Weed, Wrestling, and Athletic Enhancement

Rob Van Dam is one of the world’s best-known professional wrestlers. He has fought in over 1,000 events at Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), earning 19 championship belts and an array of accolades from 1997 to 2007. Though WWE wrestling is semi-scripted sports entertainment, it nonetheless relies on extreme athleticism and injuries are common: Van Dam has suffered broken ankles and limbs, concussions, and has had surgery on one of his knees. He also used cannabis throughout his entire professional career. Van Dam was caught with a small quantity of marijuana in his car just days after a huge televised wrestling victory, and was stripped of his World Championship belt in 2006, but despite being temporarily expelled from wrestling, he has absolutely no regrets about his cannabis use and advocacy.

I believe cannabis improves performance in athletic and contact sports (such as wrestling, power-lifting, football), co-ordination sports (snowboarding, surfing, basketball), and finesse sports (golf, bowling) by providing a relaxed state of mind and agile body. I’ve wrestled professionally for about 18 years, won more championships than any WWE wrestler in history, traveled the world more times than I can recall – and cannabis has been a big part of it all. People might presume that athletes do not use cannabis during their sport event and only consume “off-duty” away from the gridiron or snow slopes, but let me tell you: that certainly isn’t my experience! Many athletes use marijuana before, during, and after performing. I recall one time during a show we were passing a doobie around out back, and my dearly missed good friend Joe C said my music was playing – I had missed my entrance! I did get out there, though, and performed an awesome show.

While the subject of cannabis use is considered too controversial to really discuss on most mainstream platforms, once in a while it crosses over. For instance, sometimes a famous athlete gets busted amidst huge media coverage, such as Olympic Snowboarder Ross Rebagliati in 1998, NBA basketball star Carmelo Anthony in 2004, and Miami Dolphins football player Ricky Williams in 2005. Consequences can include a pressured
and hasty apology, expulsion, or loss of a medal or award. I was a championship-belt winning wrestling athlete… until the sport disqualified me after enormous media coverage of my 2006 pot possession bust, which came only days after a popular televised championship bout and I was stripped of my WWE world championship.

During my first couple years of professional wrestling, which began in 1990, I didn’t have anything to do with marijuana. While the other guys toked weed driving down the highways, I avoided the smoke by sticking my head out the window. I remained uninterested in partaking for a while, as I had accepted the prevailing ideology that it was destroying their health. I had been focused on chasing my dreams of becoming a professional wrestler since I was 14 or 15 years old, and stayed clear from all drugs. I paid extra attention in health and fitness class, as I was dedicated to living the life of a pro athlete, and it was there I learned how protein is made of amino acids and is essential for muscle growth. It’s also where I learned that marijuana was a “dangerous, hallucinogenic drug” in the same classification as LSD and heroin. They told us that marijuana was a gateway drug, and people who smoked it couldn’t stop themselves from falling down the destructive path they just put themselves on. I remember watching a movie in class with some guy on PCP tripping like he was possessed, and felt like I was watching The Exorcist!

The scare tactics worked. I remember promising myself that I would never allow drugs to take control of my life. Marijuana was only for losers, I believed. And sure enough, the kids that seemed to smoke pot behaved contemptuously of the athletic world I inhabited, and didn’t appear to have too many goals in life. I was proud to be anti-marijuana while I devotedly pursued my wrestling career dreams and got into professional-league wrestling – a move that led me to trying cannabis for the first time!

It was my 21st birthday and I was lucky enough to be wrestling in Jamaica just days before Christmas, in 1991. The professional wrestlers that I looked up to for their amazing athleticism were all toking and telling me “this won’t hurt you”. I was surprised to learn that these professional athletes smoked marijuana regularly. They were living the lifestyle I wanted to be part of – and, apparently, smoking pot was part of that lifestyle. So after years of being anti-marijuana I finally decided to try it for myself. I hit the joint two times; that’s all it took for me. I was so comfortable just staring at the wall, like it was a live sex show. I couldn’t look away, no matter how concerned I was that the guys would notice and make fun of me – and, being fairly new to the scene, I was anxious to fit in. But the rest of the night was wonderful and I came to appreciate marijuana.

