Ross Rebagliati reflects on Cannabis and Sport
As cannabis becomes a more accepted facet of our society, it begins to pervade all aspects of it. Many athletes have chosen to include it as part of their healing regimen, training program, or both. Some purport it stimulates better performance, while others say its calming and focused effect gives them clarity to perform more efficiently. Although this is sure to create a great deal of controversy, many high profile (no pun intended) professional athletes have chosen to break the silence and openly declare their belief that cannabis should be a choice they should be able to have.
Nick Diaz was suspended from the UFC for five years, in 2015 after testing positive for cannabis for the third time. A host of other UFC fighters have faced suspension, and many became vocal opponents to the ban. Nick’s brother Nate Diaz, another UFC fighter, defiantly vaped CBD, the non-psychoactive cannabinoid, on live TV at a post-fight press conference. After weighing the entire controversy and concluding that CBD has legitimate healing properties, the UFC decided to remove it from its list of banned substances.
The Gridiron Cannabis Coalition is a group made up of high profile former NFL players lobbying for the right for current players to use cannabis medicinally. These players include Ricky Williams, former Heisman Trophy winning running back who chose to play in Canada rather than quit using cannabis after his NFL drug suspension in 2006. Other notable players in the group include two-time Super Bowl quarterback Jim McMahon. The players assert, in PSAs and TV commercials, that medical cannabis has helped them manage the pain of having played a grueling sport, and the nagging injuries that remain. They also advocate the safety and efficacy over the addictive opioids football players are usually given to manage their frequent pain issues.
Many amateur athletes also swear by both the effectiveness of healing and psychologically uplifting effect of using cannabis in a training regimen. American swimmer Michael Phelps, who has won an astounding record 28 Olympic medals, was famously captured at a party taking a massive bong hit. That controversy died down rather quickly and did little, long term, to hurt his career. Phelps might want to give thanks to Canadian Snowboarder, Ross Rebagliati, for taking the lumps that paved the road for better acceptance.
Twenty years ago, Ross Rebagliati thrilled Canada by winning Gold at the inaugural Snowboard event, at the Nagano Olympics, in Japan. The elation was short lived. Ross had tested positive for THC—the psychoactive cannabinoid in cannabis. Rebagliati was quickly stripped of his medal and, to add insult to injury, arrested for importing a banned substance into Japan—cannabis in his bloodstream. Ultimately the Olympic Committee, after much deliberation, ruled that, because the Snowboard Federation did not sign an agreement banning cannabis, the medal would stand. This was after also concluding that THC could not be considered a performance enhancing substance—they deemed just the opposite. Rebagliati disagrees with that sentiment.
I reached out to Mr. Rebagliati to see how he views cannabis and sport today and to reflect upon those events two decades ago. In the spirit of making lemonade when given lemons, Ross has parlayed the label that was stuck upon him into a successful cannabis brand, Ross’ Gold. It incorporates branding, a chain of planned upscale legal dispensaries, a clothing line, and an impressive array of branded cannabis water pipes. Here are some of the more interesting insights I uncovered speaking with him.
R.G. You’ve described training using cannabis as creating a different feeling that puts you more in touch with your gear and surroundings. Do you think that most athletes would benefit from exploring that relationship?
R.R. I think it does. Athletes should explore it because we’re talking about a millimeter or hundredth or thousandth of a second, with gold medals at stake, as well as medal counts and millions of dollars in National team income. So, coaching and everything that goes on behind the development of an Olympic athlete should take into account everything they can possibly do to help the athlete, in a natural way, perform better. As long as you are aware when using cannabis, particularly the THC, the effect you get from being elevated while training, gives you that fine-tuned, you know, approach to be in tune with things you would normally overlook.
R.G. I think that’s a great description for those who are uninitiated. I’ve also heard you discuss how cannabis affects your motivation to work out and to endure the rigors of grueling physical demands and long periods of travel away from home.
R.R. Well, it increases my enthusiasm immediately before I’m going to walk out the door to do my workout. It sometimes affects my ability to get up and be able to do my workout in the first place. Sometimes I may be distracted by, you know, a huge hydro bill—I’m depressed about it and don’t feel like working out. A lot of time every day life gets in the way of an athlete and making decisions that lead you to doing your workout. Cannabis has a way of putting things that you can’t control out of your mind, so you can prioritize things that you can control. Focus on what you need to do now, not save the world before lunchtime—or things that can be accomplished over the course of your life—but what are we going to get done today. I think that’s what cannabis gives me the ability to do. It keeps me motivated and helps me focus.
R.G. As a role model, one who is raising his own kids, what would you like to tell the next generation of Canadian snowboarders and athletes about cannabis use? We’re the generation who needs to normalize it, so, what is important to share?
R.R. I would share the concept of experimenting with cannabis when you are the appropriate age and not to be afraid of cannabis. I found, myself, that the athletes who used cannabis on the World Cup tour were more relaxed and psychologically stronger. They didn’t let all the little things affect them. When you’re on tour, you are under a microscope. Everything is disrupted—you’re not at home, you’re not with your girlfriend, you’re not with your family. You are away, by yourself. It seemed not only did people who used cannabis have an easier time adapting, they seemed to enjoy the time more. I think, in general, people should use cannabis for the same reasons.
R.G. You have mentioned that you started Ross’ Gold to help people. You have also stated that you consider all cannabis use medicinal—that using cannabis is part of a healthy lifestyle that can balance family and responsible use--can you expand on that?
R.R. Cannabis is not recreational or medicinal, it’s cannabis. A banana is a banana—if you put it on a banana split, is it a recreational banana? If you eat it on your bike ride, is it a medicinal banana? Or is it just a banana that’s good for you no matter when you take it - just like an herb that grows out of the ground that’s good for you. Coffee is also a psychoactive substance because of caffeine but nobody calls it a drug. People die every year from caffeine. Nobody has ever died from consuming cannabis. In my opinion, it is not a drug, just a natural substance.
Mr. Rebagliati and I discussed a great variety of topics related to both sports and cannabis throughout our 45-minute interview. He continues to maintain gold medal standards in all his endeavours and looks forward to the day when he envisions using cannabis will be no more controversial than pouring a cup of tea. I’ll drink to that.
(Note from the Publisher: Mr. Rebagliati is expressing his personal opinion based on his marijuana use in the context of his Olympic training and competition. His perspective on both marijuana and bananas is not necessarily shared by Tonic)
Rick Gillman is a medical cannabis patient, consultant, and veteran freelance writer. He is involved in medical cannabis research and breeding projects--creating more effective medicine. He works for Canadian Cannabis Clinics as a Medical Outreach Educator out of the Collingwood, Ontario clinic.