Study Shows Top Reason for CBD Use by
Rugby Athletes is Pain Relief

Rugby is a high intensity and high frequency collision sport that causes players to suffer muscle soreness and pain. These players regularly look for new ways to reduce their muscle soreness and improve their recovery, and this includes using CBD products. Indeed, a 2020 study that exclusively explored CBD use among elite rugby players published data showing that players are using CBD primarily for pain relief, followed by improving sleep and reducing anxiety.

⇒ Related: Survey Shows CBD Improves Post-Workout Recovery

About the CBD Use Among Rugby Players Study

A study sought to explore the use of CBD among elite rugby players. The authors of the study chose rugby as the sport to study due to media reports having suggested that many players use CBD and because rugby is a sport where remedies for muscle soreness are frequently sought.

The study invited professional male players from 30 rugby teams competing within the Rugby Union and Rugby League competitions to participate in a survey. The survey was anonymous, online, and consisted of 15 multiple-choice questions about CBD, including whether players were aware of CBD, whether they use CBD, the reason they use CBD, their experience with CBD, whether they perceived CBD to be effective, and whether they experienced any adverse side effects from using CBD.

The survey collected data during the 2019–2020 rugby sport season from 25 clubs, providing a total of 517 responses. All players were aged 18 years and older with a median age of 25 years. 40% of respondents identified as back position players and 60% identified as forward position players.


The survey asked the 517 participants if they were aware of CBD and how they became aware of it.  91% of players were aware of CBD.  Among these,

  • 73% learned of CBD the internet
  • 61% learned of CBD from another teammate
  • 41% learned of CBD from another player/club
  • 16% learned of CBD from a nutritionist
  • 4% learned of CBD from other staff members
  • 2% learned of CBD from family, and
  • 1% learned of CBD through the media


The survey asked respondents if they have previously used or are currently using CBD.

Among the 91% of players who reported being aware of CBD, 72% indicated they had never used CBD. The survey asked these players to indicate a reason for not using CBD, namely was it due to fear of anti-doping rules, unknown CBD benefits, no need for CBD use, or club advised against the CBD use.

  • 64% of players had not used CBD because they were concerned that CBD use would violate anti-doping rules
  • 37% of players were not aware of any CBD benefits
  • 29% of players had no need to use CBD, and
  • 23% of players refrained from using CBD because a club advised them not to use it

Interestingly, anti-doping rules permit the use of CBD. In 2018, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed CBD from its prohibited list and has expressly stated that CBD use is allowed. Other cannabinoids remain prohibited, namely:

  • natural and synthetic cannabinoids, including hashish and marijuana,
  • natural and synthetic tetrahydrocannabinols (THCs), and
  • synthetic cannabinoids that mimic the effects of THC

This means players can use a CBD product that only contains CBD and has no amount of any THC, or any other banned cannabinoid as generally described above.

For example, players can use a CBD isolate product because it contains only CBD and no amount of any THC or other cannabinoid prohibited by anti-doping rules.

Alternatively, players can consider a CBD broad spectrum product which is made to have a high amount of CBD, zero THC, and varying detectable and non-detectable amounts of other cannabinoids naturally occurring in the hemp plant. These products are typically marketed as “THC Free”, “Zero THC”, “0.00% THC”, “non-THC”, or other similar language.

⇒ Recommended: Types of CBD


Players reported using CBD for pain relief, better sleep, reducing anxiety, and helping a concussion, long-term injury, and for chemotherapy.  Specifically,

  • 80% use CBD for recovery/pain
  • 78% use CBD for improving sleep
  • 32% use CBD for helping anxiety, and
  • 14% use CBD for other medical purposes (namely, helping with a concussion, a long-term injury, and chemotherapy).
a data percentage chart showing why rugby players use CBD


The survey asked CBD using players if CBD was effective.

Overall, 67% reported experiencing a benefit from using CBD. Breaking this down further,

  • 41% found CBD improved their sleep
  • 14% found CBD improved their recovery/pain
  • 6% found CBD improved their mood
  • 8% found CBD helped with concussions, chemotherapy, and long-term injuries, and
  • 3% found CBD reduced their anxiety

⇒ Recommended: CBD Use for Sleep


Generally, CBD is well tolerated but can cause some side effects, such as dry mouth, diarrhea, reduced appetite, fatigue, and drowsiness.

As such, the survey asked CBD using players if had they experienced any side effects. Notably, none of these players reported having any adverse side effects from using CBD.

Source: High Prevalence of Cannabidiol Use Within Male Professional Rugby Union and League Players: A Quest for Pain Relief and Enhanced Recovery, published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism.

The information provided in this post is for informational purposes only and is not intended to serve as a substitute for a medical professional advice. The statements made here have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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