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Medicinal cannabis use for pain and stress

Cannabis grown for medicinal use. Photo by Gio Bartlett on Unsplash

In early January 2019, South African rally driver Ashley Haigh-Smith crashed while testing a new race car. He went off the road at around 130km/h and collided with a bridge pillar, stopping instantly. The impact snapped his spine in seven places (T1-T7), dislodged his diaphragm and cracked four of his ribs. Highly fortunate to not be paralysed, the injuries made for a long road to recovery.

The doctors recommended spinal fusion, but Haigh-Smith refused. “It would’ve led to about two years of being immobile - one year with the plates in my back and the second learning how to do everything again,” he says. Instead he researched alternative therapies and did a series of hyperbaric chamber treatments (where they simulate the patient being 40m underwater and give them 100% pure oxygen in 12 minute doses) in conjunction with a regiment of CBD in tincture form.

CBD (or cannabidiol) is one of over a hundred cannabinoids derived from the cannabis plant and the one believed to have many therapeutic effects on the human body and mind. It has come to the fore over recent years as a therapy for various conditions

This is what Haigh-Smith learned about CBD, and why it should be part of your supplement regime, even if you don’t have a career-threatening injury.

Being a professional athlete, Haigh-Smith could not risk taking anything that might cause him to test positive and be sanctioned. He was 100% safe taking CBD, because in September 2018, the Constitutional Court ruled that it is not a criminal offence for an adult citizen to use, possess or grow cannabis in private for personal consumption in South Africa. (READ MORE ON THE CURRENT LEGAL LANDSCAPE IN SA, HERE)

It is a natural painkiller that aids the body with healing “I’m allergic to nearly all painkillers and anti-inflammatories,” explains Haigh-Smith, “so after my accident the doctors didn’t know what to give me to help me with the pain.” During his extensive research and consultation with medical experts in various fields, he learned that CBD is a natural pain killer and, while it helps numb the pain it doesn’t ‘block’ the body from healing an injured part, as regular pain killers might.

A study in the Journal of Experimental Medicine supports this. “Certain types of non-psychoactive cannabinoids can potentiate glycine receptors (GlyRs), an important target for nociceptive regulation at the spinal level. We report that systemic and intrathecal administration of cannabidiol (CBD), a major non-psychoactive component of marijuana, and its modified derivatives significantly suppress chronic inflammatory and neuropathic pain without causing apparent analgesic tolerance,” reads the study.

“It really felt like the blood was flowing to the muscles and that the recovery was working,” says Haigh-Smith. “And, the results showed, when I went for my four-week check up, the doctors were amazed at the improvement in my spine and they put it down to blood flow and the release of human growth hormone (HGH) into the bloodstream,” he says. Among other things, HGH rebuilds damaged tissue while building stronger muscles.

It helps you focus Not only is Haigh-Smith a professional driver, but he has various business concerns in the motorsports industry too. “Stress manifests in different ways,” he says talking business. “For me, racing stress is a good kind of stress that helps me focus and race properly, but something like financial stress on the business side of things is a negative stress,” he says, outlining how the use of CBD helped him manage his stress and focus better at work.

“I’ve struggled with attention span and focus since I was a child, but things have changed so much this year. Now, I get to the office around 10 in the morning (after my early training session), I take a few drops, take a few deep breaths and then focus on the tasks ahead. My time management is still not where it should be, but I’m a far more efficient worker than in the past, I can concentrate on what is at hand and that is new.”

It helps you sleep Because of the nature of his injury, sleeping lying down became barely possible due to pain. “On top of that I used to struggle a bit with insomnia due to stress,” Haigh-Smith explains. He started taking CBD drops before bed and found the results very positive. “I sleep five to six hours now. I don’t wake up groggy or feel that I need a coffee to wake up - which is great because I’m far less dependent on that than I was in the past.”

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