NHLer heralds CBD as cannabis conferences come to Hamilton

Zac Rinaldo will talk CBD at Hempfest, while the Innovations in the Science of Cannabis Conference is also running.

Researchers will talk hard science of medicinal pot, while public celebrates cannabis culture at Hempfest

Nashville Predators' Zac Rinaldo (36) celebrates his game-winning goal with teammates as Calgary Flames goalie Mike Smith looks away. Rinaldo, a Hamilton resident, will be in the city this weekend to speak about his experiences with CBD at Hempfest at the Convention Centre. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Sleep never came easy for Zac Rinaldo.

Whether it was the adrenaline of an NHL game or the anxiety he suffered for much of his life, the Hamilton-born hockey player was often running on little sleep.

"After games I was up until four or five in the morning, falling asleep and getting up at nine for practice," he said. "I was taking a lot of prescription pills to fall asleep."

That all changed, he says, when he discovered cannabidiol (CBD) — a non-intoxicating extract of cannabis vaunted for its purported health benefits.

The exact benefits of CBD are murky, as medical trials into its properties are still largely in their infancy.

But residents in Hamilton are clamouring for it, with local dispensaries routinely selling out.

Now, Rinaldo is appearing at Hempfest Hamilton this weekend, ready to sing the praises of CBD in a massive, mainstream conference setting that would have been virtually unheard of in the city just a few years ago.

"Really, all professional sports should look at opening the door for CBD," he said.

Hyperbole exceeding evidence

Rinaldo, who made his name in the NHL as an enforcer, is sponsored by Bodychek Wellness — a company run by two former NHL players who provide CBD and hemp-related products for athletes.

While it's a substance that's now immensely popular post-legalization in Canada, people should pump the breaks a little on heralding it as a cure all for everything from anxiety to pain, said Jason Busse, associate director of the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research at McMaster University.

"I think right now the hyperbole is exceeding the evidence," Busse said. "We have to be cautious about letting claims get ahead of the evidence."

Retailers in Hamilton say CBD products are in high demand. (CBC)

At this point, clinical trials on CBD have largely been regulated to treatment for children with severe epilepsy.

A new research initiative led by Edmonton-based Aurora Cannabis is looking at whether CBD products could help athletes with their performance and recovery.

"We're looking for hard and true evidence that this is going to be beneficial or not," said Jason Dyck, an independent director on the board of Aurora Cannabis.

Dyck and his team will first look at how CBD can reduce inflammation to improve performance and training for athletes.

Other clinical studies will include pain management, injury and exercise recovery and mental health.

A 'huge market interest'

Busse said there is definitely the potential there for CBD to provide relief for pain, anxiety and inflammation — but health claims should be taken with a grain of salt until there's more hard evidence.

"People are demanding it because it's the latest thing," he said. "And there's huge market interest."

While Rinaldo speaks at the convention centre this weekend for Hempfest — which organizers say will include exhibitors, speakers and demonstrations "guaranteed to spike the interest of every kind of cannabis lover" — Busse will be at a very different conference similarly tied to weed.

The "Innovations in the Science of Cannabis Conference" is also running at St. Joseph's Healthcare this weekend. While Hempfest provides the consumer side, this conference brings together experts in the fields of addiction, mental health, pain, economics, policy and other areas of research to discuss work to advance the understanding of medicinal cannabis.

That both of these events are happening on the same weekend in the city points to a "high" level of interest in cannabis from all fronts, Busse said.



Adam Carter


Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.