Craniosacral Therapy, Concussions, and CBD

An Interview with Former NFL Running Back Ricky Williams

By Karrie Osborn

Ricky Williams is an explorer. His curiosity and eagerness to learn are products of a quiet intelligence that fuels a sometimes-bohemian lifestyle of wonder and discovery.
It’s what prompted the 1998 Heisman Trophy winner to learn massage, craniosacral therapy, yoga, ayurveda, and meditation in his off seasons while he was a running back for the New Orleans Saints, the Miami Dolphins, and the Baltimore Ravens. It’s what inspired him to learn the chart-making intricacies of astrology and study traditional Chinese medicine to become an acupuncturist. And it’s the motivating force behind the creation of his latest venture, Real Wellness (RW), a California-based company that produces topical cannabidiol (CBD) products.

Finding Answers with Craniosacral Therapy

From football’s bright lights to a six-month walkabout in Australia, Williams has long been seeking knowledge. That’s what brought him to the Upledger Institute in 2006, where he wanted to learn everything he could about craniosacral therapy (CST).
He had first experienced craniosacral work from an athletic trainer in a football locker room. Intrigued, he sought additional therapists to work with. The results, he says, were profound. “My therapist explained to me, ‘We all experience physical traumas, some major, some minor. When the body doesn’t have the ability to heal in the moment, the trauma lays buried in our tissues. Craniosacral therapy unpeels those layers of trauma.’ Being a football player, this made sense.”
When Williams suffered a broken arm that same season, he focused more attention on receiving CST work. When he came back to the game after healing, he knew his body was different. “I noticed that I was better after my injury than I was before—after only a week of practice. When I say better, I mean I thought the game slowed down for me. I made a connection with the work I was doing with CST, and how it was affecting my body, but more importantly my performance. I became intrigued.”
As soon as the off-season came around, Williams enrolled in a craniosacral class at the Upledger Institute, where CST was developed. “Within the first half hour of class, I felt like I had found my calling,” he says. “So many lightbulbs were going off about how important and vital CST is and will become to professional football.”  Within a year, Williams had completed four levels of craniosacral training.
The two-time NFL Pro-Bowler had long received sports massage during his career, typically 2–3 times a week. But CST gave him something different. He says the relationship he established with CST and its developer, John Upledger, was critical to his path toward wellness. Williams would go on to partner with Upledger (and later with his son, John Matthew Upledger) to develop CST intensive workshops for football players and others with post-concussion syndrome. This work especially excites Williams, as he believes wholeheartedly that CST can help those suffering with the aftermath of concussions. “Does CST help with post-concussion symptoms?” he asks rhetorically. “Absolutely, absolutely. It’s one of the things in my life I’m most certain of.”

The CBD Certainty

What else is Williams certain of? A belief that cannabis needs to be looked at and respected as medicine, like it has been for thousands of years. Those who know football know this is something Williams has believed and defended since the first time marijuana helped ease the pain in his injury-ridden body, and the first time he failed an NFL drug test because of it.
From the promises of cannabidiol (CBD) to help pain and inflammation to the work being done with CBD and seizure disorders, the public is talking openly and excitedly about the health benefits of cannabis. Williams’s long football career gives him all the background he needs on why this is important. “I started taking pain killers in high school to be able to compete in sports,” he says. “I had my first ulcer at 19 years old from taking too much Advil. I had personal experience of pharma not being too great.” He knew there were better solutions.
“At my core I’m a healer,” says Williams, whose resume of trainings confirms that moniker. So, when his exposure to CBD piqued his healer interests, he started pondering the possibilities. “Public opinion is changing so fast about cannabis, and especially about CBD. I thought it was an opportunity to take things I have a lot of experience and knowledge in and make medicinal cannabis products. I wanted to create alternatives to pharmaceuticals for people.” It was then that Real Wellness was born.
Williams began exploring how to incorporate CBD into herbal formulas. He knew the combination would be powerful. “My hidden agenda was using CBD and cannabis to reintroduce herbalism to people.” He says his company is currently in the process of turning its salve into an oil for massage therapists. He knows first-hand the power of using CBD in this way: “I remember my first experience receiving a massage using a CBD salve. After the massage, I felt my whole body was awake and alive, and vibrating. I realized this could be really powerful for people therapeutically. It was a profound experience for me.”
Despite the great CBD wave of consumer acceptance, Williams says there are concerns. “Right now, CBD medicine is on the cusp of becoming snake oil. You look online and it can cure everything. CBD is everywhere, and because the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) hasn’t caught up, it’s hard to find trustworthy products and suppliers. It’s the wild, wild West!”
Williams encourages therapists to do their research before buying CBD products, and he believes it’s important for companies to educate their potential clientele. “That’s my main caution to massage therapists—do a little research on whatever company they are purchasing their CBD oil from and make sure they are reputable. That’s the most important thing—that they’re getting what they purchase.” But beyond that, he wants therapists to be good consumers.
“I think it’s important for everyone, but specifically bodyworkers, to become scientists—to understand the physical benefits but also the mental and emotional benefits of CBD.”