Canada’s first professional rugby team is getting in on the most hyped trend in weed.
The Toronto Wolfpack is set to launch a line of CBD products aimed at athletes, becoming the first pro sports team in the world to do so.
The Wolfpack, the first North American team to compete in the Rugby League Football system, has created HowlBrands Inc., a subsidiary through which it will develop and sell hemp-derived CBD products targeted at active people, starting with a topical cream called Rugby Strength that will be available for sale in the UK and US this July. CBD aka cannabidiol is a non-intoxicating compound found in cannabis, meaning it doesn't get a person high.
“Rugby is a gladiatorial sport. You have your fair share of bumps and bruises and for recovery and inflammatory pain management CBD products are very, very effective,” David Argyle, chairman of the Toronto Wolfpack, told VICE.
The Wolfpack is partnering with International Cannabis Corp. and Organic Flower to manufacture and distribute the product line in Europe and the US, respectively. The team told VICE it is also in talks with Canadian licensed producers to launch the line in Canada when topicals are legalized later this year. However, it will have to be careful how it markets itself in Canada. It’s not legal to make health claims about weed products sold in the recreational market here; even on the medical side, clinical evidence is needed to make health claims.
Aside from topical creams, HowlBrand’s portfolio is set to include therapeutic relief balms, sport pain CBD tinctures, CBD-infused soaks, and topical roll-ons and “healing sticks.” The products will be sold in a chain of pharmacies in the UK and online in the US.
Rugby Strength, a body cream, will be available in varieties of 125, 250, and 500 milligrams of CBD, with prices ranging from $30 to $80 USD. HowlBrands is marketing Rugby Strength as a product that can reduce pain and discomfort, support recovery, and “enhance fitness and performance.” Its tagline is, "we know a thing or two about pain!"
While the Toronto Wolfpack have had success on the field—they currently sit first in second-tier Betfred Championship and were nearly promoted to the top tier last year—being a transatlantic team in a mostly English league has unique fiscal challenges. The team pays for the travel costs of visiting clubs, pays for the TV production of its home games and doesn’t get a cut of the league’s TV deal. And while the team’s home games are quite well attended—recent games both topped more than 8,000 people—the Wolfpack have about 1,400 season ticket holders.
The team missed payroll in December
—which was fixed within a few days when original ownership stepped in —prior to a new $10-million investment in the company.
The team’s latest venture comes at a time when CBD—being marketed as a wellness cure-all—is flying off the shelves in Canada. There’s a push from the Canadian Health Food Association and Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance to reclassify CBD as a natural health product rather than a drug, in order to ease restrictions around how it can be produced and sold.
While there’s no doubt that CBD is trendy, for athletes there remains a stigma around any sort of cannabis use, as many sports still enforce strict punitive measures for its use.
Five years ago, Toronto-based Muay Thai fighter Angelina Blessed told VICE she didn’t consume cannabis. Now she medicates daily, using both THC and CBD to help her get more out of workouts, manage pain, relax, and sleep better.
“I went from really light three to five [kilometre] jogs to starting a runners’ group where we were doing 15-km trail runs and we would stop and blaze or eat edibles,” Blessed said.
Over the years, she’s suffered from multiple concussions, including one where she temporarily lost her speech. Rather than turn to opioids, Blessed said she’s used CBD to treat her symptoms.
Rugby League players, governed by the World Anti-Doping Authority, are allowed to have CBD in their systems, but not THC. Because HowlBrands’ products will be derived from hemp plants, they won’t contain THC. And while the Wolfpack is the first pro team to launch its own line of CBD products, the crossover between weed and sports is becoming more common.
Argyle said HowlBrands will offer players an alternative to conventional pain relief treatments coming from Big Pharma.
However, more clinical studies are needed to verify the many touted therapeutic benefits of CBD.
Cannabis data firm New Frontier Data predicts the CBD industry in the US will be worth $2 billion by 2022, up from $367 million in 2017.