Wrestlers Mercedes Varnado and Kalisto Launch New CBD Company

Professional wrestlers risk their lives every time they enter the ring. They endure rigorous training to ensure no one is injured during a match, but the dangers remain. Paralysis, brain damage, concussions, and spine injuries are all shockingly common among this group of extreme athletes. 

Even in the absence of critical injuries, pro wrestlers endure impact trauma during each performance. Constant training, extensive touring schedules, and daily battles with other hardbodies take a toll.

Many pro athletes, from wrestlers to NFL players, rely on over-the-counter anti-inflammatories or prescription painkillers to help recover from the daily grind. It’s only recently that athletic regulatory agencies have started seeing the benefits of cannabinoids for pain relief and rehabilitation. 

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) created the World Anti-Doping Code to ensure athletes are tested for the presence of performance-enhancing substances.

All professional athletes across the globe must adhere to WADA’s standards. The agency removed cannabidiol (CBD) from its Prohibited List in 2019. This historic move opened a new world of possibilities for athletes hoping to find less addictive methods for treating pain.

As cannabinoids become better understood, more athletes are coming forward in support of their use. CBD is the most popular cannabinoid, offering powerful anti-inflammatory properties with zero psychoactive effects.

Extreme athletes in every field, from Megan Rapinoe to Rob Gronkowski, are endorsing CBD and finding innovative ways to incorporate it into their lifestyles. 

Former WWE superstar Kalisto (a.k.a. Emanuel Rodriguez), found CBD years ago and realized it helped him sleep better and recover faster from workouts. His wife Abigail saw the impact CBD had on his life and began using it to fight anxiety.

At the same time, one of the biggest female stars in wrestling history was struggling with pain management. Mercedes Varnado, number six in the WWE’s “50 Greatest Women Superstars” list, was feeling the physical toll of a decade of high-intensity wrestling. The athlete and Mandalorian actress found CBD effectively treated pain, anxiety, and helped her recover from training.

Together, the trio formed Kanndela, a CBD company that creates quality CBD products for health-conscious consumers. Cannabis & Tech Today sat down with the trio to learn what inspired the brand, what sets it apart, and how they believe CBD can help change the world.

Cannabis & Tech Today:What inspired the creation of Kanndela?

Abigail Villalpando: I started feeling sick, just out of nowhere. As soon as I hit 30 years old, I started going downhill.

I was getting migraines, I thought I was having strokes because the right side of my face was getting paralyzed.

I got all these CT scans and MRIs done and they told me that I had an acoustic neuroma, which is like a brain tumor that’s on your cranial nerves.

I had severe anxiety. I remember that was the changing point — where I started taking CBD to sleep because I had so much anxiety about the situation.

That’s how I got introduced to it. It was the only thing that would help me sleep. I was always on edge because I didn’t know what was going to happen. 

It was actually a false diagnosis. So years later, I went to a functional medicine doctor and they told me that I have a celiac condition, so I can’t eat gluten.

My stomach was not absorbing any more nutrients and was highly inflamed. All these vitamin deficiencies were causing the neurological damage that was causing the migraines.

So now I feel fine. We completely changed our life after that.

Emanuel Rodriguez: She started noticing it was working when I was using it. I told her, “It’s working for me.” She’s like, “Okay, let me try it.” Then for her, it was like, “Oh, I feel different — I feel better.”

I have tried the worst [CBD brands] and I tried some that were good, but it still wasn’t enough. And that’s why I thought, let me just create my own.

I know what works and I know what doesn’t work. I wanted the best, and I wanted stuff that works. 

Mercedes Varnado: I’ve been a professional wrestler for the past 12 years — traveling all over the world, many, many sleepless nights, and so much pain when it comes to professional wrestling.

Mercedes Varnado, number six in the WWE’s “50 Greatest Women Superstars” list.

In 2018, I went through really severe depression and I was just trying to find answers, like what’s going to help me? Is it modern-day medicine? Is it Western medicine, Eastern medicine? It was more of just the natural things that spoke to me, like therapy, CBD, all these different things.

I noticed once I started taking CBD my anxiety and that little edge that I would have would just dissipate and go away and I’m like, “Wow, wait, I’m not so sad right now. I’m not in pain. I’m not feeling so on edge.” 

Being a professional wrestler, it’s so draining. It’s so, so hard. We’re never home. We’re always banged up and always hurt. And once I got introduced to CBD my life just fully, fully changed.

I noticed that anxiety I would get, once I took CBD it all just dissipated. I started to feel like myself again. I started [working] with Manny and Abby, and the more that we learned and grew, we just wanted to create our own project.

C&T Today: Do you feel a lot of other professional athletes are experiencing the same things you’ve been going through? 

ER: One million percent, yes.

C&T Today: How do you feel about athletes using cannabinoids for recovery?

