Riley Cote, who played as a forward for the Philadelphia Flyers, now sells hemp extracts and related health products
In 2010, Riley Cote was living the dream.
He was a forward with the Philadelphia Flyers, was cashing a huge paycheck and had fulfilled his childhood dream of playing in the NHL.
One problem — he was miserable.
“This represents the lowest point of my individual life,” Cote said while pointing to a photo of himself in Flyers gear from 2010 during the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance conference held in Winnipeg Nov. 20-21.
Cote, who grew up in Winnipeg and played junior hockey with the Prince Albert Raiders, was one of the keynote speakers at the CTHA conference because in his post-NHL life he has become a public supporter of industrial hemp and cannabidiol (CBD).
Studies suggest that CBD, a compound found in the leaves and flowers of industrial hemp plants, can provide pain relief, has anti-inflammatory properties and may help combat anxiety.
Cote owns a company in Pennsylvania, Bodychek Wellness, which sells hemp extracts and related health products. He also runs Hemp Heals, a foundation that promotes sustainable agriculture and natural medicine.
Cote, now 36, was miserable in 2010 because life in the NHL wasn’t as he imagined. Like millions of Canadian boys he dreamed of scoring the winning goal and skating around the ice with the Stanley Cup above his head.
Instead, in 2010 he was an overweight NHL enforcer, suffering from anxiety and partially dependent on alcohol and pharmaceuticals.
“You can imagine going to bed at night, knowing you were going to fight Donald Brashear or George Laraque, or some of these (guys) floating around when I was still playing,” said Cote, who was in the NHL for about four seasons, from 2007 to 2010.
Cote’s path to the Flyers was not easy. It required hundreds of fights and thousands of penalty minutes.
Cote scored 28 goals in his final year in Prince Albert. He wasn’t drafted but earned an opportunity in the minors because he beat up Darcy Tucker at a Maple Leafs’ training camp in the early 2000s. Once in the minors, Cote understood that fighting was his only ticket to the NHL. Two types of players got called up — those who racked up goals and those who racked up penalty minutes.
“The dream of me scoring 50 and playing on a line with Crosby … I realized that was unattainable. My skill was maxed out and I had to take on something different (to make it).”
He played four years in the minors, including two with the Philadelphia Phantoms in the American Hockey League before getting a chance with the Flyers in 2007.
Once in the NHL, Cote suffered through the realities of being an enforcer.
“Mentally preparing to fight every night, whether I fought or not, it was the chronic anxiety…. It really wasn’t me, it was something I had to do.”
To cope with the pressure, the injuries and having a job that involves “getting punched in the face,” Cote did what was normal in the NHL — painkillers, sleeping pills and booze.
“I can’t tell you how many guys I played with who went into a substance abuse program for just alcohol, let alone opioids and the rest of it,” said Cote, who looks about 25 pounds lighter than his NHL playing weight of 220 lb.
“It was that last year, in 2010 … when I was at a crossroads in life.”
Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren recognized that Cote was struggling. Holmgren suggested that Cote retire from hockey and offered him an assistant coaching job in the franchise’s minor league system.
The opportunity gave Cote a chance to pursue a healthier path.
While working as an assistant coach, Cote developed an interest in wellness and alternative medicine. His research eventually led him to hemp.
He had used cannabis during his hockey career but after the NHL he started adding hemp protein to oatmeal, yogurt, smoothies and other foods.
That habit quickly became a passion.
Whenever he could, Cote used his status as pro athlete to promote hemp and cannabis.
Few listened until 2014, when the U.S. government legalized the cultivation of hemp for research purposes. U.S. farmers started growing hemp and companies processed the crop to produce CBD oil. Suddenly, America had a quasi-legal market for CBD and that market is now booming.
“Sales of marijuana-derived CBD are expected to hit US$176 million and hemp-derived CBD will hit $291 million in 2017, for a total CBD market of $467 million (in America),” said Brightfield Group, a consultancy.
Its report, released in September, projected that the global market for hemp-derived CBD could hit $22 billion by 2022.
Canadian growers couldn’t legally harvest the flowers and plant tissue of hemp, until this year, so the Canadian hemp industry is behind America when it comes to CBD.
Cote said CBD and the cannabinoid industry is exploding in the U.S.
He started using CBD oil in 2014 to “mitigate some of the long-term damage from getting punched in the face for eight years.”
He’s not the only former NHLer who is using CBD. Cote sells his products to NHL alumni and current players.
“We’ve gotten some products for teams. I’m not going to mention the teams, but full NHL teams,” Cote said, while talking to media after his speech in Winnipeg
“If the players want it, the team will get it.”
The younger players want CBD or cannabis-based products because the old model, of opioids and prescription drugs, is outdated and broken, Cote said.
“Guys don’t want to be sucked into that…. They’ve seen players … go down that dark path.”
Connor McDavid, the NHL’s leading scorer for the last two seasons, is one of the players looking for alternatives. He spoke in October about federal legalization of cannabis.
“I say this more talking about the CBD side of it…. You’d be stupid not to at least look into it,” Hockeyfeed.com reported McDavid as saying. “When your body’s sore like it is sometimes, you don’t want to be taking pain stuff and taking Advil all the time. There’s obviously better ways to do it…. You’re seeing a lot of smart guys look into it. You’re seeing a lot of really smart doctors look into it.”
Cote is convinced that more athletes and non-athletes will soon turn to CBD for pain management and inflammation because prescription painkillers are partially responsible for the opioid and heroin crisis in North America. The Centre for Disease Control estimates that prescription opioid misuse, alone, costs the U.S. $78.5 billion a year.