Article by Troy Farah, Vice News
“I went to a fight once and a hockey game broke out.”
For Riley Cote, a former left wing for the Philadelphia Flyers, his unofficial job was getting “punched in the face for a living,” as he puts it. His informal role as an enforcer or “goon” meant he was expected to throw down with anyone giving the star players a hard time. In his playing career, Cote has been in more than 250 fights on ice, some of which left him with lifelong injuries.
Like the National Football League and other full-contact sports, the NHL has had to contend with persisting damage to players, including concussions. But Cote thinks he has a potent remedy: marijuana.
After retiring in 2010, Cote came out as an advocate for hemp and cannabis, founding the Hemp Heals Foundation and co-founding Athletes for Care, a post-career organization for professional sports players. He says the therapeutic properties in weed helped him survive his eight years in the league. I called Cote at his home in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania to discuss addiction, fighting, and getting high to come down from the stress of a game.
Tell me about your time in the NHL.
I was what you’d call a mindless warrior. I had spirit, but I didn’t do things necessarily the right way. It certainly put me where I needed to be in life, let’s put it that way. It woke me up and isolated some public health issues. [I took] notice of the state of emergency that society is in with physical health, mental health, and addiction issues.
This is stuff that’s not really taught. A lot of self-medicating cannabis stuff, I figured out on my own. If you play in the NHL now, even the minor leagues, you will have every resource available to man, almost to the point where there’s no way you can fail. They have a nutritionist, they have a sports site guy, they have a sleep specialist, all the strength and nutrition guys you can ever imagine. They take every vital, they look after every little part of your body.
The next step is offering these tools that can alleviate some of these problems that wind up trickling into people’s lives as they go on with their career, but eventually transition into the real world. The mental health issues are the big ones that need to be nipped in the bud. Cannabis and all these different types of things that I’ve changed along the way can eliminate or at least help these guys avoid it.
How did you discover weed?
I was introduced to cannabis at 15 years old. It was a black market thing, so it ended up being at party scenes. I started consuming a little more in my junior hockey days, [when I discovered] the therapeutic values of it: promoting relaxation and rest, promoting sleep. So I quietly kept doing it into my pro career.
There’s obviously a few guys on each team that would do it, you would kinda do it with. But it was an ally of mine. It managed my anxieties fighting. Any type of fighting is a fight-or-flight response, so it creates anxiety, but fighting on the regular within a hockey game is a different type of anxiety. I thought it really helped with that, that was the big one and obviously that it promotes sleep, which is a huge part of the recovery process.
If it helps relax and calm the nervous system, if it helps manage pain, if it helps your anxieties and depression, if it helps you sleep—to me, those elements right there are the recovery process. The properties in cannabis are anti-inflammatory. It’s amazing how you wake up in the morning and you actually feel mobile and functional as opposed to stiff and almost like arthritis-ridden. That’s the way I was feeling at 28. I’m 35 now. Not that I’m that old, but I feel so much better.
Obviously, there’s other elements that I’ve changed to promote that, but I honestly believe that the cannabis and CBD [an active ingredient in marijuana] I take really helps with waking up in the morning, promoting just a state of well-being.