Amid growing concerns of the nation’s opioid epidemic, professional athletes have begun to speak out about the healing properties of cannabis, and the impact—both positive and negative—that cannabis has on their professional lives.
Riley Cote, who played eight National Hockey League (NHL) seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers, began using cannabis at an early age. Cannabis helps calm his nervous system which enabled him to be a better athlete. However, he stopped consuming cannabis at age 20 when he turned pro, out of concern he would negatively impact his career by taking illegal substances. When he turned to prescription drugs, his performance dropped and his anxiety increased. After Cote retired at 28, he stopped drinking and began to explore medicinal benefits of cannabis. The plant made him feel better almost immediately. In his work with the Hemp Heals Foundation, Cote wants to bring awareness to the sustainability of the hemp plant, as well as promote the spirituality of cannabis. But, he says, “I don’t want to lose sight of the culture of cannabis and the people who put their lives at risk and have been incarcerated.”
Lifelong athlete Eben Britton came to cannabis organically, growing up with parents who held a holistic view of health and wellness. In his family, going to the doctor for medicine was viewed as a last resort. Upon entering the National Football League (NFL) in 2009—where he spent four years with the Jacksonville Jaguars followed by two years with the Chicago Bears—Britton found himself in a constant highly-adrenalized state. The regimen of pharmaceutical drugs prescribed to him wreaked havoc on his system. He says, “Once I started dealing with more severe injuries, I realized very quickly how opioids made me feel insane and irritable. I’d break out into cold sweats and chills.” In comparison, cannabis helped him to decompress mentally and physically, especially as he transitioned out of his NFL career. Also, Britton observes that cannabis helps prevent and treat head injuries, adding how the majority of players leaving the NFL have some form of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy).
As a recreational cannabis user and a registered Oregon Medical Marijuana Patient, Anna Symonds plays for The USA Rugby Women's Premier League. She attributes the longevity of her rugby career to the therapeutic benefits of cannabis. The plant enabled her to recover from multiple surgeries and broken bones, as well as helping with rest and rejuvenation. “When I used cannabis the night before we played,” she says, “I got a good rest and played better the next day.”
Symonds has hope for a future where cannabis use for athletes is destigmatized. She says, “Once they get over the fear of their careers getting derailed over cannabis use, more athletes will be speaking out.”
Author’s note: All quotes in this article were observations shared by athletes at the “Doc & Jocks®” special session conducted during the 2018 Cannabis Science Conference held in Portland Oregon and moderated by Dr. Uma Dhanabalan.