Some soccer (aka “football”) fans still may remember the day Diego Maradona celebrated a goal like a madman during the 1994 World Cup in the United States. After his goal against Greece in the group stages of the tournament, Maradona ran towards a TV camera with a maniacal Jack Nicholson in ‘The Shining’ look on his face. In an extraordinary scene, he was led off the pitch at the end of the next game by a nurse, where he submitted to a drug test. Maradona tested positive for the banned substance ephedrine, and his career was effectively over.
Marijuana is also classified as an illegal drug, and any soccer player who tests positive for it at the 2018 World Cup will be banned. However, this won’t be the case for cannabidiol (CBD) users, as the cannabis compound was taken off the banned substance list by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in what could be a game-changing move.
Why Would Players Use CBD?
The World Cup tournament comes at the end of a long, hard season for soccer players around the globe. Players in European and South American leagues in particular take part in over 50 high-intensity games per season. Many of these leagues finish just weeks before the World Cup, and the players have little rest before being called up to play for their countries. Moreover, they have to play “warm-up” games before the tournament, and the winners of the tournament will play seven games in little over a month – a grueling schedule, no matter what kind of elite shape you’re in.
The influx of money into soccer, and other professional sports leagues, coupled with almost constant coverage of matches, means that players are under immense pressure to perform at their peak level every at any given moment. This is impossible for individuals forced to play multiple high-intensity games in a short space of time. Professional athletes often compete while not at 100%, and this exacerbates the problem. This is one of the main reasons why they take performance-enhancing drugs and “pharmaceutical cocktails” that mask the pain.
CBD is potentially a natural solution to the travails of the modern professional athlete. There is an increasing body of evidence to show that CBD is anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, and capable of alleviating and relieving pain. How often have you heard about players being injected with painkillers in order to complete a game? With CBD, there is no need to place the players in harm’s way.
How CBD Benefits Soccer Players & Other Professional Athletes
CBD is second only to THC in terms of abundance in the cannabis plant, and it is the most prevalent compound in industrial hemp. Like all cannabinoids, CBD works with your body’s naturally occurring compounds in the endocannabinoid system, or ECS. This system comprises numerous receptors throughout your body which are activated by plant-based phytocannabinoids (such as CBD), or the body’s own naturally occurring cannabinoids (such as anandamide and 2-AG).
CBD acts indirectly on the two main ECS receptors, which are called CB1 (mainly located in the nervous system and brain) and CB2 (located primarily in the immune system). CBD does not bind to these receptors directly like THC. Instead, it indirectly stimulates them and helps the body to maintain a sense of balance, also known as homeostasis. As a result, it could help World Cup players in a variety of ways:
CBD Acts as an Anti-Inflammatory
A study by the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) Laboratory for Integrative Neuroscience discovered that CBD has significant anti-inflammatory properties because it targets certain receptors. According to the study’s authors, CBD “significantly suppress(es) chronic inflammatory and neuropathic pain [in rodents], without causing analgesic (pain-relieving) tolerance .”
It Could be a Powerful Pain Reliever
Constant physical activity will wear down even the fittest and most conscientious athlete. Instead of having to use prescription medication laden with side effects, the player could use CBD and benefit from a natural pain reliever with a significantly lower risk of side effects.
Could Reduce Anxiety
This might be fantastic news for the England soccer team! How often have we seen an English player mess up their kick during a penalty shootout? A well-known study found that, when people with a fear of public speaking consumed CBD, they benefited from a significant reduction in anxiety. If England face Germany in another penalty shootout, perhaps having CBD in their toolkit will help Harry Kane and company to actually come out victorious!
CBD Could Reduce Stress Hormones Released via Physical Activity
Our adrenal glands are responsible for producing hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline, and aldosterone. When we engage in physical activity, our adrenal system, along with the rest of the body, has to work harder and the adrenal glands release an increased level of cortisol into the bloodstream. A study by the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil discovered that CBD potentially reduces secretion of cortisol, which means less of it in the blood, and ultimately less stress during a “fight or flight” response.
Will American Sports Catch Up?
While global soccer superstars such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have the option of taking CBD at the World Cup in Russia, the likes of LeBron James and Drew Brees don’t have the same luxury. Why? Because the WADA decision, made in September 2017, does not necessarily impact American sports organizations.
Take the NFL for example – a league where players experience serious, debilitating injuries. Back in March 2017, 1,800 former players sued the NFL for breaking federal drug laws by feeding them cocktails of meds so that they could stay on the field.
It is a fact that prescription medication is abused in the NFL, and it causes ex-pros a lot of medical issues after their careers have ended (and sometimes while they are still active). NFL policy states that marijuana, and all its products, which includes CBD, are banned at a threshold of 35 ng/ml.
Meanwhile, former NBA commissioner David Stern is on record saying that he believes weed should “probably be removed from the banned substance list,” where it has been cemented in the organization since 1999.
Final Thoughts on CBD’s New Status in the World of Sport
WADA’s decision is a huge boost for CBD. All we need now is for a major soccer superstar to come out and say that CBD has had a huge positive impact, and we will no doubt see an explosion in the market’s growth!
It is a common sense move by WADA, because CBD is not psychoactive and it does not contribute to the illegal enhancement of sports performance. Instead, it could help athletes recover a little faster and reduce the level of wear and tear they endure.
It is important to note that the ban on cannabis itself remains in place: CBD is the only cannabinoid that can be used legally. While THC and CBD are chemically distinct, they are also closely related, which means the onus is on WADA’s drug testing teams to understand the difference. They both come from the same plant and have an almost identical molecular formula. The difference is that CBD has an extra hydroxyl group attached; this is what prevents it from being psychoactive.
Ted Simon, Ph.D., is the University of Georgia’s adjunct professor of environmental health science and he is confident that WADA will be able to distinguish between CBD and THC because the metabolic markers that come from processing them in the kidney and liver should be enough to differentiate them. Therefore, we shouldn’t have to worry about a footballing star getting wrongly busted for marijuana use, when in fact he only used CBD.
However, no World Cup player has come out publicly and admitted to using CBD to date. While WADA has relaxed its regulations, it is now up to soccer players to spread the word about cannabidiol. Hopefully, enough players will speak about its positive benefits to persuade other sports organizations (such as the NFL and NBA) to overturn their bans on the compound.