Rachael Rapinoe is on a mission to improve athletes’ lives. That’s why she co-founded Mendi: a CBD company offering both non-THC and full-spectrum products designed to level the playing field. The star athletes of this team are the safe and effective sports medicine recovery tools at the core of Mendi’s product line, though having two-time World Cup Champion Olympic gold medalist Megan Rapinoe as a sister and supporter certainly doesn’t hurt.
In fact, Rapinoe and Mendi have made it a priority to link the brand to a number of athletes across a wide array of sports in hopes of further advocating for this holistic alternative to addictive and harmful opioids. Always evolving alongside the changing mindsets of major sports leagues and the fans that follow them, Mendi was further thrust into the spotlight during the recent Tokyo Olympics after news broke that runner Sha’Carri Richardson would not compete as a result of testing positive for THC.
There are still a lot of miles left to run to reach the finish line Rapinoe has in mind. Speaking with Bloom & Oil, she shared her hopes for the future of Mendi, her thoughts on where the sports world stands when it comes to CBD, and much more. Keep reading for our full Q&A with Rachael Rapinoe.
Hi Rachael! Shall we start with an overview of how Mendi came to be and some background on your own journey with CBD?
Definitely. This all really spawned out of a personal need. I was an athlete and I had a lot of injuries in college. I also have a deep family history of drug and alcohol abuse, so I had a very emotional relationship with drugs, as well as with injuries and rehabilitation and figuring out what I should put in my body to feel better, to thrive, and to be able to do all of the things that I love to do with the people that I love. It really came out of that need.
With Mendi, we’ve obviously positioned ourselves in the market as a brand who really speaks to active lifestyle consumers and athlete-minded consumers. Our whole mission is to use nature’s best ingredients to create products that keep people feeling healthy and feeling their best and thriving in an all-natural way.
We offer a broad assortment of products to meet the needs of a lot of different consumers and how they like to use these products, whether it’s bath salts or a salve stick or massage oils. We have gummies, we have gel caps, we have tinctures, plus we’ve specifically formulated our products to target key benefits like pain, anxiety, stress, energy and focus, and sleep. That’s one of the differentiating factors with us: not only our positioning as a female and LGBTQ founded company in the market, but also our product assortment.
Earlier this year, Sha’Carri Richardson not being allowed to compete at the Olympics really brought the conversation surrounding cannabis and athletes to the forefront. What was that like for you and Mendi?
Let me just start by saying that there are people who have been doing this work for decades and I want to make sure that we recognize and spotlight them because we’ve only been in the market for a couple of years. We’re certainly trying to participate in this movement, but it’s a larger movement that’s been going on for a long time. I think what makes our story very powerful and resonant is how personal it is. I am someone who comes from a long family history of drug and alcohol abuse. I played professional and collegiate sports. I was over-prescribed and definitely misused and abused opiates myself. Now here I am, years later, trying to protect my network of athletes, because we all know athletes have been crying out for decades to have access to products that are healthier, and that are more natural and safer for them to use, to keep them playing at the highest level.
At Mendi, we definitely wanted to spotlight that during the Olympics. Even though it was only CBD that was deemed legal, it was still a really exciting moment for the industry at large. We have always been a company that champions both cannabis and hemp. We have a hemp line right now but it’s always been our goal to be the most trusted cannabis brand for athletes and active-minded consumers. We have like 20-25 different athletes that are part of our ambassador program. It’s a very diverse group of athletes, which was obviously very intentional, not only in terms of wanting to tell the full story of these athletes — their upbringings and everything that they bring to the sports industry, as well as the hemp industry — but also to showcase the very different types of people that use these products. There’s obviously been a stereotype in the cannabis industry for a long time around the types of players or athletes that are using these products, so we want to do our part in being part of the solution and telling the full story of who uses these products. We want to highlight why they use them and how it’s been so impactful in their lives.
No one could have predicted what happened with Sha’Carri. I am still so sad that she wasn’t able to go to the Olympics. At the same time, it’s really put a spotlight on mental health and the use of cannabis products and how important it is to be able to give athletes access to these products — especially in a very high-stress, high-pressure situation. That’s a long-winded way of saying that I was gutted for Sha’Carri, that she wasn’t able to participate, but I also thank her for her bravery and for being an advocate for this plant, and I’m grateful that companies like ours were able to participate in the conversation, and hopefully, in a positive way.
The modern medical marijuana movement was birthed out of efforts made by the LGBTQ+ community during the AIDS epidemic. What does it mean to you to be a CBD company with an LGBTQ+ focus and leadership?
I love that you brought that up. I don’t think a lot of consumers and people in this industry know how important the queer community has been in the marijuana movement. We’re certainly not the ones reaping the majority of the financial benefits from it, which is unfortunate — and I think we all know why that’s happening — but it is so important to note that and I love that you brought that up. Again, there are people who have been doing this work for decades and I’m just really honored to hopefully be a part of the solution and to be able to continue to do my part in moving this forward.
Practically speaking, how can CBD products like the ones offered by Mendi help athletes with recovery and more? What does it mean to you to be able to help athletes like yourself find non-addictive, non-harmful medicinal options for their needs?
