Cannabis, as it is legalized for many medical conditions, has been changing the treatment of many disorders.
I believe that recent discoveries about the cannabis family will change the face of pro sports as well.
One branch of that family is the recent ability to extract a specific class of substances derived from the hemp plant, the fertilized cousin of marijuana.
That branch isn't smoked. It's ingested orally or used topically, on the skin. It's safe, and it's legal in all 50 states.
The extract that I’m referring to makes up about 40% of the plant’s total extracted volume. It’s called CBD, which is short for cannabidiol.
We’ve been hearing more and more about the ‘open access’ approach to pill abuse in the NFL. It’s long been a problem in football and other sports.
CBD provides a safer method for managing pain and extending careers.
In this two-part series, let's explore how that's possible.
Let’s define some terms. First, what’s THC? It’s the part of the hemp/cannabis plant that provides the euphoric state. That's what most recreational users are looking for. Modern botany has increased the amount of THC from about 3-5% in the 1960s to as much as 28% now. The 28% plant recently won a contest to see who could grow the strongest pot; 15-21% is more common in medical cannabis (also MMJ).
THC fits into a site called the C-1 receptor in the cerebral cortex of the brain, and it does have some medical benefits. That connection provides the ‘high’ that some users like.
What is CBD? As I mentioned, it’s the substance that makes up 40% of the total extraction you can get from the hemp plant. Hemp, by the way, is cannabis that has let the male plants fertilize the females. Since female and male plants aren’t separated, not much THC grows in hemp fields.
To gain a higher production of THC is simple - you take away the male plants. The females can’t be pollinated, so they produce lots of THC in a resinous form as a result.
The plants used for hemp oil and CBD now have less than 1% THC. The plants used for CBD and/or hemp oil meet the international standard, which is 1% THC. CBD is currently believed to have the most uses of the over 60 substances that make up cannabis. It’s legal, available by mail, and comes in liquid form. THC does have medical value as well, as any pain patient can tell you, but there’s a better option for many users.
So, to be clear: CBD intensive plants are only used for medical purposes. They have a specific difference from other forms of marijuana/hemp. CBD is what is most likely to get you better when it is properly prepared and used. It fits into the C-2 receptor in the brain, which has a multitude of beneficial physical effects. They include functioning as an anti-inflammatory, analgesic (pain relief), and antispasmodic effects.
Cannabis continues to draw debate about its usage and legality. Polls often show that 80% of the public is in favor of medical marijuana. Yet, we've been fighting an entrenched battle against stupidity and ignorance. It's being fought against highly vocal, well-meaning, but misguided people. They believe that cannabis is a deadly, addictive plant.
Those naysayers ignore the more than 20,000 articles published in peer reviewed journals that show its medical efficacy. It has an unusually low level of toxicity. In the last 6,000 years, it hasn’t killed anyone via overdose.
I mentioned the term receptor, which means precisely what it sounds like. A receptor is an area that receives a certain substance. Cannabis has no ability to be addictive, because the needed receptors aren't there. It can be habit forming, if a person gets used to using it daily.
But there’s a big medical difference between a substance being habit forming versus it being addictive. When something is addictive, there is a receptor it fits into. Filling that receptor creates addiction. You don’t find that problem with CBD - it is not habit forming in any way.
In more good news, the House passed a bill on May 29, banning the DEA from interfering with state policies on cannabis. The Senate may follow suit, and if President Obama signs it, as expected, a big part of our problems getting effective medications to patients in need will vanish. It’s overdue. More states are putting medical marijuana statutes on the ballot or in place every year.
Cannabis and Medication in Pro Sports
The connection between medications and professional sports isn’t new. The NBA doesn’t test for THC during the offseason. In retirement, many players have admitted they smoked cannabis to lengthen their careers. One of its effects is helping reduce the inflammation and spasms caused by running up and down hardwood floors. I’m sure that some players also used it for recreation but it benefits both the players and the league.
The medical need that cannabis filled is still there. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (called NSAIDs), including ibuprofen and similar prescription or over the counter medications (ie Advil and Tylenol), can create havoc with the liver and kidneys. CBD won’t. It’s cost effective and of low toxicity.
Aspirin kills over 1,000 people each, every year. CBD or cannabis? Zero deaths in the last 6,000 years.
I have a personal interest in this topic: I have a genetic neurological disorder. It causes fatigue, insomnia, and violent pain flares that can last up to a month. There are times when I don’t sleep for as many as four days at a time due to this.
A cure is not expected anytime soon. At times, the pain is overwhelming.
There is no question in my mind that taking CBD over the past ten-plus weeks has helped me noticeably.
I also use medical cannabis. I’ve substituted CBD when, recently, it’s been possible. The CBD is best when taken daily over a longer period of time. If used that way, cannabis patients develop a resistance. With CBD, they don’t. For daily use, to control the frequency and severity of the problem, I used two drops, three times per day.
That’s now down to one drop, three times daily, and the improvement continues to increase. At other times, high THC medical cannabis has helped more with the most severe pain flares.
