Sports Cannabis Interviews

Anna Symonds

Professional Rugby Players are using their platforms to advocate for cannabis and share the pivotal role it's played in their lives.

We had the opportunity to connect with Anna Symond on SportsCannabis to discuss all things cannabis, the athletic world, sports and her career.  Anna will take us through her training regiment, how she’s integrated CBD into her life for relief and recovery as well as what she’s done to help destigmatize the plant.  She’s also an advocate that promotes awareness and education on a number of platforms as an Athlete Ambassador for Athletes for Care and as a CBD Educator and Advocate with East For Cultivars’ CBD Certified Program.

Anna Symond’s rugby career includes a USA Rugby Division National Championship, selection to the National All-Star Competition, and a Sydney Premiership Championship. She also represented the United States of America and amassed 3 national championships in Touch Rugby with the Portland Hunter.

Interview // 05

Jay : 

Thank you for coming on the Show. How are you doing? And where are you joining us

from today? 

Anna : 

Hi, Jay, thanks for having me. I’m here in Portland, Oregon at home. And I’m doing okay, you know about as well as can be, like, most of us right now figuring out the day to day, and what

that looks like in the time of COVID. 

Jay :

And so what does your day to day look like right now? Uh, Miss Clovid? How are you training? How are you keeping sane? Where are you doing?

Anna : 

Well, I am still working mostly from home. But we have had to make some changes, you know, our operations have been affected by this. And everybody in the company is helping out. So I’m mostly working from home. And I am also on occasion helping to transfer plant material from the form from here to Portland, and get that out to our accounts as well. So really kind of chipping in with that, but mostly at home. And in terms of working now, it’s been, I’ve been taking a very gentle approach with myself. So I haven’t pushed myself to try and jump into any kind of particular program. I’m kind of feeling out how I feel day to day and just trying to stay active and get outdoors. So some days, that just means going for a long walk four or five miles, are there days that I might go for a run or do some live stream yoga, which is nice. And you know, I’m kind of thinking about starting maybe a program with some at home weight situation, or you can do a whole lot with body weight. For now, I’ve just been looking to stay balanced.

Jay : 

Yeah, I think that’d be really interesting to know more about your training regiment. And the reason why I brought that up is before we get started, you know, we really want to highlight how busy you are…

Anna : 

Tuesday and Thursday evenings for a couple hours. And then matches are on Saturdays. And so in between those days, I’ll have weight sessions, two to three, kind of shooting for three. But that’s not always possible, as well as some sprint sessions outside of training. And no, ideally get in two of those. So one of the ways that I do that is by playing touch rugby, we have a great scene for that here in Portland. And it’s fun, it’s a fun way to get some, some sprinting in, that’s a little more distracted, you know, you have a ball to focus on in a game rather than just running straight sprints at the track. But you know, I’ll do that as well go to the track or to a field. Yeah, that’s a great way to keep engaged. And I do try to keep some yoga or serious stretching in there as well. I think for me, I know, in my body, it’s really important to keep that counterbalance of lifting and stretching, you know, they really worked together to keep me strong and help prevent injuries. So I think doing those two things together is really important. And then, of course, in our offseason when we don’t have training and matches, then that just allows for a more full schedule of workouts.

Jay : 

Okay, and what’s your preference when you’re doing yoga? Because I know, I’ve started to dabble in yoga as well, in the last couple years. It’s a tremendous solution for post, you know, recovery. Are you more of a hot yoga fan? Or do you like their traditional methods?

Anna : 

I like both. Okay, and I, I do appreciate how the heat will kind of open up my muscles. And let me go a little bit deeper. I do like some of those workouts that are more of a physical challenge. But I do also like yoga, and, you know, some of the other more traditional forms. So, yeah, so I appreciate all of it and all sort of gravitate towards whatever my body needs at the time, especially during the season. You know, you get banged up and have different injuries. You’re in there. And so sometimes you’re working around that, and staying responsive to what the body needs.

