Bicycling (South Africa)
IS CANNABIS THE NEXT SUPER SUPPLEMENT?
AA natural alternative to ibuprofen. An antidote to anxiety. A sleep aid. A postworkout recovery booster. Those are some of the benefits attributed to cannabidiol (CBD), a cannabis extract that’s being widely touted as a health booster that comes without the drawbacks of marijuana. And because of potential legal changes, you’ll probably be hearing even more about CBD in the next few years. Already, a growing number of athletes consider CBD a key part of their regimen. But before you add it to yours, here’s what you need to know.
// WHAT IS CBD?
Cannabidiol is one of more than 100 cannabinoids found in cannabis. CBD products are said to deliver their many claimed benefits by boosting the body’s endocannabinoid system, which “is a unique signalling pathway that controls the function of a variety of systems throughout the body, including the cardiovascular system,” says Nicholas DiPatrizio, PhD, a professor of biomedical sciences at the University of California School of Medicine. Endocannabinoids may be familiar to you because of their theorised role in exercise-induced mood boosts.
That euphoric phenomenon is thought to be from activation of the same receptors in the brain that the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in marijuana acts upon. CBD “works through distinct – albeit not definitively identified – signalling systems from THC,” DiPatrizio says.
// THE CLAIMS
Advocates say it helps with a wide variety of conditions, from anxiety and insomnia to inflammation and nausea. Because of the workings of the endocannabinoid system, there is at least a theoretical basis for these claims. So far, though, there’s scant clinical evidence for the claimed benefits of CBD. In June 2018, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the first CBD drug, Epidiolex, for treating seizures associated with two rare forms of epilepsy. Otherwise, the FDA doesn’t consider CBD products to be dietary supplements – manufacturers can’t claim the products will diagnose, treat, or cure any diseases. Instead, CBD product literature contains phrases like ‘restore vitality’, ‘relax and recover’, and ‘may keep healthy people healthy’. DiPatrizio says, “There may be some benefits outside of improving epilepsy outcomes, but a lot more research is required.” For the foreseeable future, athletes interested in CBD’s effectiveness will have to rely on anecdotal, subjective reports.
// WHAT ATHLETES AND EXPERTS SAY
In our research, those anecdotal reports are overwhelmingly positive. For one thing, many athletes appreciate that CBD is a natural product. “I don’t like to take stuff like ibuprofen or prescription medications,” says Andrew Talansky, professional triathlete and former Tour de France rider. Talansky says that his sleep improved almost immediately when he started taking CBD daily. Soon after, he was also less anxious about transitioning from pro cycling to his new sport, felt that he recovered more quickly from hard training, and had fewer flare-ups of his old cycling injuries. Now he encourages other athletes to try CBD, in part “to get rid of the association with smoking weed”, he says. “It’s completely different.” Dan Frey, a physical therapist, says that his patients report the most success using CBD to treat long-term trouble spots rather than acute injury sites. Frey, who doesn’t prescribe medication or supplements, says his conversations about CBD are initiated by patients. Many also tell Frey they find it helps with pain management, especially when used in conjunction with other treatments such as massage and a targeted strengthening and mobility programme. CBD coupled with stretching, icing, and foam rolling is a common treatment plan for knee injuries, says Dr Charles Bush-Joseph, a professor of orthopaedics at Rush University Medical Centre. While more research is needed, many believe that it helps prevent muscle and collagen breakdown, he says. If this trend goes mainstream (as it seems it will), cyclists may soon find CBD products as common as a pair of compression socks.