now when I hear the word pain, I think of different dimensions of pain. The mental health component.
After over 250 fights on the ice, 4 years in the NHL, and 7 total surgeries between his nose, eyes, wrist, knee, and even his fingers, the former left winger and enforcer for the Philadelphia Flyers, Riley Cote, is no stranger to physical pain. A longtime consumer of cannabis, since the age of 15, Riley believes cannabis helped him manage more than just the physical pain from the brutal demands of his sport. He also believes it aided him in coping with the mental struggles and anxiety resulting from amping up his nervous system in anticipation of fights before games, and the spiritual aftermath of inflicting pain on others. “I turned pro at 20 and started fighting. It cranked on this different level of anxiety, as you can imagine. I mean, performance anxiety, just daily stress and anxiety, but then all of a sudden now you’re fighting regularly and preparing to fight the next night. I realized then, it (cannabis) was really helping with my anxiety but then also my sleep, you know, just comes hand in hand. I didn’t really identify the anti-inflammatory properties until later on in my career when I started learning about the science behind it.” Riley is now retired from the NHL, but still involved in the sport of hockey on several levels, but with different goals in mind.
Since retiring from his professional sports career, Riley has created his new path as a powerful voice of reason and inspiration for healing the body, the mind, and spirit, while also being environmentally conscious. “I’m trying to make a difference,” says Riley, and he’s doing a lot to live up to his word. Riley is the Founder of the Hemp Heals Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit promoting cannabis and hemp as a viable renewable resource. He is also a cofounder of another not-for-profit organization called Athletes For Care, where they are dedicated to creating a community where athletes can find support, opportunity, and purpose in life after careers in sports. In addition to his leadership role, he is the organization’s NHL Ambassador, while also sitting on the Pennsylvania Hemp Industries Council board, and his passion for healing is what really inspired him to start his own product company, BodyChek Wellness. A line of hemp-based personal care products with a mission to optimize everyday performance and challenge individuals to rethink the healing process; it’s a brand that reinforces his passion to help individuals discover safe, nontoxic methods for pain management and self healing.
When asked about what comes to mind when hearing the word pain, Riley says, “If you’d asked me this question 10 years ago, I think immediately, I would have thought of physical pain, right? I mean, just general inflammation, the standard pain most people associate the word with. But I think now when I hear the word pain, I think of different dimensions of pain. The mental health component. It’s the emotional pain and the spiritual pain, suffering that people are going through that you can’t see. Pain is subjective, but it’s very real. And me being a meathead in my former life, I know a lot about physical pain, but I also realize towards the end of my career that there was probably a lot more emotional and spiritual pain going on than physical.” This reflection gave him “a new appreciation for it because pain is a symptom, the red flag that you have to address instead of suppressing it. I think once you address it, whether it’s physical, emotional, spiritual, that’s when the healing begins.”
His journey as a healer began with healing himself, in order to be able to help others, and it started when he was given an opportunity to step down from playing professionally by accepting a coaching position, but his decision wasn’t an easy one. Riley thought, “This is like giving up on my NHL career to begin the coaching. It wasn’t exactly how I envisioned this going down, but I got off the phone, and I just knew where my head was at. I didn’t want to go down to the minors and fight. I knew I was probably going to get sent down the next year the way it was going the past year. I didn’t want to go down there and fight everybody. I was tired of the party. I was tired of just that whole emotional rollercoaster of jacking yourself up and fighting and all the emotional turmoil that comes along with it. So I was almost like, okay, now this is my opportunity to get out of playing but stay in the game.”
Psilocybin is just a tool.
It was at this same time Riley realized, “Now this is me, embarking on this quest of holism, finding myself, healing and all these things encompass. It wasn’t just one thing that I was seeking. As I started reading, I always kept coming back to the cannabis plant, hemp as an industrial resource, mushrooms, Chinese medicine, and these few things kept popping up.”
On top of educating himself about the healing benefits of different plant medicines, Riley tells us, “One of the biggest things that I did, was transitioned from an animal-based protein diet to a plant-based protein diet. I got into the hemp seed, hemp seed protein, and got off all the whey. I wasn’t drinking milk at the time, but I basically eliminated all the dairy and in those moments I realized that it was inflammatory, mucus forming, and acidic, and all these things that were actually working against me. Then I just started to put my head down these different rabbit holes and became extremely passionate with the plants. I mean, how can you not? And then in those moments I also started realizing this different dimension of cannabis as medicine.”
