Cannabis is all the rage these days. From the growing legalization movement to the exponential increase in the research into its potential health benefits. It has over 4000 years of human consumption. Moreover, the body even contains an endogenous cannabinoid receptor system, known as the endocannabinoid system for short. Yet, it still has major social and political stigmas attached to it.
But the big question is can Cannabis help YOU?
There are over 500 known compounds isolated from the cannabis plant , of which, at least 113 are cannabinoids . The most commonly known are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
While THC is known for its psychoactive effects, CBD does not possess those same properties, but rather has anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, neuroprotective, cardiovascular, anticonvulsant, anxiolytic, antipsychotic, antiemetic, and even anticarcinogenic benefits . As such, particularly since cannabidiol is completely legal at this point, it will be the one we focus on today.
Interest in cannabidiol recently hit a fevered pitch when during the post-fight press conference at UFC 202, the ever controversial Nate Diaz was openly vaping. When asked by reporters what he was using, Diaz replied “It’s CBD, it helps with the healing process and inflammation and things like that, so you want to get these for before or after the fights, in training. It’ll make your life a better place.”
While this created quite the uproar in the media and the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) is conducting an investigation, the simple fact of the matter is that provided Nate was speaking truthfully, he violated no regulations.
The USADA specifically prohibits natural and synthetic versions of THC and cannabimimetics, due to the potential for “unfair advantage, safety hazards, adverse health impacts or violation of the spirit of sports” . However, as you can note in the image below, no mention is made of cannabidiol. In fact, the test that is conducted is an urinary analysis looking for THC metabolite 11-nor-9-carboxy-THC (THCCOOH) at concentrations equal to or greater than 15 ng/mL . As such, Nate is in the clear.
Now that we have established why Nate Diaz did not break any rules, let’s discuss why a fighter would want to use CBD. As a lifelong martial artist and mixed martial arts fighter myself, I can tell you from personal experience that the daily grind of training, both in and out of the 8-12 weeks of fight camp is taxing on the body, both physically and psychologically.
Anything that can reduce the inflammation associated with the training, as well as combat mental fatigue, will be beneficial. Things like turmeric, fish oil and systemic enzymes are staples of any successful recovery protocol. This is also, however, where CBD can play an incredible role.
In terms of mechanisms, CBD has been shown to increase the anti-inflammatory cytokine interleukin-10 (IL-10), while inhibiting the pro-inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin-1 beta (IL1β), interleukin-6 (IL-6), interferon gamma (INFγ) and tumor necrosis factorα (TNFα) [6, 7, 8]. These pro-inflammatory cytokines are also associated with the activation of the nociceptive sensory neurons, initiating the experience of pain [9, 10]
Additionally, the endocannabinoid receptor system (specifically the CB1 and CB2 receptors) plays a role in regulating the inflammatory response and the sensory perception of pain. While CBD does not have a strong binding affinity for either CB1 or CB2, it does modulate both of them by acting as an inverse agonist [11, 12]. It acts by increasing the amount of available CB receptors, while competitively inhibiting the breakdown of the endocannabinoid signaling molecules. What this means, essentially, is that while it doesn’t score the touchdown, it blocks the other team while helping to keep open the other wide receivers.
Now, while this all important for fighters and other high level athletes in the recovery process from training, the ability to systemically reduce inflammation has the potential to benefit pretty much everyone. Chronic and excessive inflammation is at the heart of practically every disease . Rather than trying to search for “one symptom, one pill,” address the root cause, in this case inflammation, and you can have a host of positive downstream health effects.
This has been exhibited in vitro and in animal models for acute lung injuries, asthma and even in the inhibition of lung cancer metastasis [14, 15, 16, 17]. If we are talking about athletes, this results in better cardiovascular endurance and higher level performance throughout the entire competition.
It has also shown efficacy in reducing inflammation and subsequent oxidative damage from high-glucose levels in diabetes and in diabetes-related complications [18, 19, 20]. In fact, regarding oxidative stress, cannabidiol has shown stronger in vitro antioxidant activity than either vitamins C or E .
These effects also extend to the cardiovascular system, where it reduces the response to stress, vasodilation (improves blood pressure), protects against acute heart damage, cardiovascular cell death and ventricular arrhythmias [21, 22, 23, 24, 25]. Again, regarding athletes, this results in higher cardiovascular endurance and overall performance.
Cannabidiol, both orally and transdermally, has exhibited anti-arthritic activity and the ability to improve joint function [26, 27, 28]. While obviously important in our ever aging population, this is of incredible importance to high-level athletes who regularly take their joints to and unfortunately often past the limits of human ability. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, submission grappling and mixed martial arts fighters like Nate Diaz try to hyperextend and damage each other’s joints, ligaments and tendons on a daily basis. As such, CBD can have demonstrable benefit in these sports.
If that weren’t enough, where things really start to get interesting is its potential neural and cognitive effects. Sport psychology is a whole field unto itself and improving an athlete’s mindset is a major determinant in said athlete’s success. While never an issue myself, I know many other fighters regularly get the anxious jitters before stepping into the cage.
Beyond the athletic arena, this has the potential to be a game-changer in a wide variety in psychiatric and mood disturbances, including depression, generalized and social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
That is yet another place where CBD shines insomuch as it has exhibited anxiolytic activity by direct interaction with the 5-HT1A receptors of the serotonergic system [29, 30, 31, 32]. Beyond the athletic arena, this has the potential to be a game-changer in a wide variety in psychiatric and mood disturbances, including depression, generalized and social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). [29, 30, 32, 33].
The benefits of the serotonergic system activation, particularly when combined with the anti-inflammatory effects, also extends to neuroprotection from acute injury and cognitive decline; CBD has shown efficacy in combatting Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and strokes [34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39]. For athletes engaged in contact sports, such as fighters or football players, cannabidiol is also beneficial for recovery from traumatic brain injuries, such as concussions [40, 41].
But wait, there’s more.
The endocannabinoid system is a major regulator of the status of the gut. Cannabidiol exhibits benefit in the reducing gastrointestinal inflammation and subsequent improvement of intestinal wall integrity, with therapeutic efficacy in gastrointestinal reflux disorder (GERD), irritable bowel disease (IBD), and ulcerative colitis (UC) [42, 43, 44, 45, 46]. Interesting side note, dysregulation of the endocannabinoid system, also plays a role in the development of diverticular disease [42, 43], which famously shortened the career of UFC fighter/WWE wrestler Brock Lesnar.
That intestinal permeability and subsequent translocation of bacteria is associated with a host of other issues, particularly with respect to the immune system. All four layers of immune dysregulation, i.e. under/overreaction to internal/external stimuli, e.g. infection, cancer, allergy/sensitivies and autoimmune disorders, can benefit from the administration of CBD. That is because it is neither inherently immunostimulatory or immunosuppressive, but rather it modulates or regulates the immune system, particularly by way of controlling nuclear factor of activated T cells (NFAT) transcription activity .
Accordingly, CBD has shown therapeutic efficacy in combatting allergies, autoimmune conditions, cancer and infections [17, 48, 49, 50, 51]. However, the potential role of CBD in the fight against cancer is incredible in and of itself and warrants its own in depth discussion. Cannabidiol has been shown to induce apoptosis, inhibit angiogenesis, invasion and metastasis, as well as regulate antitumor immunity [52, 53, 54, 55].
Any way you slice it, if you are looking to improve your health, if you are trying to look, feel and perform better, cannabidiol may just be one of the strongest tools in the arsenal that you aren’t using yet.
And In case your friend is still skeptical… we have references. 55 of them.
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