How 3 Northern California athletes use cannabis to heal from sports injuries

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Most human beings will experience chronic pain at some point in their lives. Whether an injury happens in an instant or gradually over the course of decades, the resulting discomfort can lead to dependence on pain-relieving drugs. Opioid addiction rates have ballooned, giving rise to a public health crisis.

Meanwhile, the chemical compounds found in cannabis have shown promise for treating chronic pain with a far lower risk for addiction. Chemical compounds in the plant (there are at least 113 cannabinoids) like Cannabidiol (CBD) interact with receptors in the brain and immune system in a manner that reduces pain, inflammation and general discomfort rooted in a variety of health issues.

Still, the controversy over cannabis use in sports continues. Many NFL players, for instance, use cannabis to reduce pain and recover from strenuous activity. Former NFL tight end Martellus Bennett said he estimates nearly nine in 10 NFL players use cannabis. For athletes who are not subjected to drug testing, the rates are likely higher.

Here, three athletes in Northern California share their experiences using cannabis to reduce pain and treat injuries.

The author, Evan Kahn, stalls on a pickup truck. (Photo: Andrew Spalding)

Evan Kahn
BMX freestyle, Brazilian jiu-jitsu
Bolinas, California

“I started using cannabis to help deal with pain and injuries in 1996. I began to ride BMX bikes, and injuries go hand-in-hand with BMX riding. After about half a year of riding, I began to acquire a lot of injuries, from swollen knees and elbows to concussions and a lot of muscle aches. I was seeing local doctors, but it seemed like they were more focused on masking the pain than healing it. That was when I first tried Vicodin, it … didn’t really do anything for the pain. Kind of made me numb to the pain, but didn’t make it go away.

The one thing that did help me, though, was cannabis. Luckily, I was from a town known for its cannabis, and it was pretty easy to get. My friend’s mom had an herbal store downtown. Along with arnica and a bunch of homeopathic remedies, she made a cannabis salve. I got a small jar of [cannabis salve] and began to treat myself with that.

Along with smoking cannabis and using the salve, I began to use some edibles. If you’ve been around cannabis as long as I have, you know that back in the day, eating edibles was like playing Russian Roulette. You could eat a brownie and maybe you would get a 25mg dose or a 250mg dose. I stayed away from edibles for a few years until people started to calculate doses.

I went to my doctor at the end of 1996 and told him I was using cannabis to treat pain and promote healing. I had heard that Rev. Lynette Shaw had opened her club in Fairfax after the Feds shut down Dennis Peron’s club in SF. A friend had acquired a prescription by seeing my same doctor. After my visit telling him in confidentiality that I was using cannabis for treating injuries, I asked for a copy of my doctors note. In hindsight … I am surprised he went along with it and wrote down my cannabis use on that note. I do remember telling him that I was worried about pain pills and possibly getting addicted to them and I do believe he figured I was right and cannabis was far less addictive. So about a week later, I became one of the first kids under 18 in California with a medical marijuana card. I truly believe that getting that card at that age helped me avoid acquiring a pain killer addiction, as many of my friends had at that age.

Now it was the mid ’90s and nobody really knew about CBD and its healing properties, other than there being very low levels of CBD in certain strains. … I continued to eat small doses of edibles and smoke indica strains instead of using pain pills. Fast forward to 2012: CBD-dominant strains are being bred at an alarming rate with up to 20:1 CBD to THC. CBD pills are readily available at almost every medical marijuana dispensary and recreational dispensary in the state.

I have trained Brazilian jiu-jitsu for 7 years on and off, and my healing routine involves about 80 percent cannabis. I use salves for strains and muscle injuries. If I am really sore, I will use some CBD/THC bath bombs at night after I get home. I am a sativa smoker in the day and use indica strains at night, as well as some homemade THC syrup for pain.

Ashleigh Strasheim is back on the horse after recovering from a serious injury. (Photo: Step Strasheim)

I find that the THC syrup mixed with bubbly water comes on faster than eating an edible, and when you are in pain you need a fast delivery source. I have also started using a CBD tincture which is great for anti-inflammatory purposes. In the next year, I will start growing more CBD-specific strains so I can make salve, CBD/coconut oil pills and tinctures so I know where my medicine comes from.”

Ashleigh Strasheim
Horseback riding
Novato, California

“Before the CBD, I was taking up to two tramadol [pain relieving drug] a day. Then I started a topical one and a pen that was 18:1 CBD to THC. Within two weeks, I was off the tramadol! I also see a chiropractor which has helped tremendously. I got really lucky with the bone break. It was very clean and no surgery needed. I haven’t had any nerve pain which is huge.”

Tyrone Brendel uses flowers and dabs to relieve pain from injuries and reduce inflammation. (Photo: Steve Kohlstrom, @beafancyfollower)

Tyrone Brendel
Bolinas, California

“I use flower and dabs to release the tension in my muscles from everyday wear and tear, especially surf-related injuries. I have a bad shoulder that I choose to treat with natural remedies instead of addictive pharmaceutical pain killers. I feel that with chronic injuries, cannabis has multiple positive effects that not only relieve symptoms but also help heal, decrease inflammation and also relieve pain, without any of the severe negative side effects that can happen with pharmaceutical solutions.”