Keeping Score: CBD in Sports

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Keeping Score: CBD in Sports


Whether it stems from years on the gridiron or pushing too hard during a 60-minute Peloton HIIT ride with Alex Toussaint, aches and pains from athletic exertion is a reality faced by many. Increasingly, more U.S. consumers—from professional athletes to weekend warriors—are interested in alleviating and managing muscle soreness and minor injuries with cannabidiol (CBD).

CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), specifically the CB2 receptors in the peripheral nervous system, which helps manage pain and inflammation. 

According to the CBD market analysis company Brightfield Group, nearly 20% of all CBD users consider themselves “fitness fanatics.”

In addition to stay-at-home moms following Hard Core on the Floor training, there is a growing list of professionals from the NFL to the WNBA who extol the benefits for CBD.

Last May, CBDMedic teamed up with U.S. women’s soccer icon Carli Lloyd. Lloyd partnered with CBDMedic after using its topical CBD products following a knee injury and surgery last year. Lloyd attributes her use of CBDMedic’ products, which include Active Sport Pain Relief Ointment, Active Sport Pain Relief Stick, and CBDMedic Arthritis Aches and Pain Relief Cream, as a key factor in her recover. The brand is part of Charlotte’s Web Inc.

Lloyd isn’t the only athlete, or female soccer player for that matter, on the CBD train. Fellow star Megan Rapinoe has an alliance with CBD company Mendi.

“CBD has become part of my all-natural recovery system that I use throughout the day to help with pain and inflammation, stabilize my mood, and get better sleep. Instead of taking Advil or other pain management meds, I’ve almost exclusively substituted with Mendi CBD products,” Rapinoe told Forbes in an interview in 2021.

Portland, OR-based Mendi, which was co-founded by Rapinoe’s sister, Rachael, is big into the sports scene. Its roster of athletes includes basketball star Sue Bird and WNBA player Nneka Ogwumike and others across a range of sports like snowboarding, lacrosse, softball, running, and cycling.

Mendi’s products include ingestibles and tinctures for sleep and relaxation as well as topicals like the  Mendi Salve Stick, which contains 500 mg of hemp-derived CBD, shea butter, arnica oil, calendula oil, camphor, eucalyptus oil, chamomile oil, vitamin E, and menthol crystals.

Other professional athletes turned CBD advocates include former National Hockey League star Mark Messier and Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre. Both had long careers in physically demanding contact sports.

Messier in February signed on as an equity partner and “brand captain” for NXT Water, maker of Akeso CBD water, which contains 10 mg of broad-spectrum hemp-derived CBD. 

“Upon my retirement, I discovered the healing powers of CBD, and once I met the NXT Water team and tried Akeso, I knew I had to become involved in the brand. It is now an integral part of my daily wellness protocol,” Messier said in a statement.

Favre has been candid about his dependency on pain killers early in his professional football career when he suffered a third-degree separation of his shoulder after being sacked. He said he took pain killers for four years. In a video with Green Eagle, he discussed his addiction and noted that he hasn’t taken a pain pill since 1998.

Products sold in Green Eagle’s “Brett Favre Edition” line include an infused relief cream, maximum pain relief spray, and muscle relief roll-on formulated with NanoMight CBD. The range also includes Energy & Focus Dual Liquid capsules, which contain vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine HCI), vitamin B-12 (cyanocobalamin), caffeine anhydrous, L-tyrosine, NanoMight CBD, and MCT (medium chain triglycerides).

Pain is a major issue in the NFL, and the league is assessing pain management methods, including the use of CBD products. In 2020, the NFL’s pain management committee and NFLPA (National Football League Players Association) invited manufacturers of products that use CBD in sports medicine to provide updates on research and evidence regarding CBD products. In 2021, the NFL-NFLPA Joint Pain Management Committee (PMC), earmarked $1 million to fund research into pain management and cannabinoids.

This February, NFL awarded funding to medical researchers at the University of California San Diego and University of Regina to investigate the effects of cannabinoids on pain management and neuroprotection from concussion in elite football players, respectively. UC-San Diego’s researchers will look at vaporized use of THC and CBD; at the University of Regina, the team will look at the use of those materials in concussion injuries.

The World Anti-Doping Agency removed CBD from its prohibited list in 2018, which opened the floodgates for CBD usage among athletes playing in professional leagues in sports with a lot less physical contact.

Take for example, KR Strikeforce, which sells bowling balls and bags as well as Head Pin CBD Salve for the aches and pains that come with, well, bowling. It is being used prior to competition to manage pain and afterward to assist in recovery, according to the company.

Then there’s Darren Clark CBD, which targets golfers. The company conducted a trial in which 100 users tried its CBD oil, and on average, testers improved their scoring by 1.16 shots. In the trial, 71% of testers increased their driving distance and 61% of testers improved their putting over the course of the test, too.

CBD brands continue to expand their presence and bring new products to market where athletes shop and train.

In January 2022, Level Select, which bills itself as a “sports performance-based CBD brand,” announced a deal with Albertsons in which the company’s topicals will be available in 1,300 locations nationwide. The brand is backed by CBD supplier Kadenwood, Inc. and professional athletes including three-time NFL Pro Bowl Quarterback Carson Palmer, five-time PGA Pro Tour Champion Rickie Fowler, MLB Baseball Legend Steve Garvey and Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer Ann Meyers-Drysdale.

