The UFC Finally Embraces Cannabis

The dominoes continue to fall as the UFC allows their athletes to consume cannabis

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Friends, 

There was some very positive news for the cannabis industry last Thursday, as combat sports giant the UFC announced it would no longer punish athletes for consuming cannabis—as long as it’s not to enhance their performance in the ring. 

Some context to set the stage

Although cannabis is now federally legal in Canada along with a growing number of U.S. states, many employers still prohibit their employees from consuming cannabis, with routine drug tests to enforce this policy. 

Unfortunately the same is true for many athletes, who are constantly challenging their bodies to attain physical peak fitness, as they too are subject to these highly intrusive and outdated employment policies. 

How has this been enforced within the UFC?

In 2015, one of the UFC’s top fighters, Nick Diaz (brother of Nate Diaz, who once beat Connor McGregor) was issued a five-year ban when he tested positive for THC, despite having a medical card to consume cannabis for his ADHD.

To further add insult to injury, Diaz was issued a whopping $165,000 fine.

“I didn’t test positive. And they raised the limit. They didn’t say, ‘You can’t be using any THCs.’ It’s not a full banned substance. It’s banned after a certain percent.”

(📸 / Nick Diaz)

Only last December, it was announced that UFC fighter Niko Price's draw with Donald Cerrone would be overturned and declared a no-contest following the discovery of THC in his system.

Price received a six-month suspension from the Nevada State Athletic Commission in addition to an $8,500 USD fine.  

(📸 / Niko Price)

How the tides are turning

In 2018, the world anti-doping agency—the organization responsible for setting the global standards for the substances that can be consumed by athletes—reconsidered its position on cannabis and removed CBD from its list of prohibited substances. 

In spite of this willingness to remove CBD from the list, THC remains a banned substance due to its perceived performance-enhancing qualities—ironic given how common the stereotype of the lazy stoner is.

“ALL NATURAL AND SYNTHETIC CANNABINOIDS ARE PROHIBITED, E.G.

  • In cannabis (hashish, marijuana) and cannabis products

  • Synthetic cannabinoids that mimic the effects of THC

  • Natural and synthetic tetrahydrocannabinols (THCs)” 

In many sports industries, this would be enough to prohibit the consumption of THC, but the UFC has decided that in spite of this listing it no longer makes sense to do so.  

Moving forward, “unless additional evidence exists that an athlete used THC intentionally for performance-enhancing purposes,” they will no longer punish athletes who are choosing to consume cannabis, the company announced on Thursday.

With this, UFC athletes are now free to consume cannabis upon any occasion, with the exception being the day of the fight. 

Fun Fact: In Mike Tyson’s most recent return to boxing, he confirmed that he consumed cannabis just before the bout.

What’s causing this shift in the UFC’s perspective?

For any regular cannabis consumer, the effects of smoking a joint usually wear off after two hours, so the idea that the THC that remains in your bloodstream would impair you is nothing short of laughable.

Based on the commentary from the UFC, though, this seems to be the basis of their decision to reexamine their athletes’ cannabis consumption.

“THC is fat-soluble, meaning that once ingested, it is stored in fatty tissues and organs in the body and can be released back into the circulation, and consequently carboxy-THC appears in the urine, sometimes long after ingestion. It is therefore not an ideal marker in athletes to indicate in-competition impairment.”

“The bottom line is that in regard to marijuana, we care about what an athlete consumed the day of a fight, not days or weeks before a fight, which has often been the case in our historic positive THC cases.”

“UFC Athletes will still be subject to marijuana rules under various Athletic Commission regulations, but we hope this is a start to a broader discussion and changes on this issue with that group.” — Jeff Novitzky, UFC Senior Vice President.

What’s the outlook moving forward?

With a previous partnership agreement in place with Aurora Cannabis to conduct clinical trials to study the efficacy of CBD on wound care, recovery, injury, pain, and inflammation last year, coupled with this most recent announcement, the UFC is on track to become a global leader at the intersection of cannabis and sports.

As the roster of athletes cashing in on cannabis continues to grow—from Al Harrington, to Amanda Nunes, Mike Tyson, and the Diaz brothers—we can certainly see many more athletes building cannabis businesses in the coming years, and the stigma of the lazy stoner continuing to fade from view.

The times they are a-changin’—Bob Dylan.

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