It’s the legal ‘plant medicine’ derived from marijuana that’s considered a wonder drug for combat sports athletes – and could even help to cure cancer. But does CBD oil really work? Battles gets well oiled to find out.
It’s the post-fight press conference for UFC 202, and Nate Diaz is openly vaping marijuana. It’s on live UFC TV, while taking questions from reporters, following his decision loss to Conor McGregor.
Diaz and his brother Nick and outspoken weed smokers. So naturally the MMA media, with their keen eyes for a story, wanted to know what was up with the vape stick.
"It's CBD," Diaz drawled, ”It helps with the healing process and inflammation, stuff like that. So you want to get these for before and after the fights, training. It'll make your life a better place.”
CBD is one of many active ingredients in marijuana. Another is THC. The latter is the one that gets you high. It’s is illegal in many countries including the UK, and many athletes including UFC fighters are tested for its use as a performance-enhancing drug ‘in competition’.
But CBD oil of the kind Diaz was vaping is now on sale as a health aid in Britain. The recovery aspects cited by Diaz include reducing inflammation and regulating the motor neuron system after explosive exercise. It’s said to help with sleep issues, mental clarity, anxiety, and body pain in general. There are also very serious claims that CBD can hinder epilepsy, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, multiple sclerosis and other motor neuron diseases like Devic’s syndrome. It is even thought to augment some cancer treatments as a ‘pathfinder’ drug, although there’s currently little or no official confirmation of this.
So Battles magazine repaired to the laboratories of London’s NV Biotech, a ‘cannabinoid research facility’ that’s the leading developer and distributor of CBD products in Europe via its offshoot Canavape. Andrew-Stewart Jones is NV Biotech’s product developer.
“I got involved on the basis of my background in taking CBD oils for athletic recovery,” he explains, “I’m really active, training mainly Muay Thai, but boxing and Brazilian jiu-jitsu too. I’m doing a lot of other stuff like gymnastics, bouldering and parkour. My background is Jamaican and, while I’m not a smoker, my family’s always used cannabis in traditional remedies like teas, or for topical application. That’s where I found out about using certain compounds in isolation to optimise wellbeing.”
Andrew trains at the Urban Kings gym in London, where jiu-jitsu head coach is BAMMA matchmaker and grappling scene lynchpin Jude Samuel. “I have some friends at SBG in Dublin,” Andrew continues, referring to the gym where John Kavanagh discovered and developed Conor McGregor, “and many of them are using our products – Paddy Holohan, Sinead Kavanagh, James Gallagher, Kiefer Crosbie, Lee Hammmond and Cian Cowley just to name a few. One by one they’ve been coming after they’ve seen their peers using it and witnessing the positive effects it’s had on their bodies, like dealing with inflammation.”
Cannavape has been in business for three years. Directors Ben Walker and Mark Sterling teamed up in 2016 after Ben had introduced Cannabinoid E Liquids to the UK market in 2014. “In Israel, where the most thorough cutting-edge research is happening, there are thought to be 150 compounds in cannabis and we are only just beginning to unlock their potential,” says Mark.
Among the latest developments are the effects of Cannabigerol (CBG), a fundamental Cannabinoid found especially in the early flowering stage of the Cannabis plant, that could help with the skin conditions including not only psoriasis but the fungal infections too easily acquired while grappling. Researchers are also very excited about its possible applications for breast cancer treatment. CBDv, or cannabidivarin, is thought to provide symptom relief for those suffering from seizures, Crohn’s disease, HiV and multiple sclerosis.
Canavape’s products are designed for either vaping through those rather space-age looking ‘pens’ you see ex-smokers surreptitiously puffing on, or in ‘Rescue Remedy’ style drops that go under the tongue. You take some after training, and before bed.
