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Healy: If backed by science, NHL alumni association 'all-in' on cannabis

David Cooper / Toronto Star / Getty

The group representing ex-NHL players is "all-in" on endorsing cannabis as a pain relief option for its members.

That is, if future research can prove the drug’s supposed healing capabilities.

"I think science has to prove it first. If science proves it, then I’ll endorse it. But it’s gotta be science first," Glenn Healy, executive director of the NHL Alumni Association, said Monday, less than a week after Canada legalized cannabis.

"It can’t be me first. When I went to Pickering High School, I didn’t get a PhD. I certainly didn’t."

Healy, a former NHL goalie and broadcaster, has been learning about the substance also named marijuana throughout 2018. He's deeply interested and the association, which he notes is partnering with a couple of neurologists, is "diving into this in a huge way.”

"We’re all-in," Healy said repeatedly. (He declined to specify what "all-in" entails.)

It’s no secret some ex-NHLers - most famously homeless Stanley Cup champion Joe Murphy and Matt Johnson - struggle with neurological problems in their retirement years. Hailing from a different, more violent era, players are prone to a number of mental health issues, including anxiety and depression.

Painkillers prescribed to treat nagging injuries have been part of the problem, so finding a widely accepted treatment alternative, something that is less destructive and addictive - cannabis or otherwise - would be a boon for athletes worldwide.

"It’s our players, it’s our life, it’s our families, it’s kids, it’s wives," Healy said. "I don’t get the calls from the players, I get the calls from the wives, I get the calls from the (children). We’re looking into all of it."

One-time Philadelphia Flyers enforcer Riley Cote has quickly become an unofficial pot spokesperson for NHL retirees, insisting sleeping pills and other medication should be replaced by natural substances. He's the creator of Hemp Heals Foundation, an organization promoting the benefits of cannabidiol (CBD), the therapeutic part of a cannabis plant, and has spoken to Healy directly about the matter.

Like Healy, though, Cote admits further digging is needed.

"There's probably billions of anecdotal stories, but those don't mean anything unless it's backed by science, unless it follows the order of the way it's supposed to be," he told The Associated Press recently.

The NHL and NHLPA test active players for cannabis. However, a positive test for pot does not warrant any kind of punishment. And now, those slipping on a jersey for a Canadian team have no red tape to cut through.

Cannabis and its oils can help with the normal aches and pains associated with playing sports for a living. Count Connor McDavid among the intrigued.

"I say this more talking about the CBD side of it, obviously: You'd be stupid not to at least look into it," the Edmonton Oilers superstar told the AP. "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," added McDavid, arguably the sport's best player. "You're seeing a lot of really smart doctors look into it. If all the boxes are checked there and it's safe and everything like that, then I think you would maybe hear them out."

John Matisz is theScore's National Hockey Writer. You can find him on Twitter @matiszjohn.

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