Cannabis to be ignored by UFC in anti-doping tests

2.2 min readPublished On: January 16th, 2021By

LAS VEGAS – UFC leadership said they plan to ignore cannabis in its anti-doping policy, and will not punish users unless they use cannabis for enhancing performances The amendment to the rules was announced the UFC and USA anti-doping group USADA said Thursday.

Beginning retroactively Jan. 1, a positive drug test for activated THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, will no longer be considered a violation.  USADA is able to prove that an athlete intentionally used it for performance-enhancing purposes, according to the UFC.

UFC senior vice president of athlete health and performance Jeff Novitzky told ESPN that the decision means USADA’s burden of proof on any positive drug tests for cannabis would be extremely high, “essentially” de-emphasizing marijuana sanctions completely. Novitzky said USADA would have to prove a fighter was “impaired” due to cannabis just prior to the fight in order to impose a sanction.

Think of one instance in any historical cases where that evidence has been there,” Novitzky said. “It would probably require visual signs if the athlete shows up at an event stumbling, smelling like marijuana, eyes bloodshot, things like that. And that’s … something you rarely, if ever, see. I certainly haven’t in my six years with the UFC.”

Even if USADA did find such evidence, the fighter in question would likely get an admittance into a treatment program rather than a suspension according to Novitsky.

Novitzky said the UFC and USADA wanted to make the change because there’s no scientific correlation between levels of THC being in urine or blood samples and actual impairment. The effects of THC last for hours, not days, Novitzky said.  “Why the hell do we care what someone did a week before, let alone a night before, when it doesn’t have any effect on their ability to fight,” Novitzky said.

Many fighters, Novitzky said, use cannabis instead of opioids to treat pain.

“This change is designed to prioritize fighter health and safety by not punishing fighters who may need treatment for substance abuse, which may lead to a fighter being impaired and jeopardize his or her safety in the Octagon,” the USADA release said.

But fighters are not totally out of the woods yet. While USADA will no longer be stringent on positive cannabis tests, most athletic commissions that oversee UFC events still can be.

Last year, authorities in Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) suspended UFC fighter Bevon Lewis a six months suspension and fined him $1,200 for a positive drug test for cannabis. The California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) has recently begun fining fighters $100 for positive cannabis tests but no other sanctions.

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