Having played 15 seasons in the NHL, Mike Cammalleri describes his time in professional sports as a dream come true. It was also a gruelling career, with lots of 3 a.m. flights, an intense training regimen, and injuries.
In an interview with CannCentral, Cammalleri (who played in Edmonton, Montreal, and Calgary, among other cities) says he first tried medicinal cannabis after injuring his T-spine (upper back) with the Oilers in 2018. He had never been a recreational cannabis user, and was wowed by the positive effects of CBD.
“As an ex-professional athlete, I wish I had found it way earlier in my life,” he says. Cammalleri says the substance helped him in many ways, pain relief being just one of them. He was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at age 11, making him sensitive to inflammation. CBD helped diminish that symptom. It also helped reduce anxiety, a common problem facing high-level athletes, particularly before or during an important game or event.“I still use it daily,” Cammalleri says. “It has anti-inflammatory benefits and anti-anxiety benefits. It can benefit rest and recovery but it also helps with getting into the zone—being present, two things that all humans want. We want to be our best self, not just in sports. The less anxiety and less inflammation in your body, the healthier you can be overall.”
Not just for hockey players
It’s not just hockey players who have turned to CBD to up their game. Ross Rebagliati (who runs Ross’ Gold, a medical-cannabis company, and Legacy Brands, a cannabis business) was ahead of his time, using the substance for snowboarding success. Pro golfers use it, and companies like On the Green claim to make products specifically developed for golfers. It says its products help with focus, sleep, and recovery, improving overall performance. And Toronto’s Elias “the Spartan” Theodorou, a professional MMA athlete, is the first sanctioned medical-cannabis athlete.
These days, Cammalleri, who’s a married father of three, is the cofounder and co-CEO of BioSteel, the sports-nutrition company he cofounded in 2019. Canada’s largest licensed weed producer, Canopy Growth Corporation, has acquired BioSteel, which recently launched a line of CBD-infused recovery drinks.
Anxiety can hinder performance
Dr. Mark Ware is Canopy’s chief medical officer. Prior to joining the company, the family physician and former associate professor at McGill University spent more than 20 years researching different uses of medical cannabis.
Ware cautions that clinical research surrounding the benefits of CBD in relation to sports performance is lacking; to date, most of the studies have been done on animals or in preclinical settings. However, there’s ample evidence to suggest the substance has anti-anxiety and anti-inflammatory effects, which contribute to better athletic output.
“Anxiety is something that can affect people’s performance,” Ware says. “For athletes or weekend warriors going into a competition, anxiety itself can be a detriment to performing well. People knowing they have a big game the next day often don’t sleep very well.”
CBD’s anti-inflammatory effects could help reduce muscle soreness that can follow an intense workout, though Ware notes that the effect is subject to further clinical testing. Anecdotally, however, many athletes “are already self-medicating with CBD”, he says.
While CBD has relatively few side effects, Ware cautions that large quantities could interact with other prescription medication. He urges people to check in with their health-care professional to discuss potential interactions or other contraindications.
Know the risks
Health Canada says that those who have a history of hypersensitivity to any cannabinoid or to smoke need to consider the risks and benefits of medicinal cannabis carefully. This is also true of those who have severe cardio-pulmonary disease with occasional hypotension; have respiratory diseases or severe liver or renal disease; or have a personal history of psychiatric disorders or a family history of schizophrenia, to name a few.
Canopy is currently running multiple studies related to CBD. Cammalleri is confident that science will back up so many of the claims he hears all the time about CBD’s benefits for athletes.
“In my experience in pro locker rooms, any stigma has not only dissipated; it’s gone,” he says. “I can’t exaggerate how widespread CBD use is among pro athletes.”