By Bryanna Fissori
I rarely find myself in a position to editorialize, and on this topic I will openly admit that I have absolutely no experience let alone expertise. All I really have are a lot of questions and some very basic regulatory knowledge.
It seems that aside from the nearly constant announcement of knee injures in the fight industry, one of the most re-occurring headlines is the issue of marijuana “metabolites” being peed out post-fight. The captions usually read something along the lines of “Fighter Tests Positive for Drugs.” I am personally very naïve to the world of banned/controversial substances, so I have no real knowledge of the body’s response to the aforementioned drug. No, seriously, I have enough to worry about with my addiction to uncrustables. But given what I have witnessed and/or read, I have two primary questions regarding the issue.
1. What is it about the body’s reaction to marijuana that causes it to be a danger in combative athletic performance?
2. If fighters already know they are going to be tested why aren’t they preparing to test clean?
Regarding my first question, I would like to addresses the topic without referring to the issue of legality of the substance itself (that is a whole different barrel of monkeys) and focus more on its effects. It is my understanding that the use of marijuana typically makes the user less active and alert, while also reducing reaction time an impairing judgment somewhat similar to alcohol (is that a fair statement?). That being said, I am confused as to which of those reactions stand to give a competitive advantage to the fighter. If you are making thousands of dollars to preform in front of millions of fans, are you really going to go through a whole fight camp only to preform inebriated?
“[Marijuana] is banned because of the damage it does to the person taking it. It could make you lethargic, slow your reflexes, and those are dangerous things in a combat sport,” said Keith Kizer, Nevada State Athletic Commission Executive Officer to the L.A. Times.
Oh, ok. So according to