In Light Of So Many Suspensions, Why Does The UFC Bother Testing For Marijuana? [Opinion]

Nate Diaz weighs in before the main event

Mixed martial arts has become one of the most exciting spectator sports to date. MMA doesn’t have the cult followings or streams of revenue like the NFL or NBA, but organizations like the UFC have taken their place in the spotlight. The rivals run deep and fight fans around the world remain faithful to their favorite competitors, no matter the outcome at the end of each bout.

There are lots of controversial factors within the world of mixed martial arts: eye pokes, steroids, inconsistent or fraudulent fight camps, smack-talking, and even criminal activity outside of the cage. One of the most questionable controversies within the sport is the use of marijuana among active fighters.

According to Herb, three fighters tested positive for marijuana at UFC Fight Night 104, which took place back in February. All three UFC fighters were given 90-day suspensions, as well as $1,000 fines. Two of the fighters, who secured victories that night, had the results overturned to no contests.

This isn’t a shocker to most UFC fans, as fighters in the organization have been getting popped for marijuana usage since the organization’s infancy. Nick and Nate Diaz, sometimes called the “420 Fighters,” are infamous for using marijuana throughout their MMA careers. As reported by an earlier Inquisitr article, Nate Diaz has even used CBD pens to smoke immediately after his fights during the press conferences. Longtime UFC commentator Joe Rogan has been one of the most vocal about marijuana usage, both in and out of competition.

“That’s also the weird thing about martial arts. A tremendous amount of UFC fighters smoke pot. I mean, a massive amount where it’s a huge issue with them involving drug tests, you know, where they have to stop smoking weed for the last four weeks or so in order to pass drug tests. More UFC fighters smoke pot than don’t smoke pot.”

With so many fighters in the UFC regularly using marijuana, the question remains: why does the UFC even bother testing for it?

Back in 2015, the UFC partnered with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to help clean up the sport of mixed martial arts, as reported by MMA Junkie. The new testing would factor in both in- and out-of-competition testing, as well as a comprehensive list of prohibited substances, including marijuana. Since the partnership, the UFC has seen an avalanche of citations for marijuana use among fighters. Fighters like Nick Diaz faced potential suspensions that were upwards of five years for being flagged for marijuana.

Followers of the UFC can only scratch their heads. Why does USADA place marijuana in the same category as steroids?

According to USADA’s website, “The WADA Prohibited List is the international standard for identifying substances and methods prohibited in sport. The List is updated annually and a substance will be considered for the List if it meets any two of the following three criteria:

  1. It has the potential to enhance or enhances sport performance.
  2. It represents an actual or potential health risk to the athlete.
  3. It violates the spirit of sport.”

USADA goes on to explain that they make their decisions based on current scientific and medical knowledge in regard to each substance. USADA concludes that marijuana should be suspended in-competition for various reasons. For example, marijuana is banned because of psychological reasons like mood swings and paranoia, as well as physical reasons like dry throat and an increased resting heart rate.

“Performance-enhancement: A common perception of marijuana is that its use impairs physical activity, including exercise performance. While the effects of marijuana can decrease hand-eye coordination and distort spatial perception, there are other effects that can be performance enhancing for some athletes and sport disciplines. Marijuana can cause muscle relaxation and reduce pain during post-workout recovery. It can also decrease anxiety and tension, resulting in better sport performance under pressure. In addition, marijuana can increase focus and risk-taking behaviors, allowing athletes to forget bad falls or previous trauma in sport, and push themselves past those fears in competition.”

USADA’s approach to banning marijuana, and making it an offense worth consequence, is questionable. The reasons cited for marijuana suspension in the above quote almost seem like positive traits attributed to the substance. Reduced physical pain and a loss of fear are exactly the ingredients fighters are looking for when they begin their fight camps.

The latest fighter to be affected is Kelvin Gastelum, who was popped for marijuana after his last fight against Vitor Belfort. Gastelum could potentially face a one-year suspension, as well as have his victory overturned to a no contest, and be stripped of his $50,000 bonus. Gastelum was also removed from his UFC 212 main event bout against Anderson Silva because of the violation.

Marijuana is legal for recreational use in a handful of states, and medically legal in even more. USADA has made overhauls to their protocol in the past, as reported by MMA Junkie, so future changes aren’t out of the question. With the social movement budding around the legal use of marijuana, the UFC and USADA will likely revisit their conclusions and make further changes to the banned list.

[Featured Image by Ethan Miller/Getty Images]