improving chronic pain and function.”

CBD 101

CBD is different. Both scientific research and anecdotal evidence show CBD leads to real pain reduction. Countless CBD users have already experienced just how strongly the plant compound reduces their pain. Many of them get so much better, in fact, that they stop using opioids almost intuitively.

At the heart of these analgesic effects is reduced inflammation. CBD seems to reduce the body’s inflammatory response in several ways, binding to receptors in the glycine, TRPV, and eCB families. It may also reduce known inflammatory markers like the cytokines and interleukins. Basically, CBD helps one’s immune system be more sensitive to itself. In the long term, this often leads to less overall pain. And just think of what that would do for your athletic recovery routine!

Your Nerves on CBD
CBD may benefit athletes with nerve pain, too. Recent research published in the Pain Journal found that “CBD treatment prevented the later development of pain and nerve damage in [osteoarthritic] joints.” The study saw its rodent participants improving to such an extent that they actually started allowing their joints to bear weight again. It’s likely that endurance athletes could benefit from CBD’s neuroprotective qualities in equally promising ways.

“I’ve been an athlete for a long time, training at a pretty competitive level. I have since developed osteoarthritis. I have it in my hips, ankles, feet and hands. But that’s ok because I have Venga CBD to help with this.” ~ Ashley Heller, Professional Obstacle Course Competitor / Spartan Elite Athlete

CBD vs. Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS)

antioxidantAs an endurance athlete, you probably already know about the importance of antioxidants. At the same time, you might be aware that research on supplementing with antioxidants (like vitamin C, for example) has yielded mixed results.

At first glance, it’s kind of intuitive that athletes would benefit from increased antioxidant intake. Because we burn more energy than the average person, we take in more oxygen as a metabolic catalyst. And because we take in more oxygen, we create more oxidized metabolic ‘byproducts’. So what better way to counteract them than by guzzling down fancy antioxidant supplements?

Not so fast. The thing is, oxidative stress should be balanced. Left unchecked it can lead to inflammation and pain, but if erased entirely it could impair our adaptation to exercise.

In light of this, an ideal solution emerges, which is CBD! In some studies, CBD reduces oxidation. In others it actually increases it, all depending on what’s inherently needed by your body. When protection from oxidative stress is really needed — think post-workout, or in neurotoxic situations — “CBD was shown to be more protective than either α-tocopherol or vitamin C…” [NCBI]

Via its effects on the endocannabinoid system, CBD may also work with vasodilators like nitric oxide (NO2) to help the body deal with oxidative stress. More research is definitely needed in this area, but even now we still have some good options. If you enjoy drinking NO2-generating beet juice pre-workout, you may also want to consider some pre-workout CBD.

Cannabinoids and Opioid Addiction

As we’ve come to know, CBD is far from addictive, and in the past several years we’ve learned it may even help quiet down overdeveloped ‘reward pathways’.

Why is this important? Because, while the above benefits are great to understand, they’re not of utmost concern to athletes who’ve already grown dependent on opioids. For these athletes, something more is needed, something which could pull them out of what can be a very biochemically strong addiction.

Thankfully, CBD may be anti-addictive by its very nature. In rodent models of addiction, CBD has shown signs of powerfully reducing drug-seeking behavior — often quickly.

Once again, it’s all made possible by our body’s uniquely omnipresent eCB receptors. As Dr. Dustin Sulak tells Project CBD: “opioid and cannabinoid receptors are [both] present in areas of the brain that have to do with addiction and behavior.” By modulating our endocannabinoid receptors, one may be able to prevent damage to our endo-opioid receptors, too.

Dosing and Dependency

For athletes who feel like they’ve grown a little too dependent on opioids for fighting pain, every step of a dosing strategy can, and should, be carefully considered. In general, one can decrease their opioid dose in a linear fashion while simultaneously increasing their CBD intake at the same rate. Dosing CBD this way is referred to as titration. Going back to Dr. Sulak’s experience, again, “cannabis can treat the symptoms of opioid withdrawal.”

A Better Future

Some things never change. Athletes will always be athletes and push themselves towards new limits, but pain will always be a factor that gets in the way of how we want to train.

We probably can’t change these truths — and we don’t want to. At Venga CBD we simply hope to help endurance athletes change their mindset and opt for a more holistic approach. By taking CBD, the athlete is doing something revolutionary: working with their body’s natural processes, not against them, to get fitter, stronger, and less inflamed.

“My biggest challenge as a coach guiding athletes is keeping them free of injury. I believe CBD serves as an important asset. Venga CBD is far superior to all the other products I’ve researched. Greater bio-availability means you get more CBD in your system.” ~ Richard Diaz, Athletic Performance Coach

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