Australian basketball legend Lauren Jackson just wanted to be able to hit the gym and pick up her kids again, but thanks to medical cannabis, she is preparing to play in the World Cup, an astonishing 25 years after her debut.
At 41 years young, Jackson was coaxed out of international retirement in June ahead of the FIBA World Cup here in Australia, which begins on September 22.
It’s an adventurous return for Australia’s greatest ever female basketball player – but it wouldn’t have been possible without medical cannabis.
Australian basketball legend Lauren Jackson is making a remarkable comeback for the Opals thanks to medical cannabis
Jackson’s doctor, James Stewart, told Daily Mail Australia he is in awe of what she had been able to achieve since using medical cannabis to manage the chronic, debilitating pain she had suffered since her retirement.
“You can tell she’s (Jackson) so genuine that she would never, ever think of making a comeback,” he said.
“She never imagined she could get back on the field, let alone play for Australia and play how good she is. She crushes it.
“Apart from making the team, for her it was about being able to run around with her kids. Played with them before [medicinal cannabis] was a struggle for her.
Lauren Jackson with Dr James Stewart, who has told Daily Mail Australia about the huge impact medical cannabis has had on her life, both on and off the pitch
Jackson, who was incredibly emotional when Opals coach Sandy Brondello told her she was made, said it would never have been possible without the help of Dr Stewart and treatment with extracts from the plant.
“To make an official return to the world stage in a sport that I love is just an incredible feeling,” Jackson said.
“I only returned to court in April earlier this year and my treatment plan before playing again with medical cannabis is playing a huge role in my recovery from chronic pain.”
Incredibly, Jackson made her international debut 25 years ago, with her last appearance before her retirement in 2013. She last played in a FIBA World Championship in 2010.
The Australian legend had no intention of playing competitively again after having a partial right knee replacement and dealing with an ACL tear that was followed by a staph infection.
But a successful NBL1 comeback for hometown Albury clearly reignited the passion.
“I finished playing basketball with painful ankles and was able to get a prescription through my doctor, which made my ankles feel much better and allowed me to get more movement back to do more of the things I love,” Jackson said .
“It’s just been incredible for my recovery.”
Lauren Jackson (left) played for Australia at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. The Opals legend is now preparing to play in a World Cup at the age of 41
Dr Stewart is one of Australia’s leading medical minds championing the benefits of cannabinoids – but despite athletes like Jackson breaking down some of the stigma, he said it was still an uphill battle to convince some of its incredible benefits.
“I think the sports stars and what Lauren is doing is just great to reduce the stigma because it’s not the parents’ fault that they have this view of cannabis,” he said.
“That’s what was pushed on them through the war on drugs, through all the media campaigns. And they just think it makes you angry.
“So we’re out there trying to just destigmatize it, to say it’s very safe and it should be considered as if someone were taking a Panadol,” Dr Stewart said.
Dr James Stewart is one of Australia’s leading minds when it comes to cannabinoids
The most studied and most abundant cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis and is why cannabis is used recreationally.
CBD, on the other hand, is not psychoactive, and as Jackson and Dr Stewart have revealed, it has great benefits when it comes to managing chronic pain.
Dr Stewart revealed that Jackson was a “shell of her former self” when she retired because she was so ravaged by injuries after a long career.
“When she ended her career in the United States, she happily said that she was on the biggest cocktail of drugs. She said she was a shell of a woman, he said.
“It was supposed to be the happiest time of her life, but she was a zombie.”
Lauren Jackson makes an incredible comeback for Australia at the World Cup in September
Dr Stewart explains that the comeback simply started with him wanting to be able to go to the gym again.
“She tried to get back into the gym just for personal reason but she couldn’t because her knee would keep blowing up and causing so much pain,” he said.
“Then we started [cannabis] the trial and what she found was that her knee did not inflate and did not give her pain.
“Then it only went well enough to train a couple of times a day. And then that’s what allowed her to get back on the field.
Lauren Jackson recently returned to the Seattle Storm to celebrate her former teammate Sue Bird
Unfortunately, cannabis is on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s banned list – meaning Jackson was required to stop taking the drug once she resumed playing.
She is currently awaiting the outcome of a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE), which will allow her to use the plant again to relieve chronic pain and improve her recovery.
Dr Stewart has been working on the exemption request since March, admitting he is frustrated by the conservative nature of the WADA board, which he believes is not open to new life-changing treatments.
Lauren Jackson played 220 games for the Opals, and is a four-time WNBA MVP
“The reason it’s still banned is because it’s still considered an illegal drug. It is still classified as a narcotic. So it is still classified as something illegal, he explained.
“I was at war with them [WADA] .. What should I print to be approved? They are not going to become addicted and it is not going to destroy them.
“It’s not quite right. It’s very frustrating…but I know when they do someone [TUEs] then the floodgates open,” Dr. Stewart said.
Jackson joined the Sports Advisory Board of leading sports science company Levin Health earlier this year to help address the wider issue of chronic pain from sports and also the stigma surrounding medical cannabis.
Dr Stewart is one of the medical advisers to the company, with legendary AFL coaches Damien Hardwick and Alastair Clarkson also strong advocates of medical cannabis alongside Jackson on the board.
LR Richmond coaches Damien Hardwick, Lauren Jackson and Dr James Stewart are key ambassadors for the benefits of medical cannabis
NRL legend Andrew Johns and champion jockey Damien Oliver round out the all-star team of athletes who have had their lives changed by the treatment.
The first Australian player ever to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Jackson, who played 220 games for the Opals, is regarded as one of the world’s greatest women’s basketball players of all time.
She is a four-time WNBA MVP; and won titles in the USA, Australia, Spain and Russia, as well as three Olympic silver medals and one bronze.
Lauren Jackson played for Australia at the 2013 FIBA Oceanic Championships shortly before her retirement
Australia’s only world title came in 2006 – a tournament Jackson captained and she will be looking to add to her growing medal collection in September.
It’s not just any old comeback either – Jackson is thriving.
At the weekend, Jackson played for Albury in the NBL1 and coincidentally dropped 40 points to go with a remarkable 25 rebounds.
The whole country will no doubt be hoping she can repeat those heroics for the Opals, and claim a gold medal.
The Opals, ranked third in the world, are aiming to add to their previous stellar World Cup performances, having won silver in 2018 and bronze in 2014.
They have drawn Group C, with pool matches against France, Serbia, Japan, Mali and Canada, with the tournament starting in Sydney on September 22.