Professional wrestlers smoked in private and kept quiet about pot in order to stay out of trouble. But after learning more about marijuana science and research, I wanted to reach out to wresting fans that were also stoners and knew the truth about cannabis and hemp. I helped spread awareness of “420” by wearing it on my in-ring gear and even naming moves, such as the “420 leg drop”. Soon, other wrestlers started coming out and capitalizing on their love for the grass gift: Godfather, X-Pac and Road Dogg were all on mainstream television with related merchandise and monikers. Godfather said things like “roll a big fatty for this pimp daddy” in WWE pre-match promos. We even filled a room up with smoke for a funny promo video of me getting ready for a match. My merchandise t-shirt that read “RVD 420 means I just smoked your ass!” got the attention of High Times magazine, which approached me to do an interview (over ten years ago now). Even though the other wrestlers warned me not to do it, I wasn’t deterred, and after the article came out I was lauded as a warrior for the cause.

The other wrestlers said I was making myself a target by admitting to something illegal, and I understand that all the fish would still be in the ocean if they kept their mouths shut, but there’s a greater cause at hand than personal enjoyment. Terminally ill patients are arrested, families and lives destroyed, a world of people remain misinformed – just like I once was – people who don’t know the truth and continue to demonize marijuana. I had to help change that. So as I continued to entertain excited wrestling fans all over the world, I advocated the healing herb as often as possible.

The crowning moment of my wrestling career was winning the WWE World Championship title. Holding the WWE belt on one shoulder and the ECW Championship belt on the other, all eyes were on me – I was basically, for the moment, the representative of professional wrestling. So I guess that’s why the media was interested when I got busted for possession of marijuana, and was stripped of my titles. I was traveling with my long time friend Sabu when it happened. After we were let go, I tried to explain that it wasn’t a big deal, no one would find out, and he should just relax. I’d been busted many times before with no public mention, so there was no need to worry. Before we made it to the arena the next day, our cell phones were ringing like crazy and we learned that the news was out, big time. Within the next few days, our bust was in every newspaper, on every radio and television station, and all over the Internet. Many say it couldn’t have happened at a worse time, with me having to forfeit the World Champion titles and face a 30-day suspension – I say it couldn’t have happened at a better time. I have always talked openly about cannabis and no change occurred with my suspension. The reason it couldn’t have happened at a better time is that no one would have given a shit if I hadn’t been the World Champion, so it was good for the attention the cause received. Not only could I talk openly about cannabis, but also I was free from a grueling schedule. Traveling with WWE is a physically and mentally fatiguing job, where you’re likely to live in a different hotel in a different town almost 300 days a year, if you’re on top. That’s in addition to the brutality of the matches themselves. The grueling schedule is why I chose to not resign when my contract expired, instead favoring an extended break.

After I left, bad news struck with the horrible tragedy of the double murder suicide case of Chris Benoit, who apparently killed his son and his wife before committing suicide. I can tell you that Chris wasn’t a pot smoker, but I did talk to him often about the fucked up laws on the subject and he agreed they were wrong. I wonder if cannabis could have treated him and prevented tragedy. The peaceful persuasion of pot may have relaxed a violent, raging mindset, but that’s not all I’m talking about – I’ve read about studies that describe how THC helps stave off plaque formation on the brain, a condition associated with Alzheimer’s disease and which is similar to plaque built up from physical brain trauma. Indeed, the investigating coroner found Benoit’s brain had damaged protein deposits built up from physical trauma, and his brain damage compared in some ways to that of an 80 year-old Alzheimer’s sufferer.

Using Cannabis In Athletics
I have been around the good herb for many years, and as a pro athlete, I want to share some of my personally gained knowledge. I feel that anyone who reads about my experience is continuing research to some extent – at least by receiving the information – and we need more cannabis research. Allow me to walk you through some important athletic benefits from cannabis use.

