Known as one of the toughest sports on an athlete’s body, the average length of a professional football player’s career is under 4 years. Even aside from regular injuries, the wear and tear of the game takes its toll on both muscles and joints. Because of this, many players are often over prescribed pain relievers, and opioids to recover not only from games but the ongoing daily training. Obtaining a quality sleep is the second area many athletes look for assistance with, as pain and poor sleep are closely related and can be a vicious cycle.
At Apollo, we have seen and helped countless professional athletes in almost every sport from hockey, baseball, and football to boxing and mixed martial arts. We talked with 10 NFL players and other pro athletes who wanted to share their experience with CBD and medical cannabis for recovery, training, and pain management. The average age of these players is just 31 years old.
What is the biggest impact of using cannabis and exercising for you?
“CBD allows me to exercise and be competitive. I don’t have any cartilage in a lot of my joints so I am constantly in pain without even trying to play. But the use of CBD is the one thing I have found that allows me to compete without being in a lot of pain.” – J.I.
CBD Legalization For Athletes
As research has grown around the medicinal and healing benefits of CBD, more professional athletes and associated organizations have begun pushing to legalize its use among players. As of 2018, the World Anti-Doping Agency removed CBD from it’s prohibited substance list for athletes, with the US Anti-doping Agency following suit. In 2020, the NFL updated it’s drug policy with The Player’s Association by including a new deal in their Collective Bargaining Agreement to allow players to use CBD.
Since, many ex-pro athletes have begun opening up about their usage of medical cannabis and have become spokespersons/investors in the medical cannabis industry by even starting their own CBD companies for athletes.
“By having a trusted NFL player praise their products, these CBD brands are hoping football fans will open their minds to CBD. Brands want consumers to make the connection that if CBD can help former pro athletes who were tackled and concussed for years, perhaps it can help after a tough workout or stressful day.” 1
CBD has begun becoming a discussion point in many national sport leagues now, with MMA, tennis, FIFA, and Olympic athletes becoming spokespeople for their strong beliefs in how beneficial this can be for fellow athletes struggling.
American tennis star John Isner signed an endorsement deal earlier this week with the sports performance drink company Defy, becoming the sport’s first player to ink a deal with a CBD company. The drink is promoted as a muscle recovery aid.5
“I know some of these guys … You look at the sacrifice and the things they did, and it goes against everything that you’ve been taught, that you’re lazy, unfocused, you get the munchies, you’re not going to accomplish much. These guys graduated from high school, got a scholarship, got degrees, they excelled, and came into the NFL and had long careers, and they were medicating and using cannabis all the way through.” – M.W. 7
Weed & Exercise: How Are Athletes Using Medical Cannabis?
“I like to use an indica to help me rest and control my pain or inflammation.” – T.G.
Depending on preference and needed relief, we found ex-pro athletes use a wide variety of ingestion methods when using medical cannabis. From the 10 active and retired pro athletes we talked to, ingesting oils and applying topicals were the most common way of obtaining relief, being chosen by 9 of the 10. The second most common was vaporizing cannabis flower.
Many stated they take it both before and after exercise, allowing them to both train harder and longer while providing a less painful recovery experience afterward. Andrew Talansky, a professional cyclist switched from common pharmaceuticals like ibuprofen to CBD in 2017 after obtaining a strained hip flexor.
“I took it for a couple of weeks, and there was a noticeable difference immediately,” Talansky says. “And it wasn’t just that my hip was feeling better. I was less anxious, and I was sleeping better.” 6
Benefits of CBD for Athletes
Many talented athletes end up cutting their careers short because of ongoing and severe injuries. When asked what conditions and injuries CBD helps them with, 5 of the 10 players said pain management, 4 mentioned mood and anxiety, and 8 stated for recovery and sleep.
Joint pain and migraines were two of the biggest causes when looking for pain management.
“Sleep and recovery are the main reasons I use medical cannabis, and they are often intertwined. If you have an injury, you can’t sleep – if you can’t sleep, you can’t recover.”
Q: What would you want other athletes to know about cannabis & sports?
“It’s an amazing alternative to pharmaceutical drugs & painkillers.” – J.I.
“We need to work to remove the stigma by helping people learn and be educated on the topic.” – T.M.
“Athletes are using it anyway. We should be expanding the knowledge on why and how it is useful for those who are looking for a better way to recover.” – D.
Opioid & NSAID Usage by Athletes
One Washington University study found that retired NFL players use painkillers at four times the rate of the general population. 52% of retired players said they had used opioids, and 71% of those individuals fitted the criteria for misuse.2
Over-usage of over-the-counter pain relievers, as well as prescribed opioids, can be quite damaging to an individual’s organs and body when used chronically to treat daily pains and injuries that athletes often endure. Many people rely on NSAIDS (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) daily, as they provide both pain relief and reduce inflammation. Unfortunately, long term use can cause extensive health risks related to heart attacks and strokes, stomach issues and ulcers, kidney damage, and liver damage among others.
In 2017, a lawsuit was placed against the National Football League that describes a disregard for player’s safety and federal guidelines when handling narcotics and painkillers and was filed by more than 1,800 former players. The complaint alleges doctors and trainers negligently supplied narcotics and anti-inflammatory painkillers to keep players on the field. The plaintiffs go on to document instances of players on the 32 teams allegedly being provided with painkillers without their knowledge or without being warned about potential side effects.3
The Endocannabinoid System
How can cannabis help with so many conditions and symptoms? All humans are born with what is called the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which wasn’t discovered until 1992 due to a lack of research around cannabinoids. This system contains receptors through our entire body, and in many of our major organs. The ECS helps regulate things like our sleep, mood, appetite, and much more. While our human body creates our own endocannabinoids, phytocannabinoids are cannabinoids that occur naturally in the cannabis plant and by acting on the same receptors, can help bring our body back to homeostasis.
“The most commonly researched derivatives of cannabis are Δ9 -tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD), which both act on the CB1 and CB2 receptors. CB1 is primarily expressed in the nervous system whilst CB2 is more restricted in its expression; found predominantly on immune cells.”4
Providing Medical Cannabis For Our Athletes
At Apollo, we have helped serve a wide variety of athletes from retired pros to recreational players who are looking to recover and relieve inflammation after a game or workout. The way CBD can reduce inflammation in our bodies with little to no side effects has been a huge help for many of our patients that were reliant on traditional painkillers and over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or Advil.
Don’t let pain get in your way when it comes to enjoying your favourite sports and activities. If you or someone you know has been dealing with pain or inflammation and have been considering cannabis as a treatment option, we offer free medical cannabis appointments with an Apollo healthcare practitioner across Canada. To book your free virtual appointment, you can fill out a form here or give us a call at (tel:8775609195) 877-560-9195 to speak with our bookings team. See you soon!