Jay :

Yeah. And as you said, you know, it’s incredibly taxing right. And it’s a grueling sport with zero pads. There’s constant fight, and it can really test an athlete’s limit. Something that you emphasize is you don’t achieve greatness without taking risks. Why is this an important message that you advocate and what does it mean?

Anna : 

It’s something that’s important to remind ourselves. I think a lot of times our culture has an unhealthy focus on outcome or accomplishment without the process. And I think that’s unhealthy because it’s unrealistic. It’s focused on instant gratification. But you know, it’s focused on this idea of achievement that’s ultimately hollow, if you just want, essentially, you want some kind of glory, without really earning it, I guess, you know. And so I think the key to maybe finding substance in those accomplishments is loving the process. I know for me, and I think some other athletes may feel this way too, you can have a great accomplishment and it feels good. But that doesn’t last. I mean, I think a lot of us don’t really want to rest on our laurels, and say, Okay, I checked that box. And now I’m, you know, now I’m good for all time. I mean, you really want to keep going and keep pushing yourself and seeing what you’re capable of, and challenging yourself. And being in that flow. I think that things that come easy, are not as rewarding, necessarily, emotionally speaking. And it’s only when you really challenge yourself, that you can get some of those emotional rewards and, and that means risking loss and pain. But if you really love that process, if you learn to love it, then I think that’s where the deep meaning is found.

Jay : 

Yeah, I couldn’t agree more with you. And you know, it, it’s exactly like something you said, which is enjoy the process, or it’s something that, you know, is echoed by someone that I look up to quite a bit Kobe Bryant, and his philosophy is, you know, it’s not about the destination, it’s all about enjoying the pursuit, that is the most important part, because it is a relentless, persistent battle. But if you’re able to enjoy that pursuit and really gain value for it, it’s what’s going to separate you from the person next to you. So, rugby is a contact sport, which means that there’s a high risk of causing injuries. And this is something that you’re very familiar with. And for a long time, this solution for recovery has been using a cocktail of remedies. And in more recent years, CBD has come a long way, and is starting to play a pivotal role with sports, and athletes. And for many people listening, they still have doubts, you know, they still have uncertainties. And if they listen to this podcast, they may still have a certain stigma. Maybe you can talk firsthand about how CBD has proven to be a powerful tool for you with inflammation, sleep recovery over the last 20 years of a constant grind?

Anna : 

There’s kind of two pieces to that. One is the personal experience, which is so powerful to have. And then the other part is all the new research that’s coming out that really supports those experiences with evidence. And so I’d say one of the major benefits of CBD is this powerful anti inflammatory effect that it offers, it’s a much better solution for me, than those over the counter type of painkillers, and said, you know, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, those kinds of things. And the reason is, because CBD is the same thing in your body. But it does it more efficiently and effectively. Essentially, those enzymes work by inhibiting these Cox enzymes that help that, you know, produce inflammatory signals in our body, but there’s two types, and one of those times is also responsible for keeping the lining of the mucus of the gastrointestinal tract, intact and healthy. You know, people can get ulcers and have, you know, it has other bad effects on the microbiome, etc. Right? But CBD does not inhibit both types, it just inhibits the one that we need it to, but it leaves the one that deals with the stomach lining alone. So, you know, that’s just like getting a little more into science. But speaking personally, I’ve been on some of, you know, some powerful insights, the prescription ones and had to deal with the bleeding stomach ulcer and so, you know, to have a much better treatment alternative is just wonderful, whether that’s for the acute situation where you need higher doses, or just to generally keep inflammation at bay in the body and help with some of those general aches Pain.

Jay :

Yeah. And speaking of aches and pains, you know, when you’re training and you’re going through the rigorous schedule of a season or even the offseason, you’re going through so much a day, sometimes it’s two days, maybe it’s once a day, but it’s pretty late at night. For me, it’s incredibly challenging just to switch off and go to sleep. Do you find it’s the same? And do you find CBD helps you recover and allow you to get sleep that is imperative to allow you to get the next day and get going.