At this point he, “just felt the need to spread the good word, because in between this (cannabis) and mushrooms, in my opinion, they are the only two things that have the ability to save our planet. In the sense of remediation, whether is phytoremediation or micro-remediation, public health, local economics. They help people, but help the environment and economics and well.”
Riley mentioned mushrooms, and in addition to cannabis, he also believes strongly in the medicinal benefits of psilocybin mushrooms. Whether it’s cannabis or psilocybin, he tells us they are both tools and need to be consumed responsibly. “I think these two things can help because they are coping mechanisms and if you use responsibly and respectfully and mindfully, they’re very powerful tools. I think that’s what we need to be teaching, is responsible, mindful use, where we can actually not just help our physical bodies and our minds, but increase the spirituality and lean on these as spiritual tools.” When comparing this natural plant medicine to other substances, like alcohol, Riley makes an excellent point. “It’s a conscious forming drug versus an unconscious forming drug. I mean, one creates awareness and mindfulness and the more you drink, the more you lose consciousness until you black out. So, you know, totally polar opposite. So what it actually does to the human brain and spirit, alcohol extracts spirit and essence out of things, plants, people and whatnot, and in my opinion, cannabis and psilocybin, it’s like they inject spirit back in. That’s why they help so much with anxiety and depression and a lack of identity.”
I think that’s what we need to be teaching, is responsible, mindful use, where we can actually not just help our physical bodies and our minds, but increase the spirituality and lean on these as spiritual tools.
For newcomers wanting to utilize the benefits of these plant based tools, Riley recommends, “I think the most important thing is always being responsible, knowing what you’re getting into and respecting the substance. Then having a proper intention with it. You know, what are you trying to accomplish and how are you gonna go about it? What type of delivery system? What is your vision and how you’re doing it and are you in a comfortable setting? Setting is important and this goes for both, especially if you’ve never tried either. Obviously, if you’re going to be dipping into psilocybin it’s a little bit of a different animal, but being around people that you trust and being in a comfortable environment is, in my opinion, probably the most important, especially for psilocybin. I feel like both the medicines talk to you more when you’re quieter. So set and setting, the level of comfort and just respecting the plants or the fungi is important.”
Riley shared with us how he’s been consuming psilocybin mushrooms for the past few years, which have grounded him in his spirituality, and path as a healer. “I feel like the connection component of what mushrooms do is the most important. It really grounds us and reconnects us to the things that matter and puts things into perspective. I think if everyone just tried it once, it would change their perspective on life almost immediately, to some degree. And the beautiful part is, we can always go back and learn more. You know what I mean? That mushrooms are always there to teach. I think it’s a great instrument to use for self-reflection. You know, a lot of people are limited in this bubble, and they know they think that they’re on the right path. They’re suppressing their emotions and then they’re all suffering until the mushroom kind of slaps them around a little bit and says listen, you’ve got to change the direction a little bit. It’s amazing what they’re trying to teach you, but if you can’t listen because you’re too distracted, you’re not going to get the message.”
Mushrooms have “ancient power and wisdom. It’s passing through the mushroom to me. I know it sounds deep and almost weird for some people to talk about, but it is what it is.” Riley’s psilocybin practices over the years have included both micro and macro dosing. With “micro I’ve been going through different phases of trial and error and self-experimentation. I go four days on, with a hundred milligrams with a few other mushrooms in the capsule. Then you go off for four or five days and kind of go through cycles like that.” When it comes to macro dosing, Riley says, “I found myself doing that a lot more, going into that space with different intentions. It’s more about me tapping into those spiritual growth components, tapping into the self, and observing thoughts. Then there’s other times where I go into the space more for creative purposes and just trying to gather ideas and sort out certain things. I really do find that helps with that visionary component.” He does this “maybe once every two months or one and a half months or something like that. And I go deep, you know, five, six grams or so. Usually by myself, and then every now and then I’ll bring someone in and go with the intention of helping someone else with it.”
