NHL trainer intrigued by potential of marijuana helping players

Evanka Osmak looks into the effects that legalized marijuana will have across all pro sports, with many athletes weighing in on the controversial subject.

As we moved closer and closer to a world where marijuana would be legal in Canada, some people surely dreamed of hitting the bong. For Matt Nichol, though, it was time to hit the books.

Nichol, a nutritionist and strength and conditioning coach who works with numerous elite-level NHLers, knew he was obliged to learn whatever he could about a product that could play a role in helping athletes do anything from deal with chronic pain to calm nerves.

“Over the last six months it’s been a major area of focus for me,” says Nichol, the founding partner and chief formulator of Biosteel Sports Supplements Inc. “I want to at least make sure I’m directing my athletes properly and making sure they’re getting the best advice possible.”

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While Nichol is intrigued by the healing powers derived from different components of Canada’s most famous green plant, he also used the term “wild west” on a couple occasions when speaking about the mild hysteria around legalization. The note Nichol struck was almost in line with what a level-headed person might say to those getting super high on the team he used to work for, the Toronto Maple Leafs: Hey, we all know this is exciting and we’re sure it’s going someplace good, but let’s calm down and understand there’s going to be some highs and lows before we figure out precisely what’s going on here.

“I’m of the mindset that [things with] so much potential positive benefit never come without some baggage; there’s got to be some downside,” said Nichol, adding there’s bound to be some treatment trial and error along the way. “You went from no one should ever use it [or even] talk about it to everybody should use it all the time for everything. Eventually we’ll settle into a nice phase where people understand exactly what it does and how to use it.”

Learning the properties of cannabis and all the forms they can take is just one obstacle for the trainers and nutritionists who may start recommending it to NHL players. Nichol acknowledges the people in charge of teams — a demographic that can skew old and suspicious — often fit the profile of a person who may subscribe to negative stereotypes surrounding hemp and marijuana. The athletes themselves, though, figure to hold more progressive mindsets.

“A lot [of them] have grown up in a day and age when there wasn’t as much of a stigma as there would have been for the coaches and GMs,” Nichol said.

That, of course, goes hand-in-hand with widely accepted recreational use of the drug. And while Nichol can see some value in using cannabis to take the edge off for people living public lives while dealing with sky-high expectations, he’s also sure there will be attempts to justify indulgent behavior with the need to relax. Moderation, as always, is key.

“I drink red wine, I could tell you I do it because there’s resveratrol (known to have several positive effects on the body) in it, but there are other reasons, too,” said Nichol. “There’s a difference between smoking a blunt while you’re playing Fortnite and taking CBD oil to deal with pain or inflammation.”

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