Anna : 

Definitely. Right now, I’m actually using a blend of herbal capsules that includes hemp extract, and other beneficial herbs. And it’s a blend, especially for sleep that’s made by Guy herbs. It’s called sleep. But I think that has been a game changer, because I just, I just started using it more recently, during the COVID situation with you know, at first, when things started happening, I was having a lot of trouble sleeping, you know, I was feeling a lot of stress and worrying and anxiety. And really, really helped to get that, and really just ushered me off to sleep, gently without feeling groggy, and I’d wake up feeling good and ready to go. So this is a definite new tool in my arsenal. But even before discovering this particular product, I’ve found that cannabis in general has helped me with sleep and getting quality sleep in general.

Jay : 

And how important is that to you recovering and being able to get up the next day and go through that rigorous training schedule that you had set aside for yourself going to work and everything else?

Anna : 

Oh, it’s huge. We’re also getting new research out on sleep showing just how crucial it is to not just physical performance, but mental performance and emotional health. overall well being sleep is-I mean, it is critical. And it’s also something that we deprive ourselves of regularly through our modern lifestyles. And so to have these natural and safe and gentle but effective tools that really support that process is crucial, getting asleep early enough, staying asleep and having quality sleep.

Jay : 

In the past, you know a lot of athletes have kind of steered away from the interaction socially or publicly with the plant, you know, they’re worried about losing a sponsorship or even a playing contract. So I want to ask you, why are you determined to shift the cultural perspective around how we heal, grow and thrive through plant medicine?

Anna : 

I think there there are a lot of areas where, where we need to do better for athletes, and also areas where athletes can set an example for for others. You know, some of our sports leagues are very brutal in that we ask a lot of people’s bodies, and yet we restrict the types of medicine that we’re allowed to use. Even if it’s a you know, powerful narcotic or opioids that’s addictive. Versus cannabis, which is just unfairly stigmatized, not, you know, really, again, that’s a political, a political stigma that was placed on the plant, not a scientific one. And so we need to do right by these people who give so much of their bodies. And then we athletes also have the opportunity to share that message when we receive benefits from this wonderful healing plan. We know that those benefits should be available to everyone. And we need to advocate for that.

Jay : 

You are a huge advocate within the cannabis industry and you’ve done this through a number of platforms as an ambassador for Athletes for Care. And as a CBD educator and advocate for East forks cultivars CBD certified program. How do you believe these platforms help encourage conversations as well as break the stigma for other athletes?

Anna : 

Well, Athletes for Care is a wonderful nonprofit that has a great reach because we have athletes from so many different sports, I think over 30 different sports and multiple different countries, multiple different leagues. And so really, we have this unique reach when we combine our voices together, we reach People all over the globe, and people with different interests, who may not be aware that cannabis could be an option that could help them with their wellness. And also to sort of promote the normalization and correct some of those unfair historical biases, people may be carrying around in their psyches. And so sharing those personal stories, as a form of activism, I think can make a real difference. And then using that platform to advocate for law, changes in patient access and more research. And then with work, it’s wonderful because I have the opportunity to teach people basic cannabis science with a focus on CBD, of course, because the program is CBD certified, of course, I believe in the whole plant, I believe in cannabis in general. So, you know, not to say just CBD, but at the time we created the program, there was less information out there, and it was a few years ago, so CBD hadn’t quite, you know, burst into public consciousness the way that it really has now. And even then there’s a lot of misinformation out there. So it’s really great to be a resource for people to empower their own health choices.

Jay : 

Yeah, I agree. And if we jump back to Athletes for Care, it is a nonprofit organization that, like you said, supports athletes. And what many don’t realize is that their career windows are much smaller than most. So although the career can look amazing from the outside, it also means for any reason, if it’s injury, or due to a tough situation, their careers can be cut short. Luckily, with Athletes for Care, you’re able to send in donations through their laser initiatives, with Amazon dot small business to help just this. So we want to ask you, why was it important for you to align with athletes for care? And can you discuss your role as an athlete Ambassador?

