In America, sports has long been great for stirring social change.
Which is why, as America argues over San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's antics, it's been great to see a few sports figures giving cannabis the crossover moments it needs—scenes that show the rest of the country a glimpse of the normalization happening in Portland, Denver and Seattle.
There have been two such moments in the last month—occasions where regular ol' non-stoners had a casual, positive cannabis experience. And, in one case, it's actually leading to real commerce.
In late August, Dallas Cowboys rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott—you may remember him shoving Oregon Ducks defenders around like a playground bully in Ohio State's victory in the 2014 national championship game—visited a Seattle pot shop called Herban Legends. Sadly, he didn't buy anything and was later forced to apologize, because NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has no respect for our regional laws or culture. Still, it started a conversation. Why, exactly, is the NFL prohibiting players from using cannabis in places where it's legal?
A few days before that, the UFC provided a scene that may just lead to the first commercial crossover of the legal-weed era—CBD vapes.
UFC fighter Nick Diaz strolled into the press conference following his loss to Irishman Conor McGregor hooting on a cannabidiol cartridge.
"It helps with the healing process and inflammation, stuff like that," Diaz told the assembled media. "So you want to get these for before and after the fights, training. It'll make your life a better place."
CBD, most Portlanders probably know by now, is a compound that won't make you high, but which is prized for calming nerves and reducing inflammation. Diaz's cartridge was made by Tru, a California company that says it was started by an Afghanistan war vet who advocates CBD for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. The company says Diaz's comments were "organic, unplanned and a complete surprise."
That Tru cartridge came out of the California medical marijuana program, and is a lot like the cartridges non-medical users can now finally buy in Oregon. I've purchased cartridges from two companies, and enjoyed them both. And you don't even need to visit a dispensary to get pure CBD—more on that in a second.
Standard CBD cartridges available at Portland dispensaries contain a small amount of THC. Not enough to make you feel high, but some. If you ask at a dispensary, they'll probably say CBD is more effective when paired with THC, something people call "the entourage effect."
But that effect may be a myth, according to Farma's Jeremy Plumb, who is probably the most knowledgeable person on the subject in the state. Last year, Plumb met with an Israeli pharmacology professor widely considered the father of modern cannabis research.
According to the professor, there is "not nearly enough substantive research yet to establish meaningful insights about the relationship between THC and CBD, or to lend any credence to the theory that either, or both, compounds are enhanced in each other's presence."
"At this point, it's clear to me that the best therapeutic outcomes come from a personalized understanding of cannabis," Plumb says. "Patiently observe and study the effect to find the 'keys' that fit your 'locks.'"
On that note, it's worth pointing out that CBD oil derived from hemp is effectively unregulated right now. Because there's no THC, it's technically an unscheduled drug. Most people who Googled Diaz's chosen product probably discovered there are dozens of companies that mail vapable CBD oil. You can also find CBD gummy bears, CBD tincture and vegan CBD brownies. These useful cannabis products are available in Alabama or Arkansas—a potential game-changer.
In fact, CBD is starting to pop up at non-dispensary shops in Portland. Last week, we went to Vapes 4 Less in East Portland and bought 140 milligrams of CBD, along with a hazelnut flavoring compound. I don't like it nearly as well as the cartridge containing some THC, but that could just be the flavoring.
Either way, Diaz's open and unapologetic use of a cannabis product is a big crack in the wall of prohibition. Long after Goodell retires in disgrace and Elliot has his jersey number retired, we will remember this summer as the start of open and unapologetic cannabis use in athletics. Hopefully we'll also remember to give some credit to Diaz, the warrior poet who told America that cannabis can "make your life a better place."