CBD use in rugby high as players seek to soothe pain

A new study from Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) highlights the high prevalence of cannabidiol (CBD) use among professional rugby players despite warnings it could lead to drugs bans.

CBD is one of the cannabinoids found in the hemp strain of the cannabis plant and its’ use has been linked to enhanced recovery, improved sleep and reductions in muscle soreness.

Although not prohibited by the World-Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), CBD it often contains traces of other cannabinoids such as THC, which is prohibited and illicit in quantities above 1mg per bottle.

Yet despite official caution around its use, sports nutritionists at LJMU found 26% of professional players surveyed had tried CBD oil and 8% were currently using it.

Running risk of ban

“It’s a huge risk,” says Professor Graeme Close who led the study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise.

“There is evidence that many CBD products have much higher than stated THC contents, so players using it could be on the end of ban.”

The sports scientists examined responses volunteered anonymously by 517 professional rugby league and union players from UK-based leagues. 

Overall more than a quarter had tried CBD oil – usually self-administered via drops or capsules – and found that in older players (aged >28) that figure rose to 40%, which they attribute to the accumulation of pain towards the end of a playing career.

Improved sleep and recovery

The researchers described as “worrying” that just 16% of professionals had sought advice from trained sport nutritionists with the majority (73%) getting their information from the internet despite the risks of an anti-doping rule violation.

Of all the players that had tried CBD, 67% reported a perceived benefit in terms of improved sleep or recovery.

“In a game characterised by physical collisions and repeated high-force trauma it is of little surprise that players are searching ways to improve recovery,” added Close, who researches in LJMU's world-leading School of Sport and Exercise Sciences.

“Players anecdotally may perceive benefits but we have no solid evidence of benefit so the nutrition community largely advises against CBD at the moment.”

“Going forward, it is crucial that athletes are fully educated into the risks with CBD supplementation and that this information must come from reputable sources rather than players performing generic web searches.”


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