Federally licensed cannabis producers get in the game with CBD research

Professional sports associations, including the NFL, NHL, and UFC, investigate cannabis for player care

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It’s no secret cannabis can be used as a treatment for a number of psychical and psychological conditions. The plant has been used for thousands of years throughout various cultures to manage ailments like joint pain, muscle inflammation, and insomnia. It’s hardly a surprise, then, that a number of athletes have turned to weed for post-game and -training relief.

As perceptions shift, research spikes, and legalization gains traction throughout a number of regions across North America, several professional athletic associations are also changing their tune. Where once a number of these regulatory organizations relegated weed to the "banned substances" list, now they are investing in cannabis research for player wellness.

Aurora steps into the octagon

British Columbia-based licensed producer Aurora Cannabis recently announced an “exclusive, multi-year, multi-million dollar, global partnership” with mixed martial arts association, the UFC. The two corporations are investing in clinical research to explore the relationship between hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD), a compound found in cannabis, and athlete recovery.

The UFC is a professional fighting association, boasting more than 300 million fans worldwide, and its network of live Fight Nights, reality shows, and match coverage is broadcast in over 170 countries.

The research will be conducted at the UFC's Performance Institute, a training centre in Las Vegas, and will explore cannabis for pain management, inflammation, injury recovery, and mental health.

The clinical studies will be performed on current and former UFC fighters and led by Dr. Jason Dyck, a professor at the University of Alberta and research chair in molecular medicine for the Canadian government. He also serves as an independent director on the board of Aurora Cannabis.

"Since the day we opened the Performance Institute, our primary goal was to offer UFC athletes the best possible training, nutrition, and recovery services," said UFC president Dana White in a release. 

"This partnership with Aurora is an extension of that goal, and we're looking forward to collaborating with Aurora to find new ways to improve the health and safety of athletes who compete in UFC."

The NHL drafts Canopy Growth Corporation

In March, one of Canada’s largest LPs, Canopy Growth Corp., announced a partnership with the National Hockey League Alumni Association (NHLAA), to research CBD for managing head injuries and mental health conditions.

The clinical research partnership sets out to specifically investigate the efficacy of cannabinoids as a potential treatment for post-concussion neurological diseases in former league players.

“NHL alumni gave everything they had during their careers, but the physical consequences after they hang up their skates can be devastating for both players and their loved ones for the rest of their lives,” said Glenn Healy, executive director of the NHLAA, in a release.

“This study offers alumni the promise of help and hope, and we are excited to participate in what could become a true game-changer in allowing these professional athletes to finish strong.”

The year-long study is expected to begin this summer and could lead to breakthroughs in the application of CBD for brain injuries and various physical conditions. The research will be conducted on approximately 100 former hockey players enrolled in a randomized double-blind study.

“This complex and multidimensional study will give us an unprecedented understanding of the interaction between cannabidiol (CBD) and the brains and behaviours of former NHL players living with post-concussion symptoms,” added Dr. Mark Ware, chief medical officer at Canopy Growth.

“We thank the members of the NHLAA whose willingness to join this unique research partnership speaks to the need for alternative medical treatments to treat the long-term and often devastating effects of concussions.”

Cannabis touches down in the NFL

The National Football League (NFL) and National Football League Player’s Association (NFLPA) also announced on Monday (May 20) two joint agreements aimed at supplying its athletes with additional resources for pain management and overall psychological wellness.

The league announced the creation of a Joint Pain Management Committee comprising NFL-appointed medical experts. The committee intends to research and consult on practices and policies concerning prescription medications and alternatives, including cannabinoid therapy.

Allen Sills, the league's chief medical officer, said in a statement studies will include cannabis, cannabinoids, and CBD, but the goal is "much broader and bigger than (marijuana).”

"It's to look at pain treatment,” he added.

The NFL will also form a Comprehensive Mental Health and Wellness Committee, which will work alongside suicide prevention organizations and introduce "educational programs regarding mental health for players, coaches, club personnel and players' families.”

Both agreements are mandatory across all 32 clubs.

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