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The Unknowns of CBD Products: Performance Enhancer?

By Jessie Tobin 

Back in 2018, Auburn walk-on C.J Harris was ruled ineligible by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) because of his medicinal use of cannabidiol (CBD) oil. The young football player from Georgia suffers from epileptic seizures and uses CBD as a natural treatment. CBD oil helped his epilepsy episodes but pushed away his dreams of playing for Auburn.

“When I read the text that one of the coaches sent me, I just broke down,” Harris told WXGA News. “Because this is my dream, and I saw everything lining up perfectly for me.”

There has been an ongoing debate about the benefits and impacts marijuna can have mentally and physically. In 1970, marijuna was classified as a Schedule l drug, which is defined as a drug with no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Fast forward to today where marijuana’s therapeutic benefits are widely acknowledged – many nations have made it legal and there are currently 11 states in the U.S that have completely legalized it. But what does this mean for young people, especially those who play collegiate sports in states where marijuana is legal?

The NCAA banned drugs include anabolic agents, stimulants, alcohol, beta blockers, narcotics, cannabinoids, peptide hormones, growth factors, mimetics hormone and metabolic modulators, and beta-2 agonists. They test Division l and ll collegiate athletess yearly and spend nearly $6 million annually on drug testing and education. 

In June of last year, the NCAA decided to increase THC testing thresholds in order to prevent those who have inhaled cannabis via secondhand smoke from triggering a positive test and facing penalties. Also, to recognize the rise of the drug being legalized in more states and becoming more commercialized.

“The decision is based on the science that pertains to passive inhalation,” said Douglas Ramos, who was chairman of Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports at the time. “The committee didn’t want to place the threshold too high and imply that the NCAA condones cannabis use. This is a health and safety issue — even though it is now more accepted nationally and societally, there are some detrimental effects.”

An article from the NCAA and Sports Science Institute, said that the percentage of student-athletes who use marijuana has remained relatively flat over the last 10 years. 

A study conducted a couple years back by the NCAA looked at marijuana use and grades; they found that student-athletes who have used marjiuna in the last 30 days reported failing grades at three times the rate of those who don’t use. In this same study they stated that, “marijuana use is implicated in exacerbating symptoms of anxiety, depression and schizophrenia, and those at risk of developing schizophrenia will have worsening symptoms if they use marijuana.”

Athletes are not allowed to have any tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in their system which means they can not use any type of medical cannabis. Student-athletes caught with traces of THC in their drug samples can lead to serious repercussions and even suspension. When a student-athlete tests positive in a drug test they will first lose one year of eligibility and a second positive test will lead to the loss in remaining eligibility. 

“You think about the cannabis plant, marjiuana, it really has a lot of different ingredients but two primary ones,” explained American neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta on DoctorOz. “One is THC, that is the recreational drug, it is what gets people high and gives them that euphoria. And there’s CBD, which is cannabidiol, it doesn’t cause a psychoactive component, it is believed to be a medicine and has been used as a medicine in decades past.” 

According to Healthline, preliminary research of the effects of CBD suggests it may help reduce inflammation and pain. Other effects CBD can have on individuals include promoting the healing of skeletal injuries, ease anxiety, and relieve stress. 

CBD is no longer prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency and appears to be safe and well-tolerated in humans but is still listed with banned drugs in the NCAA. Though there still needs to be controlled studies conducted with athletes down the road, according to a research study by Sports Medicine-Open, CBD has been reported to exert a number of physiological, biochemical, and psychological effects that have the potential to benefit athletes. 

Many student-athletes suffer from injuries and are prescribed pain medication to help ease the pain. When nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like Ibuprofen or Advil, no longer help, student-athletes may be prescribed opioids. Opioids help to relieve acute pain, but are not great for long term treatment since people can build a tolerance and become addicted. 

Though athletes could use CBD oil by just applying it to their skin to relieve muscle tension or pain. Most commonly people use CBD oils to help with chronic pain from injuries, anxiety, and sleeping disorders like insomnia. There is potential for this to be a better long term alternative for athletes who suffer from injuries or surgery. In other severe cases, CBD oil has proven to help children and young adults who suffer from seizures. 

According to an article by Harvard Health publishing from April this year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate the safety and purity of CBD dietary supplements and no one knows the most effective therapeutic dose of CBD for any particular medical condition.

It’s unclear if we will soon see collegiate athletes able to use CBD oil for medicinal purposes. More answers will hopefully be revealed after more research is conducted on the athletic population. But for now, athletes who suffer from pre-existing conditions, mental health disorders, chronic pain, or even sleep disorders are going to have to stick with the good old over the counter prescription medications.

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