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From the penalty box to pot: ex-NHL enforcer a cannabis advocate

Former NHL enforcer Riley Cote (right) is now heavily involved in cannabis advocacy for athletes. File

Riley Cote knows a thing or two about pain.

The Winnipeg-born former NHLer racked up 411 penalty minutes in eight seasons as an enforcer, getting into about 65 fights over his NHL career.

Cote, who retired at the young age of 28, is now working as an ambassador for Athletes for Care, an organization that advocates for cannabis products as a natural pain relief solution for professional athletes.

“I’ve been using cannabis since I was 15,” Cote, who spent his career with the Philadelphia Flyers, told the 680 CJOB Sports Show Wednesday.

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“I didn’t really understand what it was until I got older. I always kind of knew it made me feel good, helped me sleep.

“Once I started fighting regularly at the pro level, I started realizing how much it helped with anxiety. Fighting guys regularly isn’t exactly easy on the mind and spirit.”

In recent years, mental health and the abuse of pain-killing medication has put the NHL in the spotlight, with a number of high-profile player overdoses and suicides – particularly among enforcers like Cote.

“These guys pay a price,” he said. “They put their bodies on the line.

“Yes, they’re well paid, but health and mental price are priceless. If you can’t give these guys a sustainable tool like cannabis, the other side of the coin is: what do you self-medicate with? Opiods, muscle relaxants, mix ’em all together… no wonder there’s so many depression issues and mental health and anxiety.”

READ MORE: Canada’s move to legalize cannabis won’t change NHL, at least not yet

Cote said coaches and managers in hockey put a premium on recovery time, so players will do whatever they can to heal quickly.

He’d like to see cannabis products promoted by medical staff and team doctors as a potential recovery tool, and he said ideally, that tool could be subsidized by the NHL Players’ Association and Alumni Association for all players, current and retired.

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“You gotta keep the players healthy,” he said.

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