It’s no secret hockey is a very hands-on sport. As a National Hockey League (NHL) enforcer whose job it was to step in when opponents got a little *too* physical on the ice, Riley Cote estimates he was involved in hundreds of fistfights throughout his career. By the time Cote retired, chronic pain was at the forefront of his day-to-day, along with concerns about what the future might hold for his health after sustaining repeated concussions and other trauma.

About three years into retirement, Cote found CBD (cannabidiol), what he calls a “game-changer” that’s helped him feel and live better. Stories like Cote’s are becoming increasingly common in the sports world as athletes seek natural alternatives to prescription painkillers.

Athletes (often literally) put their blood, sweat, and tears into their game, whether it’s hockey, MMA, running, lifting, football or soccer. For most, pain is par for the course. While some pain can be a good thing (“no pain, no gain”), chronic, severe pain can adversely affect an athlete’s performance and quality of life.

Sadly, thousands of athletes and former athletes have turned to prescription painkillers, including opioids, for relief. As well as jeopardizing their career, some such drugs can put users’ lives at risk, threatening dangers, including dependency and addiction.

In response to the ongoing global opioid crisis and increasing evidence proving CBD’s safety, efficacy, and benefits, the World Anti-Doping Agency in 2017 removed CBD from its banned substances list. Officials in the National Basketball Association and National Football League soon followed suit, recommending policy changes to permit CBD and medical marijuana as dietary supplements to support their health.

These days, you’d be hard-pressed to find a professional athlete or retiree in any major sports league who hasn’t used or publicly praised CBD, including David Wells, Brett Favre, Joanna Zeiger, and Floyd Landis, to name a few.


Whether you’re using a CBD salve or balm after an intense game or hardcore workout or adding a tincture or oil to your pre-or post-gym smoothie, CBD works in the same way: by interacting with your body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS).

The ECS is an intricate network of endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes located throughout the brain and body. It is responsible for numerous functions and processes, including immune system function, appetite, sleep, stress, memory, and pain sensation.

The cannabinoids in CBD mimic the endocannabinoids the body produces and help the ECS work more effectively.


No one will soon forget the Michael Phelps marijuana dilemma or others like it. Experts and sports officials have yet to reach a consensus on whether marijuana, recreational or medicinal, has a place in professional athletics. Nonetheless, the tides are turning, albeit gradually. And an increasing number of fitness and sports experts are coming around to the idea that marijuana could be a harmless, even helpful, natural health supplement.

It’s also important to note that while there’s still much ado about weed, CBD is widely accepted and federally legal in the U.S.

Both marijuana and CBD come from cannabis plants, though they’re typically sourced from different varieties (cannabis Sativa-Indica, vs. cannabis sativa). Likewise, they share certain qualities, including pain response support abilities, and often work best in sync in a phenomenon known as the “entourage effect.”

However, THC and CBD do affect the brain and body differently. The biggest difference, crucial for most athletes, is that CBD does not produce the “high” that THC does. Rather than feeling “elation” or a brain fog, CBD produces a feeling of calm and clarity that some have likened to the natural endorphin rush of a runner’s high.

Also, CBD has certain therapeutic properties that may help protect cells and regenerate neurons. This may provide help to people who have sustained brain injuries, such as concussions. More research is needed for conclusive recommendations to be made, but it’s always worth speaking to your doctor about whether CBD can help you!


CBD is not a magic potion. Like anything else, it won’t heal everything that ails you, nor will it necessarily make you run faster and jump higher. That said, a mounting body of clinical research and countless anecdotal accounts show it could potentially improve healing and immune system function, support inflammatory responses, and help your body recover efficiently. Ask your doctor before trying CBD, and only change dosages of medications with your doctor’s approval and supervision.