The UFC will no longer punish fighters for using cannabis, making a major change to its anti-doping policy.
The world’s largest MMA promotion company confirmed on Thursday that it will no longer worry about positive tests for carboxy-THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis “unless additional evidence exists that an athlete used it intentionally for performance-enhancing purposes.”
All other cannabinoids derived naturally from cannabis are no longer prohibited substances, said Jeff Novitzky, the UFC’s senior vice president of athlete health and performance.
“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,” Novitzky said. “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.”
Novitzky said athletes will still not be allowed to compete under the influence of marijuana, but that the UFC and USADA will rely on visual evidence of impairment and cognitive behavioural tests, rather than any sort of blood level detection, which can often indicate usage well outside of the competition window.
The UFC partnered with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in 2015 to produce a comprehensive anti-doping program in a notoriously fractious sport. Mixed martial arts once frequently showcased fighters semi-openly using steroids and testosterone replacement therapy, among other performance enhancements.
“The goal of the UFC anti-doping program is to protect the rights of clean athletes by deterring intentional cheaters and holding those who choose to dope accountable in a fair and effective way,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said. “These amended rules are aimed at this, and to continue our focus on preventing intentional cheating and not to unnecessarily punish athletes for behavior that does not impact the fairness or safety of competition.”
Despite its prior ban, cannabis and CBD products have had a prominent role in many MMA fighters’ training. Many fighters have sponsorships from CBD businesses, while others have launched their own CBD-related ventures.
Nick and Nate Diaz, two semi-retired but wildly popular fighters have built their image partly around their enthusiastic use of cannabis and CBD products. Nick Diaz, who hasn’t fought in six years, tested positive for cannabis after two of his last three fights.