“Cannabis is the one thing that kept me on track. It kept me motivated.”
Ross Rebagliati speaks from experience when it comes to discussing the benefits of deliberate cannabis use. The Olympic gold medal winner turned entrepreneur has much to say about his relationship to the plant. As stereotypes of lazy stoners fall away, Ross suggests that everyone should keep an open-mind about using cannabis as a vehicle to improved health, self-acceptance and achieving goals.
In February, 2015 Ross took the time to interview with NORML Athletics. As an ambassador to the cannabis community, he started the discussion with expected confident assertions about the value of the plant and offered numerous details about how everyone can use the plant advantageously.
“Cannabis is one of the only things that lets me function at a high-level both mentally and physically and doesn’t take away from what I’m trying to do. As an athlete it’s really all you can ask for.”
Ross, The Early Years
Even though Ross has always been serious about his athletic pursuits, his cannabis use started out like most others – recreationally. In high school, he was on the ski and diving teams, and his snowboarding career got underway after he turned 15. Even though the sport was also young, there was already a big cannabis culture in the sport. It attracted risk takers and was considered edgy back then.
“The more I started seeing people using cannabis, the more comfortable I felt. I thought maybe I can try it too. As I got older I started trying it a little bit more on its own without alcohol. I noticed cannabis didn’t take away from the things I wanted to do during the day. It didn’t make me feel sick at night. It didn’t make me feel sick in the morning. I didn’t have a hangover.”
Ross quickly began paying attention to how cannabis affected his awareness and acceptance in life. As he found himself dwelling on the realities and what his goals should be, cannabis also helped him deal with the anxieties associated with forging ahead in his professional athletic career. He realized there was no value in worrying about the parts of life he couldn’t control. Instead he wisely decided to focus on the areas that he could influence. Cannabis helped him understand how he could create a better environment for himself and how that might look.
“How do you want to be as a person? And who are you? Instead of being drunk and confused and making bad decisions because of the influence of alcohol, I realized that cannabis was helping me. It wasn’t something I did for fun. It started to become a medicinal thing. That was the focus I needed to really take my athletics to the next level.”
In 1994 it was announced snowboarding would be an Olympic sport in 1998. In turn a new governing body was created and periodic drug testing was mandatory. Ross says that all the benefits of cannabis became more clear when he and the other athletes had to stop using it.
“Lucky for us cannabis is non-addictive. It’s not physically addictive like cigarettes or some hard drugs where your body rejects the idea of you not continuing to use that substance. With cannabis we were able to say ‘well, that’s the end of that bag.’”
In his and the sport’s Olympic debut, Ross Rebagliati won the gold medal. The crowning achievement after more than a decade of intense training and discipline. But in the midst of celebration, his worst nightmare came true. Ross figured as long as he wasn’t using cannabis, he would be fine. Instead he tested positive for secondhand smoke from his friends who lit-up regularly.
“I did three drug test before I went to Nagano [for the Olympics]. One was a week before, one was about a month before, and one was at the end of the summer. In drug testing as an athlete, no news is good news. You do your drug test, you don’t hear anything about it, and you carry on. If there’s a problem that’s when you hear about it. I didn’t hear anything. It turns out all the drug test I took before leaving for Japan had all tested positive for cannabis.”
Ross’ elation at winning the gold turned to despair when his medal was temporarily stripped. To add insult to injury he was also held and questioned in a Japanese jail. (The country’s authorities take drug crimes seriously and did not understand what cannabis was.) The chaos settled once governing authorities realized cannabis is not actually a banned substance in the Olympics – the reason he wasn’t notified after his earlier “positive” tests. Ross’ gold medal was quickly reinstated, and he was on the Jay Leno show the following night.
Despite the return of good news, his sponsors distanced themselves. The opportunities he would have had as a Canadian athlete coming home with a gold medal weren’t there. (The United States even put him on the no-fly list after September 11th and will not let him enter the country to this day.) His career was dead one year later, and he retired from the sport.
Today media exposure associated with cannabis use can be a blessing. But in the late nineties, rather than being able to enjoy the expected rewards from his sponsors, Ross was unemployed, broke and traumatized by the experience. He knew there were opportunities in the cannabis industry, but he was not able to act on them. The plant was to remain stigmatized, illegal and off-limits for years.
Ross’ Gold, CannaBusiness, and Human Health
Despite the rough start, today Ross is making great strides as one of the earlier pioneers and entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry.