The Canavape team aren’t legally allowed to make any medical assurances on behalf of their products, as the official medical trials haven’t been conducted (although they are underway, and CBD in one form or another is prescribed by doctors worldwide, including by the NHS in the UK for conditions such as multiple sclerosis). So our own Paul Hines, head trainer at London’s MMA Clinic gyms and coach to the UFC’s Darren Stewart plus a long list of Cage Warriors and BAMMA fighters, tested the range out for us. He used the drops and vaped for six weeks.
“Cage Warriors’ Darren O’Gorman, one of my fighters, put me on to it,” Paul reports. “When I first went to see the Canavape guys I was having a lot of pain on my knees, and that has subsided,” he assures us. Paul’s days start early and end late. He does a lot of holding pads and demonstrating techniques. During any downtime he seizes the opportunity to train BJJ and roll.
“After a heavy sparring session, I have a shower and start to calm down but I find my body can still be on red alert. It’s the same as people who train at night can have problems getting to sleep,” he comments, “I’ve found using CBD has really helped to get my system back to normal after exercise. Equally I can get tired in the afternoons after training at lunchtime. But now if I have something to eat and vape a bit, I’m much more focussed on looking after my clients. At night I’m sleeping a little bit better, especially if I’ve had a long day.”
Vaping and pipette-ing differ slightly in how soon one feels the effects, says Paul: “The vaping I find has an instant effect, whereas the drops are more long term.” Overall, he is won over. “I’m happy with the product and I’m definitely going to keep using it. I like the natural approach, a medicine that’s been used for a long time. I was a little conscious of the fact people might think I’m a smoker with the vape pen, but as time’s gone on I’m not so bothered by it.”
But any evidence for CBD’s beneficial effects is by no means purely anecdotal. Corroboration is found in the human body itself.
“The first time most humans come into contact with ‘Cannabinoids’, is when they are being breast fed as a child,” explains Canavape’s Andrew, “Many people are unaware that our anatomies have a set up called the endocannabinoid system. All mammals do. It’s a group of receptors located through the body that regulate biological processes, to assist towards a state of bio-chemical balance – ‘homoeostasis’. This is why the ‘phyto’ cannabinoids, from the plant, in cannabis stay so long in your system; because the body doesn’t flush them out, it puts them to good use.”
The endocannabinoid system is also considered to enhance short-term memory and mental clarity (perhaps by ‘deleting’ unnecessary thoughts), reduce anxiety, and assist with sleeping. This may resonate with people who feel they ‘need’ cannabis to ‘be normal’.
Purists claim that isolated CBD is not as effective as ingesting marijuana in its complete form; that CBD alone does not provide the ‘entourage effect’ that the whole plant’s compounds do when ingested all together. But many Cannabis users are switching from smoking high-strength skunk weed, often the only Cannabis they have available, to vaping CBD – and with relief.
“CBD actually negates the effects of THC,” says Andrew, “the weed that is sold these days is often bred to be much higher in THC than CBD.” Which is why some effects of taking CBD oil perhaps contrast with the genetically engineered, high-THC strains’ long-term effects on mood, nervousness and sleeping.
Extensive tests are underway in the United States studying the positive effects of CBD on individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. And a dramatic news story screened on America’s CNN in 2013 showed a teenage girl recovering from an epileptic fit after being administered CBD. The British NHS is officially researching CBD’s use as a medicine.
Comedienne and US national treasure Whoopi Goldberg owns a company selling CBD products to reduce menstrual pain. Actor Morgan Freeman takes it for fibromyalgia pain in his arm. And in the sporting arena outside of martial arts, ultra-marathon runners Jen Shelton and Jeff Sperber swear by cannabis not just for physical recovery, but to stay ‘in the zone’ during long runs and not get bored. There are also reports of runners micro-dosing LSD to maintain focus, but that is certainly another story.
Cannavape: web canavape.co.uk Instagram @canavapecbd FB @canavape
Editorial note: this is a short feature. If you want to discover more about CBD we urge you to do further research with more extensive sources, especially if you are seeking help from any of the serious conditions listed in this piece.