As far as my own results with it, the lady I live with came in to check on me an hour after I took CBD for the first time. She couldn’t believe the difference in my level of relaxation and the change in the muscles of my face. I hadn't told her that I was starting the experiment with CBD, but the change was obvious to her. From my standpoint, the improvement was from just being out of pain.
Getting on CBD has substantially reduced my level of discomfort. It allows me to diminish the strength and dosage of the more toxic medications I’ve had to use in the past. I have friends who’ve also used it for sports pain, joint and soft tissue pain, also with good results.
It is not a performance enhancing substance, except in the sense that having less pain, inflammation, and spasms is beneficial to the athlete.
Epilepsy, MS and Cerebral Palsy
I’ve seen a video of CBD oil helping with a form of childhood epilepsy call Dravet syndrome. The first use of CBD for Dravet's syndrome was given to a patient who was having 300 seizures a week:
The form of epilepsy in that video usually kills the child.
I’ve seen nearly identical videos of patients with MS...
...and amazing results with it treating Cerebral Palsy:
In such cases, there’s room for both approaches, MMJ and CBD.
Older people usually inhale cannabis from a vaporizer. It’s impressive to watch the patients’ symptoms just vanishing after a few inhalations. There is nothing like it in the Western pharmacopoeia. And, it’s relatively inexpensive. CBD will also help many of these cases until we have a rational national policy on MMJ. The pharmaceutical industry does NOT like where this is going.
CBD and Modern Professional Sports
In athletics, CBD can reduce or even resolve issues such as muscle spasms, inflammation, and physical pain. This is a safe product. Unlike a lot of injections and oral medications I’ve been through, I don’t go numb while using it. Nothing changes in my consciousness. I simply have less pain. That can be a great gift, in sports and in life.
CBD can provide faster healing times and less post-game discomfort for athletes. Having no hassles with the league urinalysis is a realistic concern. I’m sure that team physicians will be comfortable using CBD at some point. The research is becoming overwhelming, but getting doctors educated is a slow process.
The biggest problem with CBD is that few pain management doctors know anything about it, and many don’t care.
It’s among the new opportunities in the management of pain. Pain and inflammation reduce physical function. That cycle gets worse as the season (or the athlete’s life) moves on. Why live with more pain than necessary?
Everything goes in cycles. The government once created Prohibition of cannabis, declaring that it had no medical usage. We’ve gone from the NBA outlawing urine tests for cannabis in the offseason to the outlawing of THC year-round in the NFL. Now we’re coming back around again, by extracting a powerful medical option that’s legal from hemp plants. Many researchers and growers have struggled for decades to create this hybrid. Because of them, we can provide these same benefits to players all year.
It’s the strongest substance within the cannabis plant for healing a wide range of disorders. Other disorders will respond to other parts of the plant extract. That research is ongoing. UC San Diego Health Sciences Center was recently given the first federal license to grow, research and prescribe medical cannabis.
I had an appointment recently with one of the pain management professors at that facility, and I talked to him about CBD. He’s the guy who handles my spinal procedures, and he’s completely focused on the patient’s health and comfort. He was interested, open, knew the biochemistry, and was interested in both the source material on them and my own experience.
As a full professor, he can spread this information to many students. He seems open to anything that will help the patient. His office has recommended to me the use of CBD or THC to avoid opioid use.
That’s a perspective that’s missing with some doctors. Opioids are brutal drugs - the side effects are nearly as bad as the conditions they're taken for, and deaths from them are common.
Helping Players Safely
I’d like to see players using this completely legal tool to heal faster and stay better. There aren’t any known metabolites that violate the NFL strictures, as far as I’ve been able to discern. I’m not an expert or a trusting soul in this area; I’d want to see an NFL ruling on CBD use soon, so that players can get on with using it.
Given the variances in Roger Goodell’s rulings, the players need clear permission. It should be so clear that no problems arise later.
A lot of things that are legal, the NFL still bans. Consistency has not been the league’s watchword. Even many of the owners have become leery of Goodell’s demand that he and he alone should handle discipline issues. He’s been erratic to the point of idiocy in that area. I shudder to think that he could make policy on CBD.
I want the players to look forward to having longer careers with less discomfort. It’s an advantage that they can’t afford to ignore. If one team doesn’t use it, another team will. The players will talk about it among themselves. Word will get around of its efficacy. That may be the fastest and best approach to force the league to take a stand on it.
This is a brand new weapon within an ancient approach for healing. It could help the Broncos deal with injuries and pain as much as it has done so with me.
I hope the NFL will rule on whether it’s legal, and soon. They should welcome it. Legislating it should be like legislating aspirin. Except, over 1000 people a year die from aspirin (salicylic acid) reactions, although as mentioned, that number is often combined with NSAID deaths, to a total of 7,600 people. The latest number of people who die from alcohol in a year is over 110,000 (Ibid). No one’s ever died from CBD.
It should be an easy choice.
Part 2: Pro Sports and Cannabis, Part 2