Can MMA Fighters Smoke Weed?

Can MMA Fighters Smoke Weed?

Yes, fighters are permitted to use marijuana outside of competition. However, by the time they are tested the week before their fight, their THC blood levels must be below 150 ng/mL.

The UFC stated in January 2021 that a positive THC test will no longer be deemed a doping infraction. Of course, each state’s athletic commission has its own set of rules governing marijuana use, which are often stricter than the UFC’s. I’ll go through how the rules range from state to state, as well as how the UFC has reduced its limits over time, in the rest of this post.

What is the Current Status of Weed in MMA?

Since July 1, 2015, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has been in charge of the UFC’s drug testing.

Since then, USADA has tested all UFC athletes for performance-enhancing drugs, in addition to any testing conducted by the state athletic commissions hosting the fight. Even before 2021, USADA’s position on marijuana was fairly loose. Fighters were initially allowed to use marijuana recreationally outside of competition as long as it was out of their system before competing. This indicates that a fighter should pass their drug test if they quit smoking a few weeks before their fight. However, this solely applies to THC, marijuana’s psychoactive component. THC and CBD were both prohibited under USADA rules until 2018, when CBD was made legal in both competition and non-competition settings.

CBD’s Current Status in MMA

Cannabidiol, sometimes known as CBD, is currently permitted under USADA rules at any time, in or out of competition.

Fighters were previously prohibited from using CBD during a four-hour window prior to their fight, which was changed in 2018. However, the restriction was changed after UFC fighter Nate Diaz was observed using a vape pen to inhale CBD after his battle with Conor McGregor at UFC 202. Because Diaz’s usage of CBD was obviously within the four-hour limit, Jeff Novitzky (Senior VP of Athlete Health and Performance), who works closely with USADA, was advised of the potential doping infraction.

Novitzky remembers USADA informing him of the problem on one episode of the Joe Rogan Experience. However, Novitzky notified USADA that the four-hour regulation was intended to give USADA time to collect a sample if they were unable to do so immediately after the bout, which they had already done for Diaz. Following this incident, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) decided that CBD was no longer a performance-enhancing drug and removed it from its list of banned drugs. Because USADA maintains the same list of prohibited substances as WADA, a fighter can now take CBD at any time, including weigh-ins and fight night.

Following the release of the ‘Nate Diaz Rule,’ which allowed CBD to be used in competition, Nate Diaz established his own CBD product line, GameUp Nutrition. Many boxers expressed gratitude to Nate for his role in bringing about the rule change.

CBD is a self-explanatory one, as there don’t appear to be any substantial performance benefits for the fighters aside from anxiety and inflammation relief. Let’s talk about THC’s standing in the UFC now.

THC’s Place in Mixed Martial Arts

Since USADA and the UFC teamed together, THC has been subjected to more strict regulations.

The urine threshold for THC is set at 150 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL), according to the USADA Official Website’s Marijuana page. This means that any sample with a THC concentration of more than 150 ng/mL will test positive and be considered a doping violation.

In 2011, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) published a paper clarifying why THC is on the list of prohibited substances:

“Athletes who use cannabis or Spice while competing risk endangering themselves and others due to increased risk-taking, slower reaction times, and poor executive function or decision-making… Cannabis may be performance boosting for some athletes and sports disciplines, according to current animal and human studies, as well as conversations with athletes and information from the field.” — WADA officials in “Cannabis in Sport: An Anti-Doping Perspective.”

THC is a banned substance, according to WADA, since there is evidence that it can put a fighter’s life in jeopardy while under the influence, as well as that it can be used as a performance enhancer.

Several UFC competitors have tested positive for THC, and USADA has issued suspensions each time. A list of every UFC fighter who has been subject to a doping infraction can be found on the USADA website. Only three incidents of THC infractions are mentioned on the list: Diego Brandao in 2016, Kelvin Gastelum in 2017, and Cynthia Calvillo in 2018. Gastelum and Calvillo were suspended for six months, while Brandao was suspended for nine months.

However, as of January 2021, everything has changed. The UFC declared on January 14th that they would be changing their rules addressing THC as a forbidden substance. “Carboxy-THC, the psychoactive element in cannabis, will no longer be considered a violation of the UFC Anti-Doping Policy unless other evidence exists that an athlete took it willfully for performance-enhancing purposes,” according to the UFC’s website.

This effectively means that a fighter can now smoke pot at any time before or after a fight without risking a doping violation from USADA or the UFC. The UFC, according to Jeff Novitzky, is more concerned with what a fighter consumes on the night of the bout than it is with what he consumes weeks before. As a result of recent occurrences of fighters testing positive for THC, the UFC has decided to no longer consider a THC level of more than 150 ng/mL to be a positive test.

Although the UFC and USADA will no longer issue penalties for recreational marijuana use, state athletic commissions, which operate independently of the UFC, can still fine or suspend fighters for smoking weed. For those who aren’t aware, a fighter must follow not only the rules of the organization (the UFC), but also the requirements of the state’s athletic commission. Because this includes drug testing, an athletic commission may suspend a fighter even if USADA and the UFC disagree.

Athletic Commissions’ Approaches to Marijuana Regulations

Unfortunately for UFC fighters, a positive THC test might still get them in trouble with the athletic commission.

Athletic commissions, like USADA, follow the World Anti-Doping Agency’s guidelines. However, because the UFC pays USADA to conduct drug tests, the UFC has the authority to impose or not enforce particular drugs. Athletic commissions, on the other hand, are self-governing organizations that sanction mixed martial arts tournaments. This means they operate under their own set of rules, independent of the UFC. Take, for example, the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC). Due to the fact that numerous UFC events take place in Las Vegas, this would be the sanctioning body for such events.

The NSAC continues to expressly forbid combatants from using THC. The link to forbidden substances on the NSAC’s official website goes directly to the WADA website, indicating that the NSAC rigorously adheres to WADA’s list of what they deem to be performance enhancing drugs.

Niko Price, a UFC fighter, received a six-month suspension and a $8,500 fine from the NSAC in December 2020. Furthermore, his fight with Donald Cerrone was changed from a Majority Draw to a No Contest due to a reversal of the decision.

The overturning of results is the most severe component of this punishment, as altering a fighter’s possible win to a ‘No Contest’ can have a significant influence on their career. The NSAC, on the other hand, used to be considerably stricter when it came to marijuana prohibition. After his bout with Anderson Silva at UFC 183 in 2015, Nick Diaz tested positive for marijuana metabolites. Nick received a five-year suspension and a $165,000 punishment from the NSAC. Even after appealing the ruling, he was still facing an 18-month sentence and a $100,000 fine.

For urine THC levels, the NSAC used to have a lower threshold. Initially, anything above 50 ng/mL was deemed an unfavorable finding by the NSAC. They agreed to raise the restriction to 150 ng/mL in 2013, in line with WADA’s guideline. To summarize, MMA competitors can smoke pot outside of competition, but if an unfavorable judgment is made on fight night, the athletic commission will hold them accountable.

To Sum It Up

MMA competitors are permitted to use marijuana outside of competition.

Most state athletic commissions, however, require boxers to have a THC urine level of less than 150 ng/mL on fight day. CBD can be used both during and after a competition.