Anna : 

Yeah, well, it was really big to connect with athletes for care. Because there were, there were other people having these similar experiences, and feelings and wanting to be sharing this message. But doing it separately is a little lonely. So when you connect with people who are like minded and have shared similar experiences, it’s just an amazing feeling. To be really a part of a team that spans all you know, it spans all of these different diverse circumstances, different sports, different countries, genders, races, backgrounds, all of these things, but yet we have these core experiences, 

Jay : 

It must be an amazing learning experience as well to be able to collaborate with all these different individuals from different walks of life. They’re all athletes, but they’ve all used, you know, cannabis in one way or another, but then to find out how it’s interacted with their body, or which way they’re using it, it must be a really educational experience at the same time. Is that right?

Anna : 

Absolutely. And I think we all have little things to teach one another, even if we are very experienced ourselves.  

Jay : 

Okay, so what is your role? If you were to, you know, talk to someone that is a part of the community? What is your role as an athlete ambassador?

Anna : 

we’re so part of it is to help educate people and help advocate for cannabis rights, and education, and all of those important things. And so speaking at conferences or other events, sharing my personal story, and experiences, and I think, that can go a long way with people in terms of credibility. If they, you know, they’ve had this view of cannabis as a drug of abuse, but then they see all of these, you know, elite athletes, who care deeply about their bodies and are clearly in vibrant health. And they’re saying, Hey, this is what I do. This is what works for me, this is why this works for me, maybe it would work for you. I think that that can be very powerful.

Jay : 

Something that I picked up off that you said, which is you know, something that a lot of athletes have talked about is that their bodies, other temples, it’s, you know, everything that they put into their body, they’re observing, they’re breaking down, they’re, they’re making sure it’s the best of the best. How hard was it for you to, you know, introduce cannabis or CBD as a solution to your life and get over the fact that you’ll be consuming something that maybe you grew up with ?

Anna : 

It was definitely an evolution in thought. I mean, I first tried cannabis when I was 13. So I was not against it. But I definitely thought of it more as something that I did for fun. And then it wasn’t until more recent years that I started to use it more strategically and to start really understanding the medicinal properties and how to use those innocent, sophisticated way. You know, not not that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using cannabis for fun and relaxation. But it also has particular applications that you can get very specific with for your body’s own needs. So whether that’s pain relief, anti inflammatory, benefits, appetite, you name it there, there are a lot of different things that it can be beneficial for. So I think that evolution, in my own mind, wasn’t a huge hurdle to get over. I do still run into people who have the mindset that, you know, anything that you smoke couldn’t possibly be a medicine? And oh, that’s a drug. So I think there is definitely still, there’s still a lot of education to be done. Yeah, and in sharing the truth, I guess that’s how I see it.

Jay : 

So talking about how you’re introduced to cannabis, you know, for myself, it was in a dried flower format. However, with the progression of technology, there’s been many changes to this vehicle, which mode is your favorite to consume cannabis and why?

Anna : 

Well, I am traditional in that I like the Cannabis flower. And, generally, you know, smoking a joint is one of my preferred methods of consumption because it is reliable. I’m, you know, I know what the effects are. And it’s convenient. And, and, you know, I said traditional, and I really do mean that, in that that’s how people have been using the plant for 1000s of years, among other things. But it is really nice to have a variety of options. You know, cannabis smoke is not at all equivalent to cigarette smoke. And there’s really good research to back up. The fact that there isn’t evidence that cannabis smoke promotes lung cancer. You know, obviously, there are very different things. However, anytime you are inhaling smoke of any kind, it can irritate the lungs, it’s not necessarily the best thing, especially if you’re an athlete, you may want to minimize that. So in recent years, I have also moved to vaporizing dry flour. And I do like, you know, there are tinctures and capsules and different edibles that I enjoy. As well as some topicals here and that can be helpful. But yeah, I really do value the flower and I think you know, it’s the least processed form of the plant. And so I think that it offers a lot of benefits.

