Is CBD a valid treatment option for athletes?

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Are you an athlete, or exercise regularly? You may find yourself experiencing extra aches and pains — and if your training schedule is heavy this can affect you in more ways than just muscle aches or injuries. CBD may be a valid option for you, for pain relief and treatment of other exercise related issues.

In this blog post, we discuss whether medicinal cannabis is an approved treatment option for athletes, how CBD can help sportspeople alongside scientific research, and what some internationally regarded sportspeople have said around medicinal cannabis use as a treatment option.

Is CBD currently approved for sports?

Currently, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WAPA) does not prohibit the use of CBD, however THC is still banned. This means that athletes need to make sure the CBD product they use is a high quality isolate that has been thoroughly tested for traces of THC and other cannabinoid compounds, or they risk testing positive for banned substances such as THC by WAPA.

How can CBD help sports people?

The physical demands of professional sport can be very taxing for the body. Research suggests during periods of heavy training, athletes can have decreased immunity to illness, anxiety due to physical pressure, they sleep less, and gastro-intestinal damage due to reduced oxygen and nutrient delivery, additional to aches and injuries we often associate with sports. Currently, athletes treat their symptoms with medication such as pain killers, anti-inflammatory medication and other medications that can lead to addiction issues. Some helpful medicines are banned within the sports world too, meaning the treatment options are limited. The positive effects of medicinal cannabis such as being anti-inflammatory are known to help negate symptoms like those listed above. 

What does the research say about CBD and athletes?

One of the most common complaints from exercise is muscle aches, pains and injuries. Although inflammation is part of the healing process, excess inflammation contributes to these aches and pains, and can make movement difficult. Research has reported that CBD may work as an anti-inflammatory to help control the body’s inflammatory response to injury.


Pain is another issue athletes may experience with injuries and muscle aches. CBD research indicates that it may have a sedative effect on humans due to the way it interacts with the nervous system. It also may have an effect on treating swelling and muscle soreness symptoms, but more evidence is required to support this.

GI Issues

Gastro-intestinal issues are commonly reported among athletes. Although exercise increases blood supply to many parts of the body, some organs (including the gastro-intestinal tract) experience reduced blood supply and nutrient delivery. During prolonged exercise this can have negative effects that inhibit performance. Preclinical studies have indicated CBD may help prevent damage to tissues, and restore the ability for intestines to function if they’ve been under stress.

Sleep Troubles

Sleep is an important factor in the body’s recovery and repair. Overtraining can even lead to sleep disorders. Athletes have claimed their sleep has improved after taking CBD, and they have felt they have recovered from injuries faster and had reduced muscle pain. Preclinical studies indicate CBD may help the body recover from sleep disorders and help people experience less sleep disturbances.


Some research has indicated athletes may experienced decreased immunity, making them at risk of developing acute illnesses. This is likely connected to the physical stress of exercise, combined with the sleep troubles, gastro issues and low energy availability. In-vitro studies have indicated CBD may have an antimicrobial effect on certain Staphylococcus strains, however this has not yet been replicated in research studies with humans.

What have sports people said about using medicinal cannabis?

Former All Black Jerome Kaino sees improvement in his knee inflammation that comes after a big training session. He said he used to rely on anti-inflammatory medication but would have a major reaction to the medication in his gut. He attributes being able to continue playing rugby for so long to using medicinal cannabis.

Retired Scottish rugby player Jim Hamilton has said of traditional painkillers: “I lived on them, especially at the back end of my career, I was taking anti-inflammatories daily. Almost like a course of vitamins just to get through the week. And because of that I still carry around gut pain.” He has also found it helps with sleep and inflammation.

Meghan Rapinoe, a well known American soccer player, suffered a series of knee injuries earlier in her career. She says CBD helps her manage her pain and recover faster, due to it helping her get a better night’s sleep. Rapinoe sees it as a natural alternative to addictive opioid medication. Her sister, Rachael, was also a soccer player and suffered knee injuries. Rachael has since started her own medicinal cannabis company, aiming to provide athletes a trustworthy product they can use instead of traditional painkillers.

Can CBD enhance performance in sport?

As this is a relatively new topic to explore, studies on the effect of CBD on an athlete’s performance aren’t yet available. Many sports leagues claim that CBD is ok for use as it does not enhance an athlete’s performance. Looking at other research so far, the benefits of CBD all occur in the recovery time. Studies looking at the effects of THC indicate it actually inhibits an athletes performance, so that is something to keep in mind.

If you feel you might benefit from taking CBD to manage pain and inflammation, click the link below to get in contact with us to see if this might be right for you.












Disclaimer – medicinal cannabis and CBD oil are unapproved medicines in NZ which means that there is no conclusive evidence for their effect, apart from Sativex. Many doctors do not routinely prescribe cannabis medicines. The above article was written for general educational purposes and does not intend to suggest that medicinal cannabis can be used to treat any health condition. Please consult with your healthcare provider. 

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