Riley Cote

Hockey Player, Coach and Cannabis Advocate

By Ashley Priest

Riley Cote remembers the first time he tried cannabis “like it was yesterday,” he said. He was at a party when someone offered him, “cannabis oil dabs heated with the hot steel knives fresh out the old stovetop heating coils. I over consumed and vividly remember the paranoia, anxiety and the quickness of my thoughts.”

He was just 15 years old. Admittedly, his first experience with the herb was off-putting. It wasn’t until six month later that it all changed.

At 16 years old, Cote left his home in Manitoba, Canada, to join the Western Hockey League as a junior hockey player in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. It was then that Riley first noted just how medicinal cannabis could be for athletes. Here, he said, he “discovered the sense of calmness and focus it brought without the interference of other intoxicants like alcohol.” This was when cannabis became a part of his life. “I remember coming home after my first season of junior hockey and ripping the bong before going into the gym and getting after it,” he explained, “I was intrigued by how it helped me focus and stay in the zone.”

How Cannabis Helps Cote

In 2004 Cote started his career as a professional hockey player in the National Hockey League (NHL) and is best known for his position as a Left Wing for the Philadelphia Flyers. Throughout his career he was involved in roughly 250 hockey fights, which resulted in numerous injuries and a plethora of medical ailments. While he was still playing, he stated that cannabis helped him most “with managing pain, anxiety, sleep and just an overall feeling of spirit and well-being.” He attributes his cannabis use and regular consumption of hemp-derived CBD oil from Receptra Naturals for his positive mental health, not only during his career, but throughout what he calls the “recovery process.”

Cote believes his regular consumption of cannabis is to thank for eliminating his major asthma symptoms, including severe asthma attacks, numerous hospital visits, and the need to constantly have an inhaler on hand. This is a topic that Riley doesn’t often speak of, but since learning about “the anti-inflammatory properties of cannabis, as well as its ability to act as a bronchodilator,” he stated, cannabis consumption may have something to do with the fact that he hasn’t carried  an inhaler with him or suffered asthma symptoms since he was 16.

“If you can manage pain, anxiety, inflammation, sleep and protect your brain all with a smile on your face, to me it’s a no-brainer and it’s why cannabis is my herbal choice,” said Cote.

Incorporating Cannabis, Fitness, and Yoga into His Lifestyle

Cannabis is part of Cote’s daily lifestyle and fitness regimen. He believes that cannabis is “the ultimate healing and recovery tool” for athletes and many others. He currently utilizes cannabis to manage his pain, which stems from the numerous injuries and surgeries he has endured throughout his career. His typical consumption method is vaping, but more recently he has also ingested cannabis in low dose capsules which contain 5-10mg of THC in coconut oil.

According to Cote, “The vape acts almost instantly for immediate relief, while the ingested cannabis plays a subtle role in calming the body as a whole,” he added. “I’ve realized that less is more and this way I can sustain my pain management simply, but also find balance between managing pain and inflammation, and be fully focused and productive.”

His fitness regimen consists of mainly yoga and bodyweight exercises. He also loves to incorporate cannabis with yoga, noting that yoga is a game changer when it comes to addressing the pain and inflammation from the many years of wear and tear upon his joints. “The element of focus and being more conscious of your movements and breath take mindfulness to another dimension,” he said of yoga. “For years I’ve integrated cannabis in my training and workouts which really help me dial it in, but when you really tune into how your body feels it becomes an even more valuable tool.”

The Next Hempsational Chapter

After Cote retired in 2010, his advocacy for medical cannabis and hemp grew stronger, the latter of which he gained an understanding and respect for during the last year of his career.

“My passion for hemp came from a combination of having experienced and understood the therapeutic, medical, and spiritual properties of cannabis and me discovering the nutritional profile of the hemp seed,” he explained.

During the last NHL season of his career, Cote changed his diet to a whole foods, plant-based one, that included plant-based protein sources such as hemp seeds. During this time, he gained a deep understanding of the digestibility and nutritive value of the hemp seed.

In 2010 Cote founded Hemp Heals Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, which he said is dedicated to “promoting hemp as a viable agricultural crop for farmers to mix into their rotation.”

Since this time Cote has been an outspoken advocate for hemp and medicinal cannabis alike. In 2016 he became one of the founding members of the Pennsylvania Hemp Industries Council. When asked what the biggest benefit hemp has to offer is, he said “It’s an overall healing plant and has the ability to change the world in so many different ways.”

“Hemp has the ability to generate energy sustainability without poisoning the environment and its people. Besides having the ability to help replace fossil fuels and other dirty energy sources, hemp can be grown as a food crop to feed the entire planet and sustain medicine and health care,” Cote added.

Cote also believes that “whether it’s resinous cannabis or non-psychoactive hemp-derived CBD, they both have their place in sports,” he added. “All athletes should be consuming CBD before, during, and after competition to not only help with inflammation and improve recovery time, but also to protect their brains” from long-term brain injuries such as traumatic brain injury (TBI) and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).

A Plant for All People

In 2017, Cote co-founded Athletes for CARE, also a 501(c)(3) non-profit. Cote said the organization works to “promote health, wellness and alternative healing tools, not only for athletes and retired athletes, but also for the general public at large.” 

Athletes for CARE is dedicated to providing a supportive community for retired athletes suffering from mental health issues, drug addiction, physical injury, and pain while helping to “normalize and legitimize the use of cannabis for a variety of conditions,” said Cote. He is hopeful that the organization will be able to help facilitate cannabis research to provide scientific backing to the growing number of anecdotal experiences heard from athletes all over the world.

When asked whether his role as a former NHL player and coach gave him a unique ability to be a voice for other athletes, Cote said, “Yes, I think so. Traditionally the stereotypical cannabis user is unmotivated, lazy and addicted. Well, that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Advocacy in any movement has many different faces, said Cote. “In the cannabis movement there are a bunch of former professional and nonprofessional athletes — including myself — using their platform in the sports area to legitimize the use of cannabis and/or hemp-derived CBD to manage pain instead of addictive opioids, [to] manage inflammation, protect the brain, promote sleep and more. Not only for athletes but for all people.”

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Emerald contributor since March 2012


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