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“Athletes need something to help them get through the night, to wake up sharp in the morning, and that something is cannabis, not pharmaceutical drugs.”

Former Philadelphia Flyers bruiser Riley Cote, who spent five years in the NHL, is excitedly discussing cannabis because it’s long been a source of pain relief for him. “Whether there was a game or no game, I was using cannabis at night to help with anxiety and pain,” he says. “It’s better than feeling like ass in the morning.”1 

Cote lambasts the drinking and pill-popping culture inherent in hockey, which can lead some players down dark roads. “I’ve seen many players have to pay the price for that kind of substance abuse,” Cote recalls. “Why not lean on an herb that’s not as destructive to society?”

Cote is the co-founder of the Athletes for CARE, an organization dedicated to helping retired athletes. Other cannabis-using athletes in the organization include the NBA’s Al Harrington, the NFL’s Jake Plummer and the NHL’s Darren McCarty.

“There are a lot more athletes using cannabis than people realize,” Cote says, adding that while the NHL tests athletes for performance-enhancing drugs, the league won’t discipline players for testing positive for cannabis. “I found out it’s just for data collection. I’m glad the NHL is like that, unlike the NBA or NFL, where cannabis use can get you suspended for like 20 games.”

Some current athletes are afraid to follow Cote’s lead. As this report from the Canadian Medical Association Journal wrote, “Public endorsement of medical marijuana remains taboo among current NFL players, however, because taking a stand could cost them their jobs.”2

Some NFL players aren’t concerned about that designation. Running back Mike James, a free agent since being injured while playing for the Detroit Lions, told reporters he needs cannabis to help heal his worn-out body that suffered many blows as he ran the ball into the gut of the defense. He said: “To be able to play this violent game and deal with my chronic pain, I need an option for that.”3

Less mainstream leagues are backing cannabis use, though. Ice Cube’s BIG3 3-on-3 basketball league, which features many former NBA pros, announced that it would let players use cannabis-derived CBD products for pain management and recovery.

Cote envisions a future where team doctors won’t just prescribe pills when an athlete is facing a severe injury. “Team doctors aren’t willing to put their careers on the line right now, but I can see that changing down the road, when many doctors realize the sports-recovery model needs to evolve to reflect how safe cannabis can be for athletes.”

  1. Via interview conducted Sept. 13, 2018
  2. https://cmajnews.com/2017/03/02/a-place-for-pot-in-sports-109-5401/
  3. https://nationalpost.com/sports/football/nfl/running-back-seeks-to-be-the-first-to-get-nfl-to-relent-on-medical-marijuana-use-for-pain

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