“I put 100% of all my efforts into creating Ross’ Gold… and on the US side of things we have a hemp angle [with Ross’ Gold Hemp]. We’re coming out with hemp seed to start with. We have coffee beans with CBD. We are working on CBD infused tea. We are trying to broaden the impact of our brand and get it into the households of America in a user friendly way to further educate people about hemp and cannabis. We’re going to have a non-psychoactive CBD extract you can vaporize through the pen. CBD is about relaxing and anti-anxiety. It is anti-inflammatory. CBD is what cures the kids of their epileptic seizures.”
Ross’ experience provides him with ample wisdom and guidance for those who are new to combining the athletic performance with cannabis. “As an athlete there are many reasons to try cannabis. For training, it helps you focus. It takes away a lot of the peripheral clutter in your head. The focus aspect of it is intense. Also for an athlete repetitiveness is like Groundhog Day. You wake up at the same time. You go to the gym. You do the same routine. It’s like a routine that never ends. You always feel like you’re in the gym or on your bike doing something for training constantly. There is someone else training twice as hard as you, so you have to do it. With the motivation cannabis gave me, I could do this repetitive life. Cannabis is the one thing that kept me on track. It kept me motivated.”
Ross points out the obvious upside to cannabis compared to other diet and over-the-counter pharmaceutical choices. “It’s sugar-free, it’s fat-free, carb-free. There’s no hangover. It makes you sleep like crazy, and keeps your appetite up so you can eat the food that you don’t normally want to eat, because you’re eating healthy. CBD is used for anti-inflammatory purposes. It’s proven to be one of the most powerful anti-inflammatories we’ve ever discovered.”
If the benefits of deliberate consumption outweigh the downside effects so lopsidedly, why aren’t there more outspoken athletes who are out of the cannabis closet?
“There are high-level athletes across the world who use cannabis. They would never come out and promote it, because even though they might have a more lucrative opportunity if they did, the lucrative opportunity that they already have is good enough.” It’s not worth the perceived risk of outing oneself – still.
“Cannabis is a performance enhancer both psychologically and physically. With steroids the general thought is that you’re going to be able to jump higher and run faster. And that’s true – that’s why it’s on the list of banned substances. You can’t take cannabis and all of a sudden run faster. But if it gets you into the gym, and gets you training that’s how it’s performance-enhancing. If it can get you [exercising and practicing] in a natural way, that’s better. If you can get from point A to point B healthier and safer, than that’s how you should do it.”
As more athletes become outspoken about the potential of the plant, we ask ‘so, is it right for everyone’? Ross says even though there are exceptions, the general rule is there is some form of the plant that is healthy for most people if they educate themselves first and use it responsibly. Ross is eager to offer advice and descriptions of what to expect.
Ross describes how training and practice differ with cannabis…
“I definitely felt more aware of how my edge was biting into the ice or how stiff my bindings were. I could tell if my boots were flexing too much,. These are just fine nuances that you would normally never recognize during a day of training when you’re thrashing down the course.”
How much cannabis does Ross ingest and recommend to other athletes?
“During training I might have a small puff. I’m not going to smoke a whole joint. The misconception with cannabis dosing is that you smoke a whole joint and then go do something. Have a little puff, that’s all you need.”
“These [athletes, like myself] are all experienced users. They are not necessarily getting high like the stereotype might suggest. They’re getting the effects of cannabis, and they know how much works for them. It’s not a “let’s get wasted” concept. It’s like tea or coffee. You don’t drive up to the ski resort in the morning with your giant 50 shots of espresso thinking “I’m going to get fucked up on this fucking coffee and go snowboarding! Rarrrr!” It’s not like that. You’re not even thinking about it. You have your coffee, or your tea, it’s part of a routine. It’s what you do in your day to make yourself the best you can be.”
Ross’s recommendations for ways to ingest cannabis…
“As times have changed, I’m more into edibles. Not just brownies or cookies, but gelcaps with extract inside them. It’s a tiny little gelcap just like an Advil. You just go about your day anonymously, not offending anybody, decreasing your own anxiety knowing you’re not going to get pulled over by a cop or at least he’s not going to smell cannabis in your car on your breath or anything like that.”
“The effects of edibles last much longer than smoking a joint. For example if I smoked a joint I wouldn’t even know I had smoked a joint after two hours. But if you take an edible, with the same amount of THC that the joint had in it, because you are digesting it, it takes time to get into your bloodstream and to all your body parts It lasts much longer. I was smoking 15 joints a day at the peak. Now sometimes I don’t even smoke a joint in a whole week. I’m getting more from the cannabis compared to when I was smoking it.”