With all this being said, it’s clear, Riley has been on a serious path of healing himself, and sharing his experiences to help others. He wants us all to know, the most important takeaway about everything he’s shared with us, is to “really talk about the emotional and spiritual pain and suffering, because the body reflects mental health. You look around this country, we’re not well right? I mean, there’s the obesity crisis, the heroin crisis, and you’ve got a mental health crisis. It’s important to keep pushing this conversation about the emotional and spiritual pain, because that, to me, is a real true crisis. I think cannabis is just a tool. Psilocybin is just a tool. They do certainly help, but I think the bigger component here is, we have to do our work too, right? I mean, it’s our job as human beings to be accountable for our own lives and take actions.”
I feel like the connection component of what mushrooms do is the most important.
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Turmeric is a root vegetable commonly used as a spice in various Indian and other cultures’ dishes. Turmeric is in the zingiberaceae family, as is ginger. The turmeric plant is native to the southeastern region of Asia and commonly harvested in places like India, Sri Lanka, China, Indonesia, and Taiwan. It is responsible for curry’s signature orange color, and its vibrant pigment will give essentially any meal an orange hue.
Turmeric contains a substance called curcumin, and curcumin has been shown through research to offer anti-inflammatory and other therapeutic benefits. The scientific name for the turmeric plant is Curcuma Longa, and likely where the name curcumin comes from. When people are talking about the health benefits of turmeric, they are referencing curcumin so you may hear the two names used interchangeably. Curcumin is part of a group called curcuminoids, with curcumin being the most active and the most beneficial for health. Flavonoids are another substance found in various plants and give these plants their color. Curcumin is a flavonoid and is responsible for providing that bright orange color to turmeric. In addition to providing aesthetic value, flavonoids are also strong antioxidants with anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties.
The Journal of Biological Chemistry published a study done by Sanjaya Singh and Bharat B. Aggarwal of the Cytokine Research Laboratory at the world-renowned cancer hospital, M.D. Anderson. The study found that curcumin suppressed NF-κB, a protein complex responsible for controlling inflammatory responses. In other words, turmeric shuts off the body’s inflammatory response. Anti-inflammatories can be beneficial for many different ailments, including chronic pain and digestive disorders. A lot of CBD companies even put curcumin in their products because of its benefits. It is believed to be a synergistic pair with complementary therapeutic properties. The thought is that the two plant medicines are powerful on their own; as a combination, they can deliver even more anti-inflammatory and medicinal benefits.
Many people simply add turmeric to their dishes as a way to easily incorporate it into their daily routine. It is pretty mild in flavor and can be added to many dishes without changing the overall taste too drastically. Some say that turmeric isn’t strong enough on its own to receive the anti-inflammatory properties that curcumin provides, and therefore recommend a curcumin supplement. Research varies on that, so in the end it is just up to personal preference and your doctor’s approval. Curcumin supplements come most available in capsules. Pregnant women can safely use turmeric as an addition to their food, but should avoid taking high-dosage supplements. Those who are interested in supplementing with curcumin products should talk with their doctor first.
M.D. Anderson Cancer Center did another study in 2007 exploring curcumin for cancer treatment. The study found that curcumin inhibits ovarian cancer growth and angiogenesis (the development of new blood vessels). It does this by targeting and manipulating the NF-κB pathway, the same protein complex responsible for controlling inflammatory response. According to a report published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “The nuclear factor NF-κB pathway has long been considered a prototypical proinflammatory signaling pathway, largely based on the role of NF-κB in the expression of proinflammatory genes including cytokines, chemokines, and adhesion molecules.”
The trend with curcumin seems to be it’s ability to control inflammatory responses in the body. It does this by multiple pathways, but a commonly researched one is the NF-κB protein complex. Because this pathway is able to be manipulated by curcumin to encourage anti-inflammatory expressions, its potential for successfully treating various ailments is there.
