Being a professional athlete might be one of the most sought-after jobs in the world. It also could be one of the riskiest. Whether a pro athlete plays hockey, fights, or blocks tackle, the reality of working in a high contact sport is that your physical and mental health quite often take a hit. According to what little research can be conducted while cannabis remains a Schedule I drug, the plant likely provides both preventative and therapeutic uses that are directly linked to needs of athletes.
As we recently reported, doctors like Gary Wenk at Ohio State have concluded that players and fighters facing serious head trauma may drastically lower their chances of developing Alzheimer's if they use cannabis daily. Other studies have suggested that cannabis is an effective sleep aid—good news for anyone who has to wake up and be (literally) on the ball. Despite the benefits cannabis seems to offer to professional athletes, however, no professional league allows cannabis use outright, and leagues like the NBA and NFL have a strict policy against it. This is why the advocacy group Athletes for Care provides a platform for retired pros to voice their support for the plant.
"We're creating a community to provide support, opportunity and purpose to athletes in their lives after a career in sports, as it pertains to cannabis specifically," Ryan Kingsbury, part of the support team at Athletes for Care, told Civilized. "It's about promoting the idea that cannabis can be healthy for the active lifestyle for athletes, fitness enthusiasts. It’s really an effort to destigmatize this plant."
The individuals involved in Athletes for Care range from former professional snowboarders to NFL players and UFC fighters. Each has arrived to the match up of Draconian cannabis laws versus common sense with their own unique story and set of injuries.
Former UFC fighter Nate Quarry was late to the cannabis game. He initially shied away from the plant after a childhood incident in which his older brother was caught using left a bad taste in his mouth. Quarry told Civilized that even as an adult, training in the cannabis-centric jiu jitsu community, he "never really judged anyone. But it just wasn’t for me."
Then Quarry came to the end of his career, and he had almost as many serious injuries as he did meaningful memories. "I've suffered eight surgeries. I've had two spinal fusions I've got 13 screws in my face. I've got 6 screws in my back. I've had my right pectoral reattached, seven chunks of bone taken out my right elbow. I couldn't even imagine how many concussions over the years. So sleeping for me was just impossible."
A friend gave Quarry a marijuana brownie to help him sleep. Due to his past associations with the plant, he was reluctant to try it. "I took one bite," he recalled. "And for the first night in years without prescription medication, I was able to sleep eight hours straight. I woke up and I just couldn’t believe it."
Soon, Quarry was also using cannabis to cut down on another prescription—his pain medication. The severe discomfort caused by his injuries had led to a high intake of opiates—and dosage levels that he was consistently begging his doctors to raise. "I was on a hundred and twenty milligrams of OxyContin every day and combining narco on top of that."
While on his honeymoon in Europe, however, Quarry started using CBD "mainly out of necessity," and was astonished to find how well the products from Receptera Naturals worked to manage his pain and help him get off opioids.
"My last refill prescription, I sat down with my doctor. He asked 'Okay, you think we can lower your prescription a little bit?' I told him, 'You can lower it a lot.' Which made him very happy. So from the 120 milligrams of the Oxycontin, I am down to 30 milligrams a day. So I'm at 20 percent of what I was just having ... CBD oil has made such a huge difference in my daily life. I'm a huge advocate of all this, and it's very frustrating to see that marijuana is still a Schedule I substance ranked up there with heroin and meth."
Bas Rutten, another former UFC combatant, came to cannabis by way of a doctor's recommendation. He had rheumatic fever as a kid, which required heart monitoring for the rest of his life. When his doctor discovered Rutten was taking Seroquel as a sleep aid, he told Rutten he was worried about Seroquel’s impact on the heart, and suggested Rutten smoke cannabis instead.
Using cannabis products from Receptera Naturals also helped him kick the painkillers he’d been using to fight through severe injury. "I was really banged up. I still wanted to fight, because I spent a lot of money (on my career). Otherwise, I was going to be in the hole, so to say. That’s when I started with the pain killers."
In Kingsbury’s experience working with athletes in a wide variety of disciplines, he has observed cannabis acting as something of a miracle drug. "I think it’s useful not only as a neuro-protectant and as an antioxidant—both properties being patented by the government—but at least the anecdotal reports that I'm getting from some of these athletes, is that it helps reduce recovery time. It helps the prevention of inflammation. I think for a lot of them it helps to improve focus, and ultimately really restoring homeostasis into the body."
Given that cannabis does seem to offer such useful tools for extremely physically active people, it is unsurprising that individuals like Quarry and Rutten have teamed up with Athletes for Care, and are candid and passionate about the need for legalization and destigmatization of cannabis.
"Don’t believe what the government tells you," Rutten urges. "People automatically believe it’s true you, but you realize it’s been medication for thousands of years. Then suddenly, the government labels it a drug so that they can make money on alcohol. Nobody can deny what cannabis is doing for you anymore. Get off your horse, or whatever you’re sitting on, and just start Googling. You do that, and you go, 'are they lying to us?' Well, they do that about pretty much everything."
"'Don't do drugs.' Let's follow that up with, 'Don't do drugs unless you want to be President of the United States, like Barack Obama. Right. George W. Bush. Bill Clinton. Don't do drugs unless you want to be one of the world's biggest box office stars—Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. Don't do drugs unless you want to create Apple and the iPhone."
"Let us be free. Let me live my life the way I want to. You show me who I've hurt, and I'll change my ways. But until that time happens, I'll tell Mr. Sessions: 'No. I am good people. I'm doing just fine without your prohibition on my rights as an American.'"