Home Medical Fighting Stigma: Athletes Using Cannabis For Health

Fighting Stigma: Athletes Using Cannabis For Health

Image Courtesy of Timberlin Henderson

One of the best arguments for legal cannabis is its health benefits. Medicinal marijuana has led the way in the legal fight due to endless accounts of people using cannabis to successfully treat everything from glaucoma to MS to cancer. But one of the biggest issues standing in the way of marijuana gaining a broader acceptance is the stigma surrounding its use. Even if people accept it’s validity for those with serious terminal conditions, they may still believe that the average user is a stereotypical “lazy stoner”. When people imagine someone who uses marijuana regularly, they’re more likely to picture someone on a couch eating potato chips than someone running a marathon.

New products like CBD are introducing the idea that medicinal marijuana is about more than people simply trying to justify getting high. Cannabis for health isn’t a concept that’s only relevant to cancer patients and those with terminal illnesses – it’s for everyone.

The Clinical Journal Of Sports Medicine recently published an article on Cannabis and the Health and Performance of the Elite Athlete. It cites that, “the potential beneficial effects of cannabis as part of a pain management protocol, including reducing concussion-related symptoms, deserve further attention.” It also says that although they haven’t discovered any performance-enhancing qualities, “there is an apparent paradox in considering the effects of cannabis on athletic performance. Despite evidence that recreational cannabis use may acutely impair psychomotor skills and cognitive function, there is a perception among some athletes that cannabis use may have beneficial effects.”

Companies like Stigma are taking the athletic applications of cannabis and literally running with it. They’re trying to take what you think of as a typical stoner lifestyle and flip it on its head by creating activewear and health products for the sports-loving cannabis consumer. Stigma’s line of hemp based athletic-wear has everything from shirts and hoodies that say “f*ck stereotypes” to lululemon-esque performance leggings and sports bras. Their newest goal is to include additional products like protein powders, tinctures, and vapes using “Nano CBD”.

Founder & CEO Anthony Gonzalez says, “Our goal is to create CBD sports products that help athletes achieve their very best. We launched first with Recover Muscle Cooling Gel powered by Nano CBD. Our US grown, all-natural hemp is broken down into nano-sized molecules and then encapsulated for optimal transdermal delivery. Many people don’t realize the human body can only absorb a small percent of CBD contained in standard oil-based hemp extracts (as low as 10-20% depending on delivery method). This is because our body is upwards of 95% water, and as we learned in school, oil and water don’t mix. With Nano CBD, consumers are getting more of the CBD they pay for.”

Gonzalez was inspired by his personal journey with cannabis. He overcame his own biases about the plant after using it medicinally himself. “I started using a CBD tincture to help with stomach cramping that was caused by a gastrointestinal condition I developed. I had always been familiar with cannabis and had grown up with it in my family, but I never truly understood all that it had to offer. I actually had a negative perception of cannabis until I started to do research and discover the full benefits of the plant.”

Stigma’s website says they’re, “a diverse group of people from all around the world… Active, productive, and successful members of society who use cannabis everyday to support overall health and wellness.” One member of that diverse group is NFL running back Mike James, who joined the company in November 2018. James became addicted to powerful opioids prescribed by doctors after having surgery for an ankle injury sustained while playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2013. A year later, he decided to switch to cannabis as a natural painkiller and applied for a marijuana therapeutic-use exemption (TUE) with the NFL. They denied his request in 2018. He became an advocate for using medicinal cannabis to treat pain, especially for professional athletes.

Sports and cannabis have a rocky history. While activities such as cannabis yoga have been able to gain acceptance fairly easily, traditional sports have fought more bias. Record-setting gold medalist swimmer Michael Phelps was famously photographed hitting a bong in 2009 and suspended from USA Swimming. The stigma of marijuana use also cost him lucrative sponsorships like Kellogg’s. He went on to win twelve more Olympic medals, giving some credibility to the idea that cannabis may not actually hinder athletic performance.

Now more professional athletes are coming out about their cannabis use. Martellus Bennett has spoken about the widespread use of medicinal marijuana in the NFL after retiring from his ten season career. Bennett said, “There’s times of the year where your body just hurts so bad that you don’t want to just be popping pills all the time. … It ruins your liver. There’s a lot of these anti-inflammatories that you take for so long that, like, it starts to eat at your liver or kidneys and things like that. And a human made that. God made weed.” After spending 14 seasons in the NBA and winning the NBA championship with the Golden State Warriors, Matt Barnes said, “All of my best games, I was medicated.”

Some former pro-athletes are finding new careers in the cannabis industry. Ex-heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson recently started his own cannabis company, Tyson Ranch. Ricky Williams, formerly of the Miami Dolphins and New Orlean Saints, went from Heisman-winning NFL player to Brand Leader & Vice President of Real Wellness, a company that makes cannabis-based salves, tonics and vapes blended with herbs like turmeric and lavender to boost health. Reggie Williams, another former NFL player, publicly uses cannabis to treat knee pain and inflammation. He’s become an outspoken activist for medical marijuana, making appearances at the 420 Games.

The 420 Games “has attracted more than 20,000 cannathletes” since they began in San Francisco in 2014. Founder & Executive Director Jim McAlpine says, “Our participants are not only active in their athletic pursuits, but in their communities and their approach to health and wellness.” They’ve occured in LA, San Diego, Lake Tahoe, Denver, Boulder, Portland, Seattle, and Pittsburgh. Civilized, who recently acquired them, is planning to scale the games across North America in 2019.

Gonzalez and Stigma have supported the games. “Many of our Brand Ambassadors are in Los Angeles, as it has become an epicenter for cannabis culture. Our Ambassadors showcase their active lifestyle online through social media, and offline during health and wellness events like the 420 Games. We also give back to our community through volunteer events such as beach cleanups.”

If exercise is taking care of your health on a micro level, a clean environment is taking care of it on a macro one. Plants are a bridge between our environment and our body, and Stigma cares about keeping both clean. “We source our hemp from U.S. cultivators that are focused on sustainable and organic practices. Each batch is independently lab tested for its cannabinoid profile and screened for pesticides, mold, and heavy metals.”

Scientists are continuing to explore the myriad of health benefits from cannabis, and the applications for athletes are yet another way this plant is showing its full potential. As the cannabis community trudges forward in its slow fight for acceptance, companies like Stigma are running alongside them.