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But the NFL also suspended Williams multiple times for testing positive for marijuana. While the suspensions hurt Williams’ reputation in football, he has become a prominent advocate for cannabis use to treat pain and social anxiety.
The 44-year-old former All-Pro running back told Fox News Digital in a recent interview he started seeing the benefits of marijuana in 2002.
“I guess I noticed after I failed a drug test in 2002 and the NFL said, ‘OK, now you’re going to be drug tested 10 times a month,'” Williams recalled. “So, obviously, I stopped smoking. I thought at the time it was no big deal. But when I stopped smoking, I noticed that I was taking more pain pills and I noticed that I was more anxious.
“So, I started to continue to smoke just a little bit just to see if there was a difference. And, in that situation, I noticed there was a big difference — that I recovered faster, things didn’t bother me as much and it reflected in my performance.
“I was taking more painkillers because I was more aware of the pain that I was in. Back in 2002, especially outside of California, there was nobody really talking about medicinal marijuana. Especially in the NFL, most of the conversation about cannabis was, ‘Don’t do it because it’s a drug and you’ll get in trouble.’ I started using cannabis mainly because other football players on my team were using it and suggesting I use it. So it was more like peer pressure and fitting in.”
Williams quickly saw benefits to smoking marijuana.
“It’s not what people say, because when I consume cannabis, I wasn’t sitting on the couch,” Williams said. “I wasn’t being lazy. I was reading and reflecting and doing like self-psychology and working on myself. When I retired from the NFL in 2004 and was free from those confines, I started to travel and have conversations and read and realized, ‘Oh, they lied to us about this.’
“Then, I just kept further and further researching. And it became obvious that this is something that has been considered medicine, considered something that helps people in their religious practices and understanding themselves better for thousands of years. And it’s only since 1937 that it’s been considered something negative.”
While Williams said he was helping himself and helping his body, it was strange for him to get disciplined for it. He was suspended multiple times by the NFL and was even derided as an addict by former Washington quarterback Joe Theismann when Williams signed with the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League.
“It was a little bit confusing. But the nature of cannabis is it opens your mind. It got me thinking differently,” Williams told Fox News Digital. “And what I realized is, this idea that these things are happening to me — maybe there’s a reason behind all this. And that really changed my perspective. And instead of feeling like a victim, I realized that this was a wonderful opportunity for me.”
Williams said using cannabis helped him reverse his thinking and deal with his own anxiety issues.
“If someone has social anxiety or any kind of mental health issue, the standard treatment is twofold. It’s usually some sort of talk therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy and oftentimes people will go the pharmaceutical route. The idea is there’s something internally that’s causing issues for the person,” he said.
“For me, cannabis was kind of both. There’s obviously a chemical component. That’s why we call it a drug. But it’s what I call self-psychotherapy,” Williams explained. “And after practice, when I would go home and smoke, I’d reflect on my day and I’d understand myself better. I’d understand where these certain urges were coming from, things that I didn’t understand so much.
“Because the nature of what cannabis does it puts us more into contact with how we feel. So much of the world — so much of life, especially for me, especially for football players, macho men — we’re taught not to be in touch with our feelings. To put them aside so we can get the job done. And for some people that works but for me it didn’t work. Cannabis allowed me to be more in touch with how I was feeling. When I was in touch with how I was feeling, I noticed that I was much less anxious. Instead of masking the issue, cannabis actually helped me get to the root of it.”
Cannabis made Williams introspective.
“Usually the first thing that comes to the surface are things that didn’t feel good, things about the day and things about the week and getting to the bottom of why didn’t that feel good, not why did that person do that, but why did that affect me that way,” he said. “In that receptive state that cannabis tends to engender, it’s easier to reflect and to go backward in time and think of what other situations similar to this occurred in my life and might they have something to do with why I felt like this. I also think the spaciousness cannabis engenders allows us to not hold onto things and to see the bigger picture and to see where things fit in a larger perspective and that sense of relief of ‘Oh, I get it. I understand.’ It’s powerful.”
Williams launched the cannabis-lifestyle brand Highsman in October 2021, releasing three types of flower under his brand — Pregame, a sativa; Halftime, a hybrid; and Postgame, an indica. He also teamed up with Jeeter to roll out a live resin pre-roll and vape set called “Sticky Ricky.”
All of the proceeds from the Highsman and Jeeter collaboration are donated to Athletes for CARE, a mental health organization founded by former pro athletes to address important health issues whether mental, physical or financial.
Williams told Fox News Digital better education about cannabis use could help break the stigma of the lazy pot smoker.
“I think if you look at our education system, we’re not really taught to think for ourselves. So a lot of the time people consume cannabis and they have this spaciousness,” Williams said. “They have no training on how to think for themselves and they just want to be entertained or they just want to utilize the heightened senses to enjoy themselves.
“And there’s nothing wrong with that. But, like I said, if we look at the history of cannabis, people have been using cannabis for their … reflection for thousands of years. We think the fact that this kind of cannabis that engenders that mindset is still around. We know it’s been bred for that reason for thousands of years. And people for a long time have realized and recognized that there’s something useful about this uplifted, altered state of mind that allows us to take a different perspective on our problems.”
The 1998 Heisman Trophy winner added it’s up to the industry to lead in education.
“I think it’s going to take the industry, it’s going to take brands. The way our culture has been trained is whoever has the best branding can trick us into trying something. Part of that long-term strategy and what a lot people have been working on is how to change the stigma,” Williams said.
“When people have thought of, ‘If I do this I’m going to get in trouble,’ is extremely powerful. Obviously, there’s people like myself and other people in the industry where it’s not as strong and the need for adventure is a little stronger. But there’s a large part of the population won’t go near cannabis because of the lies they’ve been told.
“I think it’s part of the industry and branding’s job to figure that out. That’s one of the main reasons I started Highsman because it’s creating a platform that allows us to talk about cannabis differently. When I do interviews and people ask me about cannabis, I get to tell my story. And to me, part of it is, ‘Yeah, I was suspended and went through all of these things.’
“But the more important part of the story is how I’ve utilized it, how I’ve used it to improve the quality of my life and, to me, that’s something that whether people agree or not, at least it’s an interesting conversation and it’s a different perspective.”