A growing amount of professional sports players across various disciplines like soccer, cycling, and marathon running are embracing the use of cannabis to alleviate pain caused by injuries and facilitate the healing process. Previously, the anecdotal evidence around the potential benefits of cannabis was substantial, however, empirical evidence was lacking. Today, a groundbreaking clinical trial aims to address this gap.
The National Football League (NFL) recently announced funding for a novel clinical trial focused on assessing the therapeutic efficacy, and any possible adverse effects, of THC, CBD, and a combination of the two for treating post-competition pain caused by soft tissue injury.
The trial is being led by Mark Wallace, MD, a pain management specialist and director of the Center for Pain Medicine at UC San Diego Health, and Thomas Marcotte, PhD, professor of psychiatry at the University of California School of Medicine and co-director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research (CMCR) at UC San Diego.
The randomized, double-blind trial will involve testing and monitoring of professional rugby players. Rugby was picked for the first test because it has similar injuries to NFL players and is easier to organize.
Athletes with pain after a game will be given either THC, CBD, a mix of both, or a fake treatment. They will use it up to four times a day for 48 hours. Their pain scores will be self-reported via a cell phone application at regular intervals during those 48 hours.
Practicing, competing, and living with pain are unavoidable parts of a professional athlete’s life. To reduce pain, people have been using prescription pain medications like opioids for a long time. However, the medical community is increasingly looking towards cannabis as a safer pharmacological alternative for pain relief.
Wallace, a doctor at UC San Diego, uses medical cannabis in his medical practice. “We will build on the CMCR research and our clinical experience to translate efficacy and safety for sports injury recovery,” Wallace stated.
The researchers think that THC and THC/CBD combinations will be better than CBD and placebo for reducing pain. They also think that CBD alone will be better than a placebo. However, Wallace stresses that they cannot be sure until the study is completed and the data analyzed.
Studies investigating whole cannabis and THC have generally shown either null or detrimental effects on exercise performance in strength and aerobic-type activities. However, investigations of sufficient rigor and validity to conclusively declare ergogenic (drugs that can enhance athletic performance) or ergolytic (drugs that impair performance) potential in athletes is lacking.
In contrast to cannabis and THC, CBD has been studied for its potential to aid in recovery. The beneficial effects of CBD on sleep quality, pain, and mild traumatic brain injury may be of particular interest to certain athletes.
The effects are pertinent for both researchers and practitioners given the widespread use of these products and their potential to interact with athletes’ performance and recovery. However, further research is needed in these areas to fully understand the potential benefits and risks of cannabis use in the athletic community.
With the increased use of cannabis-based products by the public for both recreational and medical use, it’s crucial for sports medicine clinicians to be informed of the historical context, current legal considerations, and existing evidence with regard to efficacy, safety, and risks in the athletic community.
The research into the potential benefits and risks of cannabis use in sports medicine is ongoing. With the increasing acceptance of cannabis as a potential therapeutic aid, the future of sports medicine could potentially see a shift towards more natural, less risky alternatives for pain management and recovery.
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