“The techniques they are coming up with to extract the medicine from the plant so you can vaporize the extract – it’s like sap from a tree, it’s very sticky, and it’s 99% THC. The size of a marble would last you as long as two ounces of dried flower. Good luck managing two ounces of bud in your day to day life. Because you’re not combusting it, that in itself makes [vaporizing] better for you.”
Finding the right strain…
“The strain choice depends on what the individual is dealing with. Let’s say for an example, you have a healthy individual who is just trying to take themselves to the next level as an athlete or as a healthy person, and that person is not well-versed in the cannabis culture or using cannabis at all, I would recommend a low THC indica-sativa hybrid. You can get any ratio that you want.” For a more detailed description of indicas and sativas, read Leafly.com’s article here.
Finding the right dose…
“I would recommend if you are just starting to start small. Some people will be more comfortable rolling a joint and having one puff then putting it out. Some people will be more comfortable with having a small bong hit and maybe getting on their bike and seeing how it feels for them. The idea is to start small, start with a low dose and get a feel for it. Some people are going to take it right away, and some people are not. In that situation it is extremely important that they don’t overdose. You can’t die from overdosing with cannabis, so there’s not that danger, but it’s not fun. You can go from having fun to not having fun. If you do get into it, dosing is the most important thing. If you are going to smoke a joint, light it, have one puff, put it out, and see how you feel over the next half hour. Then take it from there. You can have another puff in a half an hour, or you might not have another one until the next day.”
“I think that cannabis is one of those things where it is self-regulating. You are very much aware of how you feel and whether or not it’s working for you or against you. As opposed to alcohol, where even though you think it’s working for you, it’s working against you. So you’re very much aware of whether or not your cannabis use is making you feel better or not.”
“Like right now, I wouldn’t smoke a giant joint or have a whole bunch of dabs or just eaten some sort of edible right before we have this conversation. Just because I feel more comfortable when I’m not using cannabis before I do something like this [interview]. Everyone will have their different things that they do when they want to have cannabis or when they don’t want to have cannabis.”
‘Too much’ cannabis feels like…
“It’s very psycho-active. You definitely want to keep it to a comfortable level. It’s not like alcohol where you want to see how far you can go. It’s all psychological. A mild overdose of cannabis and the next thing you know you’re very introspective, you might get anxiety. You won’t find that with an experienced user. It’s all your choice. You have the power for yourself.”
Ross discusses the future of his involvement in the cannabis industry and dropping stigmas…
“[The Ross’ Gold product line] is coming from a standpoint of excellence – from an athletic standpoint, from an Olympic gold-medal standpoint– we feel that’s something that’s going to reassure people. Here is a guy that took his life seriously, took his sport seriously, took it as far as he could go (and inadvertently tested positive for cannabis).”
“Now it plays into the squashing of the stereotypes of [cannabis users] being lazy and lethargic and being losers and not being productive and just being the worst part of society. Instead it’s making people realize that it’s the opposite. And of course the propaganda wants you to think of all those things to protect Big Pharma, to protect all these companies that are lobbying the government. They want the stereotype. They love the stereotype. The reality is you can be way more functional, have a way higher level of consciousness and awareness of your friends and family, the world around you, your body, your goals in your life, where you see yourself in 10, 15, 20 years. You’re not blindly trying to make ends meet. You’re actually enjoying stopping to smell the flowers. ‘Wow, the leaves are really green. The sky is really blue. This music is really great. I feel great. My life is great!’ We want everyone to feel like that. The better you feel, the more productive you’re going to be. A better boss, a better teacher, a better parent – everything better. That’s inspiring. After all the years of negative propaganda, we are eroding it like crazy. There’s not a leg for it to stand on, and we have a lot of scientific proof to beat it down even more.”
Ross’ final words to the skeptics…
“Have an open mind if you are not part of the cannabis revolution. Have an open mind and realize the bigger message is “cannabis is good for you.” It’s not just something you take if you’re sick. You don’t have to be sick, you don’t have to have cancer, to have epilepsy, you don’t need to have any ailments at all. You’re better off with cannabis than without cannabis. Your body has receptors in it for cannabis. A deficiency of cannabinoids leads to depression. Everybody needs to make an educated decision, and not go by what any particular person says.”
“Cannabis is a healthy choice. Cannabis is good for you. In general everybody is better off with cannabis than without it.”