Psilocybin + Magic Mushrooms
When many think of plant medicine, specifically those plants with psychoactive effects, they think of “magic mushrooms,” or fungi containing psilocybin and psilocin that can cause hallucinations depending on the dosage consumed. In many states, there are active efforts to decriminalize these otherwise scheduled substances, lowering penalties for their use and possession. But what value do psilocybin-containing mushrooms offer? New research suggests a range of therapeutic and psychological value ranging from the treatment of substance abuse to anxiety and depression management.
What are Magic Mushrooms?
Magic Mushroom use dates back to 10,000 BCE and references continue throughout the era. Their modern popularity began when the term “magic mushroom” was coined by two etnomycologists who learned of a Harvard study on local doctors in Mexico using these substances, noting the substance’s ability to affect the nervous system. These findings were eventually published in Life magazine in 1957, and the term became the universal reference for psychoactive fungi and truffles, specifically those containing high concentrations of psilocybin and psilocin.
Psilocybin & Psilocin: The “Magic” in Magic Mushrooms
Psilocybin and psilocin are part of a family of psychedelic compounds found in magic mushrooms. Psilocin is pharmacologically active, and psilocybin is converted into psilocin when consumed or activated. Similar in structure to serotonin, there are more than 50 species of mushrooms and a variety of truffles that produce both the precursor, psilocybin, and the psychoactive compound, psilocin. Unlike LSD, magic mushrooms do not affect dopamine receptors, solely targeting serotonin sites.
How are Magic Mushrooms used?
Magic mushrooms are often used for recreational, therapeutic and medicinal reasons. “Effects range from mild feelings of relaxation, giddiness, euphoria, visual enhancement (seeing colors brighter), visual disturbances (moving surfaces, waves), to delusions, altered perception of real events, images and faces, or real hallucinations.” Recreationally, this is often known as “tripping.” As an alternative health option, these fungi are being used for anxiety, depression, PTSD, and trauma, as well as psychological disorders such as substance abuse disorders, and science is beginning to back the potential for these applications.
Research on Mushrooms
Evaluations of currently available scientific studies suggest a growing number of therapeutic benefits and treatment options. “In the past few years, a growing number of studies using human volunteers have begun to explore the possible therapeutic benefits of drugs such as psilocybin…looking at psilocybin and other hallucinogens to treat a number of otherwise intractable psychiatric disorders, including chronic depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and drug or alcohol dependency.”
Magic mushrooms have been respected as a “safe & natural healing sacrament for millennia throughout Mexico, Central America and the world,” and are known to be beneficial for depression, recidivism (the tendency to repeat past transgressions), and encourages openness, creativity, as well as personal and spiritual growth. UCLA and NYC have done studies on the applications of magic mushrooms in the treatment of end-of-life anxiety and other studies have backed up the use of psilocybin and psilocin in the treatment of substance use disorders, depression (especially in cases of terminal conditions like cancer as well as treatment-resistant depression), and reducing depression and anxiety overall.
Best way for people to consume?
When it comes to the consumption of mushrooms, advice on dosage is about as specific as it was with cannabis under prohibition. Consumers must purchase on the black market and are subject to whatever may be available.
“Recreational doses range from 1–5 grams of dry mushrooms depending on the species and individual strength of the specimens… After ingestion, the psilocybin is enzymatically converted to psilocin. Absorbed from the gastro-intestinal tract, hallucinogenic effects usually occur within 30 minutes of ingestion with a duration of effect of 4–6 hours.”
My recommendation as someone who has used magic mushrooms both for recreational and therapeutic purposes, is to grind the mushrooms into a fine powder and either encapsulate them in small increments and/or combine with lemon juice. Capsules will allow you to titrate your dosage as needed with a recognizable increment, while lemon juice will expedite onset time.
The Legality of Magic Mushrooms
In the United States, psilocybin is a Schedule I controlled substance, with no accepted medicinal value and a high potential for abuse. In contrast, the Drug Policy Alliance states that “Physically, psilocybin mushrooms are considered to be one of the least toxic drugs known.” With that being said, local efforts such as Decriminalize Nature – Oakland and Decriminalize Denver have pushed for and successfully passed initiatives and legislation to reduce penalties and make enforcement a low priority, as was done in the early days of cannabis activism. This has spurred multiple local and international efforts to “Decriminalize Nature,” efforts that we learn more about in this month’s feature.