Heisman Trophy winner and former NFL running back Ricky Williams has believed in the medicinal and healing powers of marijuana for a long time now.
Movies and TV often depict marijuana users as zoned-out stoners, spouting nonsense between bags of Doritos. That’s not Williams.
He’s a student of Eastern Philosophy, educated on the data and the science of the healing capabilities of cannabis. He is currently pursuing his doctorate on Chinese medicine. And his quest is to share what he’s learned about the positives of altered states of consciousness.
“Ever since 2004 when I retired (the first time), that’s kind of been my life since then is to really understand and make connections to all these things and I found that cannabis is really helpful for that,” said Williams before adding with a laugh. “It’s not that helpful for staying in the NFL, but it’s been helpful for nurturing my spiritual me.”
Williams, who retired from the NFL for good in 2011, was in Cathedral City on Saturday at Atomic Budz, a marijuana dispensary. He was signing autographs for fans and showcasing his line of products that he launched in March called Real Wellness by Ricky Williams. It’s the culmination of all the passion and education he’s put into the concept of herbal healing.
The products are made to “empower people to harness the positive effects of herbs, like cannabis, in a more conscious and controlled way.”
With recreational marijuana now legal in nine states and medicinal marijuana legal in 29 states, he felt like the time had come to dip his toe into the market with a focus on healing, not getting high.
“I thought and I thought and said ‘What do I want to do?’ and I thought ‘Well I’m a healer, I want to make medicine,'” Williams said. “So I pulled out all my hold herbal books and started thinking about things and came up with some formulas that I’m excited about. To me I saw it as people were interested in finding different ways to take care of themselves. And to me this reinvention of cannabis into our culture is a reinvention of herbalism to our culture and so I saw it as an opportunity to start creating products and teaching people about herbs.”
A tipping point happened for Williams in 2015.
As many football fans know, Williams is not remembered as much for his 10,000 career rushing yards or the draft-day splurge Saints coach Mike Ditka famously made to acquire him. No, it’s his multiple suspensions for marijuana use that derailed his career that he’s most famous for. He’s more cautionary tale than NFL success story, despite playing 12 seasons in the league for the Saints, Dolphins and Ravens.
He officially retired in 2011 and had been keeping a low profile when in 2015 a former teammate asked him to speak at a cannabis conference. That’s when the process of creating a product line really started.
“I politely declined at first and told him I’m just trying to stay under the radar right now, but then I decided to do it and I was surprised by the reception I got,” Williams said. “It was this new feeling. My whole relationship with cannabis and other people has been one of shame and trouble. And it was the first experience I had where it was a positive experience. It was very healing.
“So I decided to do more speaking engagements,” he said. “So I did about 10 conferences that year, and at every conference there are a ton of vendors. And so I’d walk around and meet people and I started thinking maybe I want to do something in this space.”
About two years later on March 20 of this year, Real Wellness was launched. It’s a line that consists primarily of topical salves, tonics and vape cartridges. Each contain formulas that Williams has concocted that are a combination of several herbs, including the hemp-derived THC.
For example, one product called “Serenity” includes 150 milligrams of THC as well as chamomile flower, lavender, lemon balm and passionflower. He explained that these herbs are called “nervides” and help calm down an overstimulated nervous system, which is where most of our anxiety comes from.
Again, this isn’t just an athlete putting his name on a product to make a quick buck. This is something that Williams is passionate about. Along with that, he hopes, will come an eroding of the stigma that goes with cannabis or getting high in general.
“I plan to extend the conversation,” he said. “There’s a stigma or a taboo about altered states of consciousness, but in most traditional cultures they believe healing only occurred in altered states of consciousness and so I think, yeah, on one hand certainly people have abused it, but I also think there’s some real usefulness there.”
With marijuana now legal in many states, the question has been put to the NFL if it will change its current rules. Marijuana remains on the NFL’s banned list, and a suspension is issued if a player tests positive twice. But many have said they think along the lines of what Williams has said for years, that using marijuana to ease the constant aches and pains of an NFL player is healthier than the painkillers and opioids that are not banned.
“No one was really talking about cannabis for healing back then when I played,” he said. “But I used cannabis to take care of myself. The idea is there was so much stress and things going on in football and for me coming home after work and being able to consume cannabis I could put everything in perspective and I had more energy to get up the next day and do it again.”
Does he think the NFL will take marijuana off the banned list?
“The NFL is driven by the owners, but really I think it’s driven by public opinion,” he said. “And if the fans start to demand that players have that right it makes it an easy decision for the NFL.”
Speaking of hot NFL topics, Williams had his own take on the rule the NFL just passed forcing players to stand if they are on the field for the National Anthem or face a fine. Williams, for whom football was never the be-all and end-all in his life, put it simply.
“I mean my perspective is the NFL is a big corporation and they have the right to make the rules for the people that they pay a lot of money to,” he said. “My thing is, if you don’t like the rules, you can always do something else.”
Williams’ post-NFL career “something else” right now includes traveling to different dispensaries in California and touting his line. It is a business after all, but he said he really likes that part of it. He doesn’t find it to be a chore at all.
“Honestly, I really like meeting people. To me it’s been a while and it’s still fascinating that in California you can come into a retail place and you can purchase cannabis, and so I find there tends to be really interesting people that are willing to do that, so I have really good conversations,” he said. “And it is good for my brand. And I think what we’re trying to do with this brand is tell a story and I think I’m the best person, or most qualified person to tell the story, and so the more I can get out myself, the better.”