To be at its best, the body needs to be as stress free as possible. Pain from old injuries, swollen joints, and tired muscles are anchors that weigh down athletes. I’ve had my share of prescription painkillers, such as the common Vicodin, and it is helpful in dealing with pain. Many people have a hard time swallowing pills, get upset stomachs or feel woozy, and fear addiction. Vicodin is one of many painkillers such as Percocet and Oxycodone that are popular in and outside of sports, and is often abused. I personally know some wrestlers who take over fifty 10-milligram Vicodin pills a day. To put that in perspective, doctors often recommend two a day – so the ridiculously abusive daily amount of 500mg equals a month’s supply. No doubt, those wrestlers face serious liver damage as well as physical dependency. I’ve lost many friends and associates to fatal drug abuse over the years, and have even been an abuser myself. I’m thankful I survived that destructive part of my life when many others did not. You don’t have to be a disciplined athlete to understand the importance and validity of marijuana as medicine – science has shown that marijuana can replace or drastically decrease the required amount of prescription drugs and still deliver almost the same effect or better. The fact that it is impossible to overdose on cannabis is enough reason for many athletes to give it a try, and when they realize how safe it is compared to pills and chemicals, they can feel good about what they’re putting into their bodies.

Cannabis helps an athlete relax and get into the state of mind needed for complete connection with the body, and encourages smooth execution of many athletic tasks in almost every sport. Athletes often stretch as part of a warm-up ritual before physical activity or a competition. Freeing the mind of distractions, such as stressful thoughts and annoying body aches, can be achieved much easier and to a higher level, so to speak, with some herbal love. While stretching the different body parts, an athlete needs to feel each separate muscle that is being targeted. This action requires a sort of meditative state of mind that concentrates on the inner self rather than the world around. THC helps free up energy to put towards connecting with muscles and breath, while other cannabinoids (such as CBD and CBN) are physically relaxing. Taking a break to focus on oneself is a refreshing and rewarding experience, and during physical activity the brain releases endorphins making an athlete feel happy, fit, and ready for action.

Once an athlete is stretched out and warmed up, he or she needs to get their mind “in the zone”. This could be mental preparation for lifting heavy weights, running a race, or performing gymnastics – any skillful and demanding physical effort. When competing or training, athletes often use a strategy called “visualization”: a calm, meditative mind-set quietly fixated on what is before them. The athlete wants to imagine performing a task in their mind so vividly that the muscles involved believe they’ve already done the movement, so once the action has been performed in the brain the body will be prepared for the actual physical movement. During visualization, there is no time for the lyrics of a favorite song or any other thought to be taking the brain’s energy; being in the zone is all about being immediately present, fully ready for action, but also relaxed and focused. Athletes use the uplifting benefits of cannabis to get to a superior state of awareness. It’s up on that level – away from the spasm in a leg, the bills that need to be paid, the screaming audience in the background – that an athlete can accomplish anything and everything.

After an athlete has visualized the game plan, what comes next is the most challenging: performance. Stress is the number one enemy to health, and comes in all forms and fashions. If you’ve ever had the attention of a huge crowd of people, you may have felt it as nervousness. You’re up at bat, looking at hundreds of people in the bleachers screaming your name, and you’ve got a bad case of anxiety – your adrenaline kicks into overtime and your legs feel weak. If you choke, you’re done. Sometimes when an athlete just isn’t feeling too well and it’s affecting his physical performance, he can count on the magic of marijuana to give him the mental and emotional drive to change things around. Not only will body aches and arthritic pains be much less of a bother, or gone altogether, but if he’s smoking the right stuff he’s prone to find himself happy, positive, and encouraged. Many athletes learn to count on cannabis’ dependable properties to get them in the desired mood as part of their regular regimen, and also utilize reefer relief for paranoia, depression, anxieties and other nervous conditions and social disorders that keep pharmacies busy these days. Consuming cannabis is also an effective and reliable way to remedy jet lag which, for me and other frequently airplane-bound athletes and performers, was very helpful.

