Juicy Fields explores the analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties of cannabis and how it could help athletes struggling with pain.
Running 10 plus laps or dashing 100 meters at record speed can leave the body in aches and pain. Do this daily or several times a week, and you may need the help of an analgesic to deal with the pain and inflammation.
Using this example, it is easy to understand why many renowned athletes have fallen victim to opiates, NSAIDs, and acetaminophen drugs. What starts as a means to boost speedy recovery ends up being a hard-to-kick habit.
Unfortunately, the opioids crisis stretches beyond professional sports, with 70 per cent of the reported 0.5 million drug-related deaths reported in the World Drug Report 2021 attributed to opiates.
There is a growing need to find effective, non-addictive alternatives to help athletes deal with pain and inflammation.
Something that can be seamlessly incorporated into their wellness regime without posing a risk to their health and, most importantly, their lives. Could cannabis be the solution?
This piece explores the analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties of cannabis and how they can be utilised in the sports world.
Cannabis, athletes, and pain – can it work?
Cannabis has long been a controversial topic. Its usage is still illegal in many countries, while it has been legalised for both medical and recreational use in others.
The debate around its benefits and harms, risks and advantages continues. That notwithstanding, there is one area cannabis proves to be of great help: pain management.
Anecdotal and scientific evidence has over the years indicated that cannabis has potent analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. Additionally, it has an impressive safety profile. This makes the plant the ideal substitute for Opioids, acetaminophen, and NSAIDs.
A 2016 study by researchers at the University of Michigan found that cannabis users experienced a 64 percent reduction in opioid use.
Another one, published in January 2018, found that medical marijuana laws were associated with lower opioid-related hospitalisations and deaths rates.
Cannabis can also help inflammation, one of the leading causes of pain for many athletes. In a 2017 study, participants overwhelmingly agreed that cannabis offers the same level of pain management properties as opioids but without the numerous adverse effects.
What other ways does cannabis help athletes?
Cannabis can help one sleep. A night of good sleep is necessary for recovery from intense athletic training. In addition to helping one fall asleep faster, cannabis may make your REM cycles deeper and more restorative, according to a 2019 report in The Permanente Journal.
Cannabis’s anti-inflammatory properties also improve muscle recovery after exercise, which is crucial for maintaining performance over time without injury. Cannabis can improve moods.
Athletes are constantly under pressure to perform at their optimum best. The increased pressure to become the best often leads to stress, depression, and performance anxiety. Consuming cannabis has been identified as an effective way of alleviating these feelings and boosting a positive mentality.
Cannabis and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a condition that is commonly associated with athletes whose sport includes constant head trauma. It is a progressive brain condition often affecting boxing, football, wrestling, hockey, and rugby players.
This condition is characterised by numerous adverse side effects, such as suicidal thoughts, depression, memory issues, chronic pain, and overly aggressive behaviour.
There are currently numerous animal-based studies that suggest that cannabis can be an effective tool in combating the damage to the brain and alleviating some of the symptoms – pain, depression, and negative thoughts.
A study exploring the neuroprotective and antioxidant capabilities of THC and CBD indicated that the cannabinoids were capable of countering glutamate excitotoxicity, which causes the deterioration or death of neurons following a traumatic brain injury.
Another study conducted by Dent Neurologic Institute in Buffalo explored the effectiveness of cannabis in combating chronic pain associated with concussions. The results indicated that 80% of the participants experienced improved symptoms.
Is cannabis allowed in sports?
Despite the numerous studies indicating the significant role cannabis plays in restoring health and wellness for athletes, the plant remains top on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s prohibited drugs list. The reasons behind the ban include the unsubstantiated claim that cannabis enhances performance.
The second reason contradicts the first one, claiming that cannabis consumption causes slowed reactions, thus posing a danger to oneself and others during competitions. The last reason for the ban is that athletes are society’s role models, and consuming cannabis tarnishes that image.
As more experts call for changes in regulations, major sports leagues have considerably eased their cannabis laws.
For example, the NBA players are no longer subjected to random drug tests, the NHL and the MLB treat a positive cannabis test as they would a positive alcohol test, and the NFL reduced the cannabis testing window to two weeks from four months and replaced suspensions with fines.
On 1 February, 2022, the NFL announced they would be funding the University of California San Diego and the University of Regina with $1 million to investigate the effectiveness of cannabis on pain management and neuroprotection resulting from concussions in football players, respectively.
Athletes subject their bodies to extreme strain that leaves them with aches and pain. Those in high-impact sports end up with more than just painful muscles – concussions that may lead to CTE. For centuries, cannabis has been used to treat body aches, pain, and inflammation.
Past and current studies support the analgesic, neuroprotective, and anti-inflammatory properties of cannabis. Although there have been strict rules and regulations in the competitive sports segment in the past, a change, albeit gradual, can be seen happening. Cannabis provides a safer, easy to administer, cheaper, and effective alternative to opioids and other pain medications.
The global opioid crisis has taken millions of lives, including those of promising athletes. Finding a better alternative is imperative.
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