19 Oct CBD and Rugby: An Exciting New Territory
CBD is used by a growing number of professional rugby players as a natural alternative to painkillers. However, if CBD is to become mainstream, more long-term studies into its safety are needed, and players must be educated about the risks of an anti-doping breach.
Natural Pain Relief
Rugby is one of the most physically demanding sports in the world. Recovery relies on strength and conditioning work, nutrition, rest and sleep – but some players find that this isn’t enough.
Many players take painkillers regularly due to the constant load placed on the body. Painkillers may be non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which are known for causing gut issues and should not be taken for long periods or on an empty stomach – however, some players resort to very strong opioids like Tramadol, which is addictive.
So, if a natural product like CBD is available which may offer some benefits, players are likely to be interested in trying it.
The Need for Education
Last year, Liverpool John Moores University conducted a study into CBD use among 517 professional rugby players. Most of them had never used it, but a quarter had at least once, and 8% continued to do so. The benefits reported included:
- improved sleep
- pain relief
- reduced inflammation
Professor Graeme Close, an advisor to the England rugby team, worked on this study and says that players need to be educated about the risks of an anti-doping breach, despite CBD not being on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of banned substances.
“The fact players aren’t getting qualified advice is worrying,”Professor Close explains.
“In the hemp plant there’s well over 100 cannabinoids. Only one of them isn’t prohibited by Wada and all the others are. So if an athlete is taking CBD, we need to know that they’re taking it from a source where we know there are no other cannabinoids in there that would fail an anti-doping test.”
Establishing the Safety of CBD
Naturecan has partnered with Liverpool John Moore’s University and the CBD Research team led by Professor Close. Moyra Cosgrove, Head of Nutrition at Naturecan, is working towards her Professional Doctorate in this team, specifically on the potential use of CBD in athletes.
“Naturecan realises that its success is built on consumer safety and confidence in the brand,” she says. “The research being done at LJMU will answer some of the essential questions around the use of CBD.”
As things stand, athletes need to be aware of the anti-doping risks associated with CBD, and it’s recommended that they take qualified advice on the use of any supplement, including CBD.
“If we can establish that it’s safe from a health perspective, we can eventually work out if it’s going to accumulate the non-CBD cannabinoids which are still prohibited by Wada,” says Professor Graeme Close.
“Then we might have an exciting new avenue to help with pain relief, sleep, and muscle regeneration – three really important things. There’s also some literature in animal models that it might help with brain injury – concussion.”
While clubs and governing bodies do mention CBD in anti-doping talks, Professor Close feels that the issue needs to be confronted more directly with players.
“The worst thing we could do is ignore, put our heads in the sand and not have these conversations,” he says.
“We need to explain to the athletes the anti-doping rule violation risks. We need to explain that the safety studies haven’t been done so we need to have that little bit of caution.
“But I also think we need to be a little bit excited because this is one of the most exciting and novel areas of sports nutrition research I’ve seen in 20 years as an academic working in sports nutrition.”
More about Professor Graeme Close
A former professional Rugby League player, Graeme is a Professor of Human Physiology at Liverpool John Moores University.
He is also a nutrition consultant to England Rugby, Everton FC and Nottingham Forest, and the Head of Performance Nutrition for the Lawn Tennis Association and European Tour Golf.
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