Jay : 

Yeah, I’m the exact same way I prefer the dried flower format as well. That’s how I was introduced to it. That’s my preferred method of consumption. I’ve tried alternative modes, but they didn’t react the same way. The reason why I brought this up is because I want to know, if you are worried as we continue to progress, any new technology really continues to evolve the plan, maybe in 10-20 years from now, are you worried we will not recognize the plant we see today?

Anna : 

That’s a good question. There is a lot going on with breeding of, you know, the plant and potentially there’s a lot of corporatization of the cannabis industry titled, genetically modified, not just plants, but you know, you can actually grow cannabinoids that have genetically modified beasts. So I think there are going to be products out there in the future that might be cheap to produce that will that will not even be from the plant itself, which I think will will, will lose a lot of the magic that’s in the plant because it is a very, very chemically complex herb with, you know, hundreds of different components that are all interact interacting in this entourage effect giving us a synergy a magnified therapeutic benefit. So I definitely favor organic traditionally bred cannabis. That it’s grown regeneratively. I prefer Sun grown cannabis, I don’t think there’s a need to grow indoors. And you know, both for the environmental impacts the carbon impacts the impacts on the ecosystem, and you can grow, you can grow cannabis regeneratively with a positive benefit to the surrounding ecosystem. And you can do that economically. It just requires some knowledge and some effort. So that’s why I think cannabis also has a strong culture around that, and around a connection to nature and caring for nature. So my hope is that that part of the culture will continue and people will stay loyal to the plant so to speak. 

Jay : 

As you mentioned before, earlier in the conversation, you’re a huge cannabis advocate. And you know, you can tell just by listening to you, and you’ve also done this as a CBD educator with East for cultivars CBD certified program, if you’re going to focus on this program and more importantly, the platform. Can you give us a sense at a high level what East Fork  Cultivars is today as well as their mission?

Anna :

Yeah. East for cultivars is a family owned farm in Southern Oregon. And we have two sides, we have cannabis, beet licensed farm and then right next door we have a state license craft hemp farm, which is USDA certified organic. And both farms are also Sun and Earth certified, which is a great environmental and social responsibility certification. And so the focus of the farms is CBD. And that came from two brothers who founded the farm and they had started as medical growers for their older brother. And he was born with neurofibromatosis, which gave him severe symptoms. He had tumors throughout his body and epilepsy, and a lot of pain. And so cannabis helped him but it was CBD rich cannabis in particular, which really gave him notable relief while still allowing him to function. And so at the time that his brothers were growing it, there wasn’t as much available, it wasn’t regularly available and not very much variety to choose from. And so when legalization passed here in Oregon, the brothers said, Let’s bring this medicine to more people and start a whole farm based on growing and breeding. CBD rich cultivars, so ratios anywhere from one to one to two CBD all the way to, you know, 20 to one CBD to THC, I love this company, it’s a very special endeavor. We have a very devoted commitment to environmental responsibility, social responsibility, and we pay a living wage. And we do things I think, pretty differently than a lot of businesses out there. So it’s a business that I feel very passionately about and feel very lucky to be a part of.

Jay : 

Yeah, and your team takes on a number of challenges. And one of those challenges is education and awareness. And that’s something that you spread throughout the community. You guys have also done this by taking on a CBD certified program, which provides certification for bud tenders. Can you explain why it was important for you guys to address this market, as well as why it is important for bud tenders to have this certification, so they could really provide, you know, an optimal experience for patients that are coming in, that really need that type of guidance.

Anna :

So when the brothers started the company, they would hear things like you’re just growing cannabis that don’t get you high, nobody wants that. And so and you know, that’s not exactly an accurate description, because again, you can feel a pretty nice high from one to one, I think. But that said, a lot of dispensary staff who are hired for their personal interest in cannabis and their personal knowledge. historically have been folks who enjoyed THC, because that’s kind of what’s really been available out there up until more recent years. And so there wasn’t necessarily a ton of personal experience or knowledge about CBD and what it could do, and the best practices, the best ways to use it, and then how to advise people potentially who were interested in it for various reasons. And so we created this program, and we made it free. And I traveled all around Oregon that first year presenting more than 100 different dispensaries and teaching the staff about the science behind CBD and around you know, basic cannabis science, how do all those pieces fit together with the whole plant? And what does CBD bring to the party essentially, of, of all of those wonderful things that cannabis can offer. 