Level Select’s range of topicals include creams, sticks, and sprays in a potency to meet the user’s individual needs (from Level 1, which is best used to relax muscles and treat everyday discomfort to Level 3, which provides maximum strength, according to the company). Made with a proprietary blend of broad spectrum and nano CBD, the line includes oil drops and gummies.

CbdMD has a big CrossFit connection. The brand was the official CBD partner of the 2021 NoBull CrossFit Games in Madison, WI last July and more recently was a sponsor of Wodapalooza, a four-day fitness festival for elites, beginners, masters, and adaptive athletes that is popular with the CrossFit community. At Wodapalooza, the company provided free product samples of its cbdMD and pet-focused Paw CBD brand as well as education materials and information about its affiliate marketing programs to competitors, gym owners, and coaches.

Further, cbdMD, Inc has endorsement partnerships with high profile athletes, including reigning CrossFit Games Champion Justin Medeiros and Annie Thorisdottir, the first women’s back-to-back champion (2011, 2012).

Alliances with these athletes help elevate the use, benefits, and education of CBD in the CrossFit community, according to Hans Molenkamp, executive vice president of sports marketing at cbdMD, Inc. These brand ambassadors will reach more than 3 million followers on Instagram alone and extend market penetration into CrossFit’s worldwide ecosystem of 15,000 affiliated gyms across 120 countries.

Additional CBD brands are getting their products in front of other gym-goers and sport-minded customers.

For example, Anytime Fitness—which says it is the fastest-growing gym franchise in the world—announced that Anytime Fitness UK has partnered with global CBD sports nutrition brand 7NRG and will have 7NRG’s products available to gym members. 

Wellness Brands, the Covington, KY-based company behind Keoni CBD, used last October’s Olympia Fitness and Performance Weekend in Orlando, FL to debut Keoni Sport; its new CBD-infused product line is designed specifically for athletes. 

According to the company, Keoni Sport features six products designed to give athletes a competitive advantage and allow them to perform at their best—instant pain relief spray, gummies for sleep and energy, relief and recovery gel, pain relief gel, and a daily moisture cream.

DNVR, a Denver, CO-based company, added several CBD products to its range—500 mg Rise Vegan Broad Spectrum CBD:CBG Gummies with vitamin B-12 to help improve mental clarity and focus while soothing chronic pain and discomfort; 500 mg Rest Vegan Broad Spectrum CBD:CBN Melatonin-Free Gummies; 750 mg Anytime Vegan CBD Oil Tincture with MCT Oil to promote enhanced recovery from exercise-induced inflammation, relief from body aches, and improved mental clarity; and a 300 mg Therapeutic Cayenne & Peppermint-Infused Vegan CBD Body Rub that targets exercise-induced inflammation, sharp pains, and itchy sensations. The brand said its water-soluble (nano) CBD approach breaks down the CBD molecule (<100 nanometers) for rapid absorption and enhanced bioavailability to enzyme and

cannabinoid receptors. 

Fitish, a CBD skin care and lifestyle brand geared toward what it calls “active(ish)” people, touts Perfect Game CBD Pain Cream, a plant-based pain cream infused with CBD, green tea tree oil, and menthol. The packaging is a massaging rollerball that the brand says works double-time on aches and pains.

Beso Wellness—a brand created by massage therapist and former NBA wife Megan Blackwell—offers pain-relief balms powered by cannabinoids. Beso Body Whip has a CBD/THC 3:1 ratio and contains African shea butter, kukui, grapeseed, tea tree, black seed, turmeric, lavender, frankincense, myrrh, sandalwood, and mustard seed oils.

Beso Body Milk, which can also be used as facial moisturizer, boasts a CBD:THC 2:1 ratio and contains white shea butter, kukui, grapeseed, tea tree, black seed, turmeric, lavender, frankincense, myrrh, mustard seed oil, and vitamin E. The brand also has a CBD hair cocktail said to provide relief for common hair-related conditions such as dandruff, dryness, chemical damage, itchy scalp and alopecia.

North American Cannabis Holdings, Inc. recently relaunched its EVERx CBD Sports Nutrition Beverage, a hemp-derived CBD-infused beverage—at Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Arnold Sports Festival, which was held in early March.

The company—which acquired EVERx from its sister company, Puration, Inc. in 2021 in exchange for a royalty agreement—hopes that returning to the event with an updated formula and packaging will pay off again. The beverage was originally introduced at the Arnold Sports Festival in 2017, and the company said with Arnold as the anchor of EVERx’s marketing campaign, annual sales rapidly grew to more than

$2 million.

Consumers appear to have a growing thirst for CBD beverages. According to the Brightfield Group, the CBD beverage market was on track to achieve $245 million in sales in 2021, up 50% from 2020. The category is expected to reach $1.3 billion in 2026, representing a 40% CAGR.

Whether marketing a topical CBD treatment or CBD-infused beverage, the race to reach athletes of all levels is picking up speed. 



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