As he was a teenaged prospect playing his way up the hockey ladder, Riley Cote first encountered cannabis.
“I got introduced to cannabis when I was growing up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and you know, I guess I grew up in the middle of Canadian drug culture,” Cote told leafly.ca. “When I was first introduced to it, it was obviously completely on a recreational level. You party, you drink, and somebody was passing around a joint or whatever.”
He didn’t know it at the time, but combining his sport and the inherent healing powers of cannabis would prove to be the best bet of his hockey career, one that is still paying dividends for Cote to this day, much like Las Vegas sports betting does for a professional gambler..
In 2017, former NHL tough guy Cote founded BodyChek Wellness. His company offers a line of premium hemp extract products. Seven years previously, he’d found the Hemp Heals Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports sustainable agriculture, sustainable health, and clean natural medicine while focusing on a holistic approach to optimum health, while promoting cannabis/hemp as a viable renewable resource.
Cote is a co-founder of Athletes For Care. It’s a not-for-profit organization that is dedicated to helping create a community in which athletes are able to locate support, opportunity, and purpose for their lives after their career in sports comes to a conclusion.
Cote, 39, from Winnipeg, made a living in hockey in the worst way imaginable. He was a fighter, expected to trade punches with the other team’s enforcers, sometimes two or three times in a game. He fought over 50 times during a 156-game NHL career with the Philadelphia Flyers from 2006-10.
Years later, he realized that the cannabis he’d been consuming was also helping to alleviate some of the after-effects brought about by his brutal job description.
“It wasn’t until I really got to about 20 years old or a little older when I started my pro hockey career that I really started to understand the therapeutic benefits,” Cote said. “That is when I started fighting – fighting in hockey, specifically, and really started catching the wear and so I think it started resonating to me that this is helping me manage pain, this is calming my nerves and anxieties of fighting and help me sleep, and recover.”
Cannabis was proving to be an elixir that helped him get through the grind of a rugged NHL season in which delivering and absorbing physical punishment was his daily task. But the career of an NHL enforcer is one that is fraught with other maladies. It’s a life of uncertainty – when will the fight, who will they fight next – and fear. Not fear of the fight, but rather fear of failure. If they lose too many fights, will they be replaced by the next player willing to get in there and trade punches with any and all comers.
The toll that earning a living as an NHL fighter is taking on players is no secret. Derek Boogaard died of a prescription drug overdose. Rick Rypien and Todd Ewen committed suicide.
“These guys pay a price,” Cote told Global News. “They put their bodies on the line.
“Yes, they’re well paid, but health and mental price are priceless. If you can’t give these guys a sustainable tool like cannabis, the other side of the coin is: what do you self-medicate with? Opioids, muscle relaxants, mix ’em all together . . . no wonder there’s so many depression issues and mental health and anxiety.”
Cote found his oasis from the physical and mental anguish of his profession in cannabis.
“It was one of those things, it resonated well with me.” Cote explained to leafly.ca. “It was a positive experience, it helped calm my nerves. There is a reason why you go back to something – some would argue it is addictive nature, but it is not. It is a subtle healing energy.
“We are trying to keep things in balance, and keep things intact, and I think cannabis does a good job at a spiritual level, and a mental clarity level to bring calmness to oneself.”
Cote’s hope is that eventually, all sports will come to recognize the healing powers of cannabis and make it part of a player’s recovery regimen.