Jay  :

So how’s your response been? 

Anna : 

Yeah, it’s been great. And it’s been very cool connecting with people who are passionate about cannabis, and want to help others. There are so many people who work in the industry because they have been helped by cannabis. And they really do care about making it available for other people. And we’ve seen such a demand for that. It expanded beyond dispensaries. And I’ve done quite a few public presentations, as well as presentations for other companies within the industry. And I’ve done, you know, some webinars that have been shown on the public access TV here in Oregon, which is a great way to get that information out there. So it has been, it’s been a really great response.

Jay  :

Yeah, I can imagine so. And you know, you’re meeting tons of people, right, and other athletes as well. So we’re wondering if an athlete came up to you thinking of using cannabis for recovery, and they wanted one piece of advice? What would you advise them?

Anna : 

I would say the big principle that overrides everything is to listen to your body. Because cannabis is personalized medicine. And it affects everybody a little bit differently because of our own particular genetics, metabolism. And other, you know, biological factors within our bodies. So just because something works for somebody else doesn’t mean that it will be the right thing for you. But there may be something else that could be a great fit for your needs. So, you know, don’t be afraid to try things, but start low and go slow, like they say, if you’re especially if you’re not very experienced with THC, and just always listen to your body. If something’s too little too much, you back off, you can build up gradually. Remember that, again, this is plant medicine. And yeah, the idea is to really keep yourself in balance. So always be looking to sort of maintain that balance. 

Jay : 

A lot of us have childhood heroes, you know, athletes, we grew up watching, and idolizing since we were young, we were wondering who’s that for you? And how have they impacted your life and motivated you to be who you are today?

Anna :

You know, I don’t think that I got to really watch him I wouldn’t say per se but I, I remember, always being incredibly inspired by Jesse Owens. You know, especially someone who a black athlete who could go to the Olympics and, and win, you know, right in the face of Nazi Germany. It was, I mean, I think it shows you that sports can be so much more than just a game and it really is so much more. I mean, his accomplishment was to, to stand up for himself or his people for court, you know, right. And to do that in a very undisputable way. I think, you know, sport, it’s a way of settling things as well, you know, it’s not it’s to really refute in such a visceral way.

Jay : 

I agree with you. And it was, yeah, it’s an amazing testament to what sports can do. And the lines of communication, it can really open up despite what’s going on across the world. And at times, it kind of brings us back home and grounds us. And everyone, you know, forgets what color they are, what nationality they are. They’re just there to play the sport and it’s a beautiful thing. Before we let you go, we like to ask one question to all of our guests and that is, is there a past experience, a book or a piece of technology that has helped shape who you are today? 

Anna : 

Wow.

Probably a lot of books, because I am a little bit of a bookworm. I was an English major and undergrad. Oh, but that’s a tough one, you know of all those books. One of my favorite books has always been Welcome to the monkey house by Kurt Vonnegut. And it’s a collection of his short stories that really sort of displays his humanism and you know, his wild imagination and His big heart. And I feel like, you know, that collection became a favorite in high school. And so, I feel like it, it sort of made such an impression that’s lasted over the years of, I guess, you know, Vonnegut never shied away from the fact that the world’s messed up. And humans are very imperfect, and our societies can be very dystopian. And yet we have, we have inside us flames of striving, I guess our you know, sort of like, the, the impulse in the will to do good, even in the face of a huge challenges and dystopian ism, even so, you know, and of course, he, he wrote, he also wrote slaughterhouse five, which was a fictional account of his experiences during World War Two, and, and so I mean, you know, he it was something he himself had experienced, and described So, so acutely, and so, I feel like that, that wisdom that he had sort of infused all of his writing, even when it was this absurdist science fiction.

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