The medical community usually takes a conservative approach to new trends. The same might be said for their approach to the use of CBD, and cannabis related products, when it comes to treating sport related pain and injury. They want to see the results of long-term studies and evaluations before taking a definite stand.
History tells us that the cannabis plant goes back thousands of years, according to such sources as “The Religious and Medicinal Uses of Cannabis in China, India and Tibet,” published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. The ancient Chinese told of its analgesic benefits over the centuries. It’s not even a new idea for treating pain and injury in modern sports activities. So where or when did sports and medicine really come together?
Sports Medicine dates back to the 5th century, according to NorthEast Spine and Sports Medicine Clinic. “During this time therapeutic exercises were performed at the Olympiads and the Gladiators were assigned a physician.”
However, it wasn’t until the 20th century that sport medicine emerged as a field of its own. The international community recognized the need for preventive medical care for athletes, especially Olympians, but it was not until the 1968 Summer Olympics that the first team physicians were approved.
Sports and exercise medicine, or SEM specialists, diagnose and treat medical conditions which athletes encounter. SEM doctors also advise patients on how to manage, or prevent injuries.
So how is cannabis used to treat sports related pain and injury today?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is “the second most abundant cannabinoid produced by cannabis [and has] little or no psychoactive effects,” according to “The Leafly Guide To Cannabis,” which also states that “those in research and medicine are vigorously experimenting with CBD as a compound with immense pharmacological promise… CBD may also be an effective treatment for pain, inflammation and other conditions.”.
In order to investigate America’s progress and general medical positions on use of CBD in sports, we need to start with a visit to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), located in Indianapolis. They are the world’s largest sports medicine and exercise science organization and have over 50,000 members and certified professionals from around the globe. ACSM is “dedicated to advancing and integrating scientific research to provide educational and practical applications to exercise science and sports medicine,” according to their website, ACSM.org.
Dr. Pamela Peek, an ACSM Fellow and national spokesperson for the organization, was very forthcoming about the status of CBD research and recommendations. “We simply don’t have a position at this time because data is just coming in and we don’t have enough to say for sure.” She goes on to report, “It is a challenging situation because there are so many different compounds on the street so it’s hard to study. It is a real methodological challenge. Look at the history of cannabis. It’s just been in the last few years that all heck has broken loose! We just haven’t looked at it.” She chuckled at the double entendre as she noted the idea of using a “joint” to help with joint pain.
Overall, Peek feels we simply need to do more research.
To treat chronic pain among athletes, she noted that results were difficult to isolate because the athlete might also be using supplements and other compounds, therefore masking the effects of the CBD or cannabis. She could not make a recommendation at this time but is hopeful more studies will help determine the positive effects of CBD and cannabis.
Peek did point out a new and very important study for Northwestern University’s Pharmacology Department, conducted by Doctors R.J. Miller and R.E. Miller, and published in January, 2017. In it they determine that cannabis should be taken seriously as a treatment and shows “a lot of promise.”
In overall studies they reported the effects of cannabinoids on joint disease, stating, “many individuals report they do benefit from their use.”
So there is substantial anecdotal evidence. They go on to say “a recent survey of users in Arizona reported a very high frequency of satisfaction with the results [of cannabinoids],” for fibromyalgia, arthritis and neuropathic pain, which plagues many people on and off the field.
The study’s authors also reported that those who suffered from the latter experienced, “a lot or almost complete pain relief,” and there “was a lower use of other pain relief medications like opioids.” They further indicated that the pre-clinical and human data that does exist indicates cannabis should be taken seriously as a potential treatment for joint pain, calling it “one of the possible and most obvious choices.”
Although cannabis is still a schedule I substance, strangely pure THC is not. Known to doctors as Dronabinol or Marinol in its pharmaceutical form, it is used primarily for nausea. Similar drugs like Nabilone, marketed as Cesamet or Sativax in some countries, is sold for neuropathic pain.
There remains a pressing need to have more non-opioid solutions to pain and injury. For that reason the anecdotal reports are useful. The Northwestern University report also says, “There is a widely held view that natural cannabis may have advantages over pure THC in a number of cases owing to the ‘added value’ of the effects of the other molecules included.”
Overall there seems to be a lot of anecdotal medical support for cannabinoids helping with chronic pain and joint relief, two of the most common problems for athletes. The report states “appropriate cannabinoids are effective in limiting joint pain at both the central and peripheral sites.” They go on to say that, “In adults with chronic pain, patients who were treated with cannabis or cannabinoids were more likely to experience a clinically significant reduction in pain symptoms.”
Because of the still sensitive nature of cannabis and CBD among the medical community, even in California, a number of professionals at top universities and sports clinics declined the opportunity to contribute to this article.
More than 22 million Americans over age 12 are using cannabis or CBD daily. That number is on the rise. Members of the medical community have urged for relaxed regulation on cannabis so that large clinical trials can be conducted in the near future. The availability of medical cannabis is now becoming a reality all across the world. Its effects, which offer so much promise, need to be accurately assessed and reported.
Of course, when it comes to your own concerns about sports-related pain or an injury, it’s always best to consult with your own physician.