A new research initiative led by Edmonton-based Aurora Cannabis will look at whether hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) products could help athletes with their performance and recovery.
"We're looking for hard and true evidence that this is going to be beneficial or not," said Jason Dyck, an independent director on the board of Aurora Cannabis.
Aurora Cannabis and the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the biggest mixed martial arts organization in the world, have partnered to do the research.
Dyck is also a professor in the department of pediatrics at the University of Alberta and a Canada Research Chair in molecular medicine.
"This is an Aurora led partnership," Dyck said. "It is not related to my affiliation with the University of Alberta. In my role as an independent director, I will provide general oversight to the research that's planned with the UFC."
Dyck said he has been told that many UFC athletes are already using CBD products, either orally or topically.
"[The UFC] felt they needed a strong research component to validate the efficacy of that," he said. "They wanted us to partner with them and investigate how hemp derived CBD helps athletes in a variety of areas."
Dyck and his team will first look at how CBD can reduce inflammation to improve performance and training for athletes.
Other clinical studies will include pain management, injury and exercise recovery and mental health.
Researchers will also look for any adverse effects of CBD use.
"Every person's biology is different, and so reactions to any medicines are going to be diverse," Dyck said. "We don't anticipate any [negative side effects] but again we'll be looking for … maybe it enhances anxiety in certain individuals or maybe it has no effect at all.
Dyck also suggested some CBD products may need to be customized for each athlete's biology.
"We're also working toward that, so we can again dial in precisely what might work best for each individual athlete," he said.
The research will be conducted at the UFC's Performance Institute in Las Vegas, Nev. Dyck's team of scientists will travel there this week to begin the process of developing the research program.
The UFC's sports performance team will take part in the research, in addition to athletes who volunteer.
If they discover there are positives to CBD use for athletes, Dyck said it could have a trickle-down effect.
"You would assume that it would also work in individuals who are regular individuals like myself who like to run every day and maybe have muscle pain after," he said.
"Maybe that will spread into a health and wellness area for all individuals who are focused on a little bit of exercise and be able to do more of it or do it do it with less injury."
Dyck said he hopes the research project will spur other studies across Canada.
"Canada really has the opportunity to lead the world in cannabis and CBD research."