The CBD revolution hits Pyeongchang

The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea were the first Games – summer or winter – to be held under the World Anti-Doping Association’s (WADA) new and less restrictive position toward cannabis and cannabis compounds.

WADA announced that it would remove cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive substance, from its prohibited list last year, and this move came into effect on January 1st, 2018.

A substance is required to meet two of the following three criteria to be banned by WADA:

  • It represents a health risk to athletes
  • It could potentially enhance sports performance
  • It’s in violation of the spirit of the sport

Until recently, the studies available was enough to warrant CBD’s place on this list. However, new scientific research has shown that the compound “no longer fulfils two of the three criteria” set by WADA.

WADA has also determined that synthetic cannabidiol is not a cannabimimetic, which is defined as a “substance with similar pharmacological effects to those of cannabis.” The non-intoxicating characteristic of CBD excludes it from being a cannabimimetic.

Synthetic cannabis products such as Spice are still banned, because they are psychoactive. However, while important to clarify, let’s not give dangerous synthetic weed anymore of a profile than necessary, and stick to natural marijuana.

WADA adjusted their THC limits in 2013

In 2013, WADA increased their THC threshold by 10 times, allowing athletes to have up to 150 nanograms per millileter (ng/ml) of THC in their systems. But how does this translate into practical cannabis use?

The Globe and Mail featured a story in which a WADA official explained that it would need a “pretty dedicated cannabis consumer” to fail the 150 ng/ml limit. In contrast, a typical drug test that a U.S. employee would face sets the THC limit between 15 ng/ml (the old WADA threshold) and 100 ng/ml.

Therefore, athletes can now use CBD products pretty freely – however, WADA did make the distinction between cannabis-derived and hemp-derived CBD products. Cannabis-derived CBD products, available in legalized and medicinal states, may also contain enough THC to show up on a drugs test with heavy use. On the other hand, hemp-derived CBD products, which are available in all 50 states, are limited to 0.3% THC, minimizing the risk to athletes.

The global emergence of CBD as an alternative medicine

The CBD market has experienced a stunning rate of growth in recent years, and with increasing validity, its rise looks set to continue. In November 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) took a landmark step, determining that CBD has “no abuse potential” or the ability to “cause harm”.

This change in tone came following a meeting of the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence, at which famous Mexican CBD activist Raúl Elizalde spoke. Elizalde’s daughter, Grace, was Mexico’s first medical cannabis patient.

South Korea, the host of the 2018 Winter Games, is also making medical marijuana advancements, with a bill recently introduced in the country’s National Assembly. In comparison to countries more liberal on cannabis, the South Korean bill, which would reclassify cannabis alongside opiates as a drug that could be used for medical exceptions, is restrictive. However, considering the country has had a long, non-inviting stance towards marijuana, it’s a crucial first step.

The International Olympics Committee (IOC) is still tough on cannabis when it comes to consumption during commission. At the 2014 Games in Sochi, IOC Medical Commission chairman and WADA vice-chairman, Arne Ljungqvist, described cannabis as a “performance-enhancing stimulant.” However, he went on to label the herb as a “socially more or less accepted drug.”

Reading between the lines, providing they aren’t consuming immediately prior to or during competition, Olympians are free to enjoy a smoke now and then, or medicate with marijuana.

How an Olympian may use CBD

Athletes in several physical sports have been reaping the benefits of CBD, since it allows them to medicate with a non-aggressive or addictive substance that isn’t going to make them high. It should be noted that some athletes are also experimenting with THC in their exercise regime, claiming that the psychoactive experience of exercising high is helpful, and that it increases the pain barrier. But this wouldn’t be WADA-approved, so we’ll keep to CBD solutions for now.

Using CBD post-workout

Professional athletes are required to train all-year round. There’s perhaps no such thing as too much exercise, but constant hard yards inevitably take their toll. Tackling inflammation and muscle soreness with aspirins or stronger painkillers on a regular basis is not healthy.

In the past, administering CBD would require smoking some bud and hoping for the best – a naturally-growing plant, there’s no way of knowing exactly how much CBD is on a particular cannabis flower. However, nowadays we have extracts, which are produced to contain consistent amounts of CBD, allowing athletes to medicate with confidence and precision.

A natural analgesic and anti-inflammatory, CBD is an excellent substitute to over-the-counter painkillers and prescribed opioid meds. There are a number of consumption methods. Vaping CBD e-liquid is extremely popular, but so are edibles and also CBD creams, which can be used to efficiently treat muscle soreness, inflammation and localized pain. Creams and vape liquids tend to be fast-acting, as opposed to edibles which last much longer, but can take up to two hours to fully get to work.

Combatting stress with CBD

Olympic athletes understand the difficulties of stress better than most – how many can truly say that they have the weight of a nation on their shoulders? Not many. Specific CBD products gives competitors a way to cope with anxiety and stress without intoxicating them.

CBD is an anxiolytic compound that helps to control anxiety by working with the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is responsible for promoting homeostasis and regulating appetite, mood and memory, amongst other variables. The ECS is also charged with modulating stress levels in the body, something that the administering of CBD can help facilitate. In a straight choice between Xanax and CBD, it’s no wonder so many are opting for the latter.

Managing pain with CBD

Regulating pain perception is a key role of the ECS. While it may not eliminate the source of the pain, CBD can be used to turn attention away from it, to the benefit of athletes generally and post-workout. Chronic pain sufferers have long been lumped with opioid painkillers such as Tramadol, which are addictive and can be dangerous for the user with extended use.

The evidence of CBD’s effectiveness is mounting. A recent Brightfield Group and HelloMD survey found that out of 2,400 CBD using participants, around 1,000 had stopped taking – either OTC or prescription – painkillers to manage their pain. CBD vape oils and topicals are brilliant products for pain management.

Improving sleep with CBD

It’s the night before your big Olympic moment, but you just cannot get to sleep – imagine how many Olympians have been in that situation over the years. In fact, that athletes can get any shuteye before the biggest moment of their lives is remarkable. Indeed, getting enough sleep can be problematic for athletes, with some, such as 17-year-old Red Gerard, who scooped a snowboarding gold medal in Pyeongchang, opting for a Netflix binge to calm his nerves.

But for those who don’t want to spend hours staring at a screen, CBD is just the tonic to get not just sleep, but vital, healing deep sleep. General CBD oils should do the trick, but some companies have shown impressive innovation, infusing relaxing essential oils into their products for added effect. For athletes, whether they’re using standard CBD or special sleep-promoting CBD products, it’s a welcome change from pharmaceutical, and potentially addictive sleeping aids.

Final thoughts

It’s fantastic to see medical cannabis and CBD going mainstream. Hopefully this added attention, and a focus on non-psychoactive alternatives, will lead to even more people making the switch.

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Not Bad by Jamison Choy on May 3, 2022
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