It’s really rewarding. To be honest, I wish that I’d had access to this, or at least had more education around the use of, at least, hemp when I was in college. There are very strict THC guidelines and policies in collegiate sports. I used to have a performance training business. I was a performance coach, so I had my Master’s in health and exercise, and I built this business training elite collegiate and professional athletes in the Portland area. Later, I had a national training and event business and a very small apparel line that I ran with Megan. Obviously, we know that recovery plays such a big role in performance, and ultimately, what I noticed was that a lot of my athletes were using these products. This was about five years ago.
What was interesting to me is they didn’t have any science — there was no knowledge behind the products that they were using. They had no idea whether or not it was marijuana-derived or hemp-derived CBD. They just knew that they felt better. That’s when I started connecting the dots and really getting into the science behind it. For me, what’s really been rewarding is twofold. Number one is actually creating products where the application is very safe. Most athletes are moving further away from vaping, which in my opinion is good, especially if you’re an endurance athlete. There are just much more sophisticated ways of developing new products that can get into the body, and in more targeted ways, that are safer. It’s been really exciting to develop products that are safe and effective for athletes and then to also be able to tell them that it’s not snake oil. It’s not a cure-all either but now we can give them all of the science that’s out there in terms of why they’re feeling better and for that lightbulb to go off. It’s really been like a ripple effect. At least within the Mendi ecosystem of athletes, they’re clearly feeling better.
Nowadays, I think a lot of people want to know what they’re putting in their body, so it’s been really rewarding to see all of these small lightbulbs go off with our consumers, with our athletes, and with our partners once we start to really break down the science behind it. And remember: there is a lot of science out there. It seems like every month, more and more details about why it’s effective for pain management, for inflammation, for stress and anxiety, for energy, for appetite, for sleep. That’s been exciting for me because I’m definitely more wired like a science person. It’s been really fun and rewarding to be able to talk about the actual data behind our products and why they’re effective. The last thing we wanted to do was to market it as a cure-all, which is why we came to market with pro athletes in the fold from the very beginning. Efficacy was incredibly important to us and they were not going to use our products and align themselves with us if it didn’t work for them.
That’s a challenging road to walk because there is a lot we know but there is also a tremendous amount of research we’re still waiting for too.
Yeah, definitely. You’re seeing more and more groups backed by universities now. There’s a group called Radicle Science. They just did the largest, most advanced CBD study to date and now they’re doing a series of benefit studies, starting with sleep, and then moving onto anxiety and pain. These are all MDs and they’re doing their research at UCLA Medical Center. I think the more that our medical communities are able to do their research, in their facilities, the more credible CBD will become. It’s just better for the industry. We’re seeing a lot more of that happening, which is really exciting.
How important is it to get more research done and to have more data available as Mendi and other CBD brands continue to make their case to athletes as a superior alternative to opioids, etc.?
Any time that you have influencers or athletes, especially, at the pinnacle of their career, who have a proven track record of being responsible, partnering with a brand like ours, that certainly helps. That said, people want science. Your product has to be good and people want to know what they’re putting into their bodies and they want to know why it’s working. That means being transparent and also, as a brand, being very sensible in the sense of meeting customers where they’re at.
Most people are still very confused about CBD, so we have to meet them where they’re at and with their knowledge with CBD, which can be really tricky. I have an inclination of getting way into the weeds of the endocannabinoid system, but we’ve really had to scale back a little bit because what we’ve found over the last year and a half is that most people are still figuring out what the difference is between THC and CBD. It’s our job to educate them, but I also think that part of that means being transparent and meeting them where they’re at. That includes being very sensible about what these products are, how they’re going to help you, and what you can expect with them.
I think that one thing that’s been beneficial for us has been inn building a brand with a lot of human touch points, in the sense of having that human, life element in your brand. In this industry, because it exploded so quick, people forget that there are humans behind the brands. I think a lot of brands have not necessary done a great job, intentionally or not, of just talking more about the humans working behind the brand. As a result, they have become these really big engines or machines in the industry. Moving forward, I think you’re going to see customers who are probably going to be inclined to be more loyal towards brands where they really feel those human touch points.
Do you see more progress ahead in terms of CBD acceptance in the professional sports world?
It’s interesting. For the NWSL — the National Women’s Soccer League — they actually don’t even have a cannabis testing policy. That means players have been able to freely use. They were actually the first major league in this country to not have a testing policy, I believe. One could argue that’s because they just didn’t have the budget to have a testing policy at all. Maybe that’s true, but I would also like to think that maybe they deemed it as something that they didn’t have to worry about, so for years now, players in the NWSL have been able to use cannabis products. As for MLS — Major League Soccer — they lifted their CBD ban a year and a half ago, so players in MLS can use only CBD. In terms of the U.S. Soccer Federation, they follow suit with WADA [World Anti-Doping Agency], which means those players can also only use CBD.
How valuable is it to have athletes like you sister speaking up on behalf of CBD?
It is nice. Not only do I obviously have a very close relationship with Megan, but it was great to be able to use her as our main ambassador in the very beginning, because she could freely use and talk about our products. Up until a few years ago, I think the trend was to gobble up all of the retired athletes that still had a big platform. We definitely have a lot of retired athletes. I mean, I’m a retired athlete, so there are certainly benefits to that, but being able to have an athlete that’s at the peak or prime of their career, talking about our product and just talking about CBD and cannabis in general, and advocating for it? It’s definitely powerful.
To learn more about Mendi, visit themendico.com.