When it comes to using cannabis for pain treatment, Ryan VandenBussche is a member of the converted.
VandenBussche (45) played professional hockey for 14 years, a career that included stops with the New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks, and Pittsburgh Penguins. He racked up 710 penalty minutes in 310 NHL contests. Hockeyfights.com – a site dedicated to videos and stats featuring on-ice combatants – has VandenBussche taking part in 112 scraps between 1996 and 2007.
He was listed at 6-feet, 200-pounds but often took on players much larger, including Stu Grimson (6-foot-5, 230lbs.) and Wade Belak (6-foot-5, 223) three times each. Twice he racked up 15 tilts in a year but the most came in 2003-04 when he dropped the gloves 18 times as a member of the Blackhawks. That hard-hitting style of play resulted in a whopping 12 surgeries and more than 20 concussions.
In 2010, the former tough guy began using cannabis as an alternative to opioids and has since become an advocate.
“In my professional hockey career, prescription opioids were a very common treatment method because it was legal to do and they were coming from doctors,” VandenBussche said. “It’s not an easy game to play and dealing with pain takes a toll on you after a while. I had always known about cannabis, I’ve been aware of it forever but it was a banned substance in my profession and illegal in society so I never started looking at it as an alternative medicine to prescription opioids. Since I was legally allowed to produce cannabis in 2010 for my medicinal needs, it opened my eyes to this miracle plant as I like to call it and all the healing properties that are attached to it.”
VandenBussche believed in cannabis and its advantages so much that he began leasing farmland south of Walsh in the hopes of one day building a growth and research facility. He purchased the land last summer and earlier this month, Norfolk’s planning department shared a site plan for a New Leaf Canada Inc. project that will include a 31,500 square foot, state-of-the-art indoor grow and research facility on a 64-acre farm. VandenBussche will head the facility, which is located at 1195 Charlotteville Rd No. 5 and create upwards of 30 jobs.
“To be honest with you I’ve been thinking about (this project) since 2010 when I got involved in it and it’s coming to fruition right now,” VandenBussche said. “I commend Justin Trudeau and the government of Canada for making it legal – it’s going to open up so many doors for more research and development and help a lot of people.”
The plan is to sell to patients worldwide, but NLC will keep its local community as a top priority. The grounds will be home to a wellness education centre to inform patients, the public and officials about the benefits of medicinal CBD.
VandenBussche said a number of former NHLers have invested in the company, and a handful will be part of an “advisory board” to be monitored and offer feedback on the product.
Our facility is really focused on the medicinal side of things – research and development,” he said. “Our goal is continue to do ‘r and d’ on former players that have played the game and tracking their prognosis, getting feedback and providing a product that’s not just good for athletes but good for everyone.”
Phase one of the project will focus on building an indoor facility while phase two includes more than 40 acres of greenhouse growing plans on the site.
“There’s a lot of good things to be announced in the new year,” VandenBussche said.
Currently, there are five medicinal cannabis operations in Norfolk with a half-dozen pending.