UFC And USADA Change Cannabis Use Rules

Cannabis-consuming athletes competing in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) can breathe a little easier.

The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and the UFC on Thursday announced changes to the Anti-Doping Policy (Policy) and Prohibited List.

The USADA says that the changes serve to provide fairness to athletes through informed modifications to the Policy and List.

THC Tolerance

One significant rule change involves athletes who test positive for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Under the new rules, athletes who test positive for carboxy-THC will face a violation by the USADA only if evidence shows that they used it for performance-enhancing purposes such as “alleviating pain or anxiety.”

Otherwise, the UFC says that positive tests over the threshold and decision limit for carboxy-THC will no longer be considered a violation of the Policy.

“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,” says USADA CEO Travis T. Tygart. “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.”

The USADA says that it is making the changes to prioritize fighter health and safety by not punishing ones who may need substance abuse treatment, which can lead to their impairment and jeopardize their safety in a fight.

UFC Senior Vice President of Athlete Health and Performance Jeff Novitzky says that urinary levels of carboxy-THC are highly variable after use outside of competitions and have a poor scientific correlation to in-competition impairment.

Fighting Fair

“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,” says Novitzky. “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.”

The USADA urges fighters to check the rules where they plan to compete as some athletic commissions that regulate UFC events in their jurisdictions prohibit THC or other cannabinoids completely in competition.

In addition to THC, the UFC removed all other phytocannabinoids, which are often present in cannabidiol (CBD) products used by athletes, from the UFC Prohibited List.

No evidence exists that the phytocannabinoids would provide any significant performance advantage or carry any health or safety risks.