In 2021 Can UFC Fighters Now Use Marijuana?
People are curious as to what is the current situation with the UFC and its fighters who use marijuana recreationally. The guys and gals who climb into the octagon week in, week out, to bring us the very best in mixed martial arts action. Can these very same UFC fighters smoke week in 2021?
Well, it may be 2021, but marijuana in almost all forms is still a banned substance (at certain levels) when competing in the UFC. While there are other cannabinoids such as CBD are allowed at all times. THC levels over 150 Ng/mL is not permitted in the days leading up to and during active competition.
But why is marijuana being banned in the first place? A little weed never hurt anyone, is probably the general consensus on this issue amongst sports fans. But the governing bodies see it quite differently and have rigidly set their criteria for whether something can be used or not.
“Athletes who smoke cannabis or Spice in-competition potentially endanger themselves and others because of increased risk-taking, slower reaction times and poor executive function or decision making.”usada.org
For a substance to be banned by WADA (World Anti Doping Agency) it must meet two of the three following criteria:
- a) it poses a health risk to athletes
- b) it has the potential to enhance performance
- c) it violates the spirit of sport.
UFC Fighters Can Smoke Weed
The ban, however, does not mean athletes are unable to smoke weed. Simply put, they have to clean their body via whatever method they find works best, prior to being tested for their fight. So that the levels in their body are below those limits preset by USADA. And going into their fights, they are being tested for very specific cannabinoids and not just traces of anything that can be found.
And the only cannabinoid which does have a urinary threshold (piss test as it is commonly referred to) test during competition is that of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol). The psychoactive part of the plant, the part which essentially makes you high. This is the only element with which they are concerned and are now actively testing.
Fighters are allowed to have a maximum of 150 ng/mL during competition. Ng/mL stands for Nanograms per millilitre and is the unit of measure most commonly used to express drug testing cut-off levels and quantitative test results in urine and oral fluid. Just so you know, a nanogram is 10-9 grams.
And so while the drug is officially prohibited, it can still be used in the lead up to a fight. However, it will be on the fighters themselves to make sure they are able to come in under the threshold on fight night.
“Use of illicit drugs that are harmful to health and that may have performance-enhancing properties is not consistent with the athlete as a role model for young people around the world”.usad.org
And while there are some 113 naturally occurring cannabinoids, there are dozens more synthetic ones. Which for the most part are viewed as toxic chemicals by regulatory bodies. With only CBD (cannabidiol) being allowed at all times either in or out of competition.
Stoned during A Fight
So the message here is smoke as much as you want, as often as you want. Just make sure that it has cleared from your system to acceptable levels before competing. And don’t do a Nick Diaz on it, when he fought Takanori Gomi at Pride 33.
Nick’s levels were so high in the post-fight test, with a score of 15 being positive, Nicks test came in at 175! It is widely believed he had to have been high as a kite throughout the fight itself where he defeated Gomi via gogoplata.
The only way in which clean athletes are allowed to use any therapeutic substances which are deemed illicit. Is by obtaining a Therapeutic Use Exemption or TUE. Which allows access to critical medication for clean athletes. With a specific application for neuropathic pain-related issues. That often is the result of nerve damage or a malfunctioning nervous system.
So the general consensus here is that while we know many, if not most fighters, actively use marijuana recreationally. They do take quite a significant risk in relation to the outcome of the fights. As we have seen on several occasions, where the results were overturned due to heightened levels of THC.
And that may be down to something as basic as stopping usage too late before their fight. Using a product with heightened levels of THC, which again takes longer to leave the body. Or a function of their own body, with the THC not leaving their system quickly enough. So it can be quite a touch and go situation if done incorrectly. And with so much riding on it, it must be a constant worry to all those involved.
Nick Diaz Five Year ban
The results of a failed test can be catastrophic, including having the fight result overturned. The athlete being suspended, being banned from competition for some time, even losing their purse for the fight and on top of that being fined. So the ramifications for a positive test can have long-lasting effects on their life and career in the sport.
As we so clearly saw with how Nick Diaz was treated following his fight with Anderson Silva. Testing positive for high levels of THC, for the third time. Diaz suffered what can only be described as harsh treatment. At least that is how it appears to someone who is not completely anti-marijuana. But the severity of the punishment at the time really did seem over the top. Especially when you are talking about athletes who have a pretty short window in which they can perform to their highest potential.
Not so widely talked about is Nicks subsequent testing failure while still under the existing five-year suspension. Having missed three separate out of competition tests over a twelve-month period. In 2017 Diaz was suspended for another 12 months, while still serving his five-year ban. Being banned while already being banned, that is a new one for sure.
New USADA Marijuana testing Regulations
But all is not lost, as the decision to ban Diaz for five years has in no doubt some way contributed to the new USADA testing measures. These now include an oral test which is done during the competition period to ensure the athlete is not currently using the controlled substances. Allowing for them to have used in the past weeks and months, without resulting in a positive test.
It’s a very welcome outcome for the fighters who use the drug responsibly while outside of competition. But somewhat too late for those who have suffered the wrath of USADA over the proceeding years, often unintentionally. And while longer term we may not see changes to how the consumption of marijuana is treated in the sporting world. At least we have some steps in the right direction for those athlete’s who like to blaze in their downtime.
And with more and more fighters building or at least associating some of their personal brand with weed. There can be little doubting that the plant in its many forms has found a home in the sport of mixed martial arts. Whether or not fighters will be allowed to compete with elevated levels in their system somewhere down the road, that we do not yet know. For now, it’s a game of wait and see, or wait and blaze as some will no doubt do.
Images courtesy of nypost.com, bjpenn.com & sportsjoe.ie