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J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Canadian Press

The time has come for an idea to have cannabis in sports drinks, says a former NHL player.

The sports nutrition business Mike Cammalleri co-founded has been bought by a cannabis company.

Canopy Growth Corporation announced Wednesday the purchase of a majority stake in BioSteel Sports Nutrition, which is now developing a line of cannabidiol (CBD) products.

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Cammalleri played 17 NHL seasons with the Calgary Flames, Montreal Canadiens, Los Angeles Kings, New Jersey Devils and Edmonton Oilers until 2018.

The 37-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., has business and personal interests in cannabis.

Suffering severe back pain towards the end of his playing career, his teammates recommended cannabis as a pain reliever.

“My only regret is I didn’t find cannabis earlier in my career,” Cammalleri told The Canadian Press in a phone interview. “It was so effective for me.”

While CBD is a component of the marijuana plant, it does not produce a high like other cannabinoids do such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

“I’ve tried different forms,” Cammalleri said. “All effective in different ways. I like the oils, I like the creams, the roll-ons can work effectively.

“The exciting part is the beverages we can provide that we think are going to be fantastic.”

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He doesn’t yet have a rollout date for CBD products.

“We’ll be ready as soon as the regulations allow,” Cammalleri said. “I can’t put an exact date on it because there are some moving parts.

“The laws are what they are and they’re different in different states, countries and regions. We’re actually able to do some things in the United States that we can’t do in Canada.”

Several former NHL players are involved in cannabis research as a medicinal alternative to opioids, given potential addiction to the latter.

The NHL Alumni Association announced earlier this year a study of 100 former players – in partnership with Canopy and NEEKA Health Canada – to research if cannabis-based therapies can reduce severity of neurological issues and improve quality of life.

Former NHLer Jeff Friesen, a Stanley Cup winner, was touting the pain-relief benefits of cannabis products even before the Canadian government legalized marijuana Oct. 17, 2018.

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Cammalleri believes the use of cannabis among active NHL players is “widespread,” so why not sell them products that are tested and safe?

“The genesis of the company was exactly that, was me playing and wanting to consume products that were something I could trust,” Cammalleri explained.

“We’ve been working on the CBD conversation for two years now. The relationship with Canopy started over a year ago, so this has been a thorough process with full due diligence on both ends.”

The deal gives Canopy Growth, based in Smiths Falls, Ont., a 72 per cent stake in BioSteel with a path to full ownership. Financial terms of the cash agreement were not disclosed.

BioSteel’s stable of athlete-endorsers include Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid, Dallas stars forward Tyler Seguin, golfer Brooke Henderson, tennis player Eugenie Bouchard, Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott and Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

The company also has partnerships with USA Hockey, Canada Basketball, Athletics Canada and the Professional Hockey Players’ Association.

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Cammalleri hopes that brand acceptance will help convince athletes such as his former teammate and current Flames captain Mark Giordano that CBD products are legitimate.

“I’m all for anything that’s natural that can replace a painkiller or a pill that has long-term damaging effects,” Giordano said.

“We as players are all for it. I will say though that a lot of us, myself included, won’t touch any of that stuff until it’s certified.

“If they can get a supplement that’s certified, that helps with pain, it’s really a no-brainer.”

While the NHL still terms marijuana a “drug of abuse” and tests players for it in the course of testing for performance enhancing drugs, the league doesn’t discipline players for using it.

Only those with dangerously high levels in testing would be referred to a substance abuse and behavioural health program.

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Other leagues have different strategies. The NFL and NBA can suspend and Major League Baseball can fine players for multiple marijuana infractions.

Cammalleri won’t say the NHL should stop testing for marijuana.

“In my experience, working with NHL trainers, strength coaches, physicians and executives, I think the NHL has been pretty progressive in what they’re trying to do,” he said.

Meanwhile, a business analyst feels BioSteel’s stable of athletes could help the company going forward.

“BioSteel’s brand ambassadors also include well-known athletes across major sports leagues in North America, which could be beneficial as the company’s attempt to push regulated CBD nutrition products into the mainstream health and wellness segments,” said RBC Capital Markets analyst Douglas Miehm in a research note to clients.

With files from The Associated Press and Armina Ligaya

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