You may justifiably wonder about the dangers of performing after smoking cannabis, but that depends on the athlete, their abilities, and reaction to the ganja. Marijuana should be given credit for assisting many athletes through highly successful careers. I’ve held the claim of being one of and perhaps the most athletic wrestler in the industry for years because my acrobatic flips, my gracefully balanced maneuvers off the ropes, and martial arts swiftness have always stood out. I’m no longer surprised when I hear about pro athletes getting caught with pot because I understand why they use it, and I always hope that it helps change public perception. NFL super star Ricky Williams made big news when he decided not to continue pursuing his football career because he would not be allowed to smoke marijuana; NBA star Rasheed Wallace’s endorsement of nature’s high is public knowledge; and once when basketball legend Charles Oakley was interviewed, he claimed that 60 percent of NBA players were regular pot smokers. At the Pride 33 mixed martial arts competition in Vegas, Ultimate Fighting Championship fighter Nick Diaz fought a hard battle with Takanori Gomi and scored a well-deserved victory. However, the Nevada State Athletic Commission reversed the decision months later when they declared that Diaz had failed a post-fight drug screening. They gave Nick a $3,000 fine, suspended him for six months, and overturned the fight decision because they said his THC level was so high that it gave him an unfair advantage. Isn’t that a flat-out acknowledgement of the benefits of cannabis?

Following the passing of fellow superstar and friend Eddie Guerrero, a “Wellness Program” was instituted in the WWE. Eddie, known for his drug abusive past, had an enlarged heart, and it was heart disease that ended his life early. In reaction, wrestlers on contracts were given an enormous list of banned painkillers, fat burners, steroids, growth hormones, sleeping and waking drugs that were no longer tolerated, in addition to random piss-tests. Penalties for use included suspension without pay. When they took away the pharmaceuticals, most of the wrestlers switched to cannabis – which was not being tested for at the time – and many of my non-partaking peers started asking me for advice as they chose the safer pain-relieving alternative. There’s a reason that marijuana is the most commonly tried illegal drug – it rates high in safety and effectiveness. If more people knew just how incredibly it compares to prescription painkillers, anti-depressants and muscle relaxants in safety alone, we could see a change in the law. I personally know boxers, body builders, cyclists, runners, and athletes from all walks of life that train and/or compete with the assistance of marijuana, but they might not feel comfortable sharing this information. Demonization by the government has made it possible for them all to be kicked out of their profession for the use of marijuana – but not expelled for use of alcohol, tobacco, or prescription drugs.

This seems to be the reason Mark Stepnoski re-tired after 13 years of NFL superstardom. As a Dallas Cowboy and a Houston Oiler, Mark won two Super Bowl rings before he shifted his energy in 2001 to become the president of the Texas chapter of NORML. Mark specifically wanted to dispel the myth that cannabis will prevent users from attaining their goals, and he uses his career as an example.

People ask me how I, as a role model for kids, can be so open about marijuana. I say: How can I not be? I’m in a high profile position and reach a lot of people – don’t I have an obligation to tell them the truth? Shouldn’t they know that 18% of annual American deaths are from smoking tobacco cigarettes (435,000 in the year 2000)? Or alcohol killed 85,000, adverse reactions to prescription drugs killed 32,000, vehicle crashes killed 26,500 and even aspirin-like non-prescription tablets killed 7,600 people that year? All are legal, as are the guns that are responsible for the 29,000 gun deaths that year. And wouldn’t everyone be interested to know that the number of recorded lethal cannabis overdoses in the history of the planet is zero? There are no cases of lung cancers, respiratory cancers, or Alzheimer’s in anyone who has smoked cannabis exclusively – even for decades. That’s important information about a weed that White House drug czar John Walters calls “the most dangerous drug in America”, and I think it would be selfish to keep that kind of information to myself. Despite government resistance, we are continually learning more about the benefits provided by marijuana.

Feel free to stop by my webpages, www.robvandam.com or www.myspace/5starcomics to read my blog entries about cannabis, sports, and my current plans and whereabouts. You’ll also find RVD TV there, where you can watch for the upcoming episode of my marijuana prohibition discussion with Cypress Hill’s Sen Dog, Man Mellow Mace and UFC’s Justin McCully. I hope you’ve learned something from my experience with pot in sports, and I hope you’ll share it with others. If we don’t try to change the perception, aren’t we condoning lies?

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