ER: I think it’s perfect because when I was introduced to CBD, a lot of people were not — and I was not — educated as much [on CBD]. While I was wrestling, we were tested so much, every week.

We get tested like Olympians, so that was my fear. But then I learned we could get tested and there were no false [positives]. It was great. That’s the thing I feel professional athletes should understand, is that CBD does work and it’s okay to take without fear of doing a [drug] test.

MV: I just think the more education, the better. I think people are so afraid of hearing CBD comes from the THC plant and think, “Oh, psychoactive, I’m going to turn into this …” There are so many misconstrued labels on it. And for me, I was drinking every day to help with my anxiety and pain.

I was taking ibuprofen. Once I switched to CBD, I stopped drinking. I stopped taking all these other pain medications to help me feel better. CBD has changed my way of living and my way of life. It’s something that I will forever preach about. 

Kalisto (a.k.a. Emanuel Rodriguez), found CBD years ago. His wife Abigail (right) saw the impact it had on his life and began using it to fight anxiety.

I also have a younger brother with disabilities who has autism and tumors, who also takes CBD. And it helps everybody. We’re not just talking athletes.

We’re talking about every type of person in this world. It’s anti-inflammatory. And that’s the key message — once you fix the inflammation in your body, that’s when everything starts to change.

C&T Today: Do you see a lot of athletes in the locker room, behind the scenes, using CBD?

MV: Behind the scenes right now, the whole natural method, like CBD, is where it’s at. We are giving our product to everybody that we’re working with. We’re educating them all.

And there are so many people in the locker room that I gave CBD to and they’re just like, “Wait, what is this? Oh my God, this makes me feel good.” So you see, not even the culture in wrestling, the culture all over the world is changing.

They don’t want to go to Walgreens. They don’t want to go to CVS and go get their prescription anymore.

They want the natural method of feeling good. I feel with a lot of these new, easy pills that a lot of people take, they think “Hey, I gotta take this the rest of my life to make me feel a certain way.” No.

CBD is supposed to make you feel the way that you were born to be feeling, the natural way that you’re supposed to be feeling. It’s just supposed to make you feel how God created you to feel. 

C&T Today: What’s something you found yourself wishing for in a CBD product?

AV: What do I want to see? What we’re working on currently is trying to make the product as healthy as possible.

For example, when we were trying to come up with the gummies, most gummies are filled with added sugar, red 40, and blue 20. So that contradicts the benefits of the gummy itself. Because you’re adding all these inflammatory products, but you’re trying to build an anti-inflammatory gummy.

So we’re like, how can we make it better? How can we remove all these processed sugars, all these artificial flavors, from the product?

MV: The difference between us and a lot of people is that our flavors with our tinctures are absolutely incredible. I legit take it every day.

Our flavors are delicioso [sic]. I put it in my water, I put it in my juice, I put it in my drinks, I put it in my protein and I’ve never seen the flavors that we have with our tinctures with any other CBD company.

Like when you taste CBD, you taste that hemp taste. People right then and there don’t want to take it just because of the nasty flavor. With our flavor, it’s so easy to digest and add to, like Manny suggested, food, drinks, proteins.

There are so many different ways that you can take our products, whether it’s tincture forms, gummies, or protein [powder]. Having so many different products and flavors can help introduce different people to CBD that fits their taste.

C&T Today: Kanndela has an initiative called “Giving Light to the World.” What’s the purpose of that project?

MV: We joined this foundation, Wells of Dharma, and we were able to provide a well to this small village in India that didn’t have water to drink, wash, to do anything.

The daily things that we as Americans get to do every single day … Kanndela was able to give light over there and provide a well for a village of maybe a thousand people for them to have water.

So that’s just a small part of what Kanndela wants to do.

We’re on our way to doing so much more giving to the world. It’s just so important. If you have a voice, the platform, and the opportunity to give back, you have to. We’re all on the same planet together.

C&T Today: How do you envision the future of the brand?

AV: We want to create products that are not in the market yet. We want to incorporate it into everything and make it easily accessible to people with easy delivery methods.

ER: Kanndela’s goal is to bring light to this world. It’s a new era of CBD because there’s nothing else like it out there.

MV: We’ve been putting our heart and soul into Kanndela for the past three and a half years. So I’m excited just to see it expand. I’m excited about the future because we want to help the world to succeed to their maximum capacity of living the best life that they could possibly achieve.

So we’re doing everything in our power to research, study, and meet all the right people so we can achieve that goal and dream.

This article first appeared in the summer 2022 issue of Cannabis & Tech Today. Sign up here to receive new issues to your inbox.

Photos by: Quay Hu


  • Patricia Miller is an executive editor at Innovative Properties Worldwide. She explores science, technology, and policy shaping the legal cannabis sector. Follow her work when you subscribe to Cannabis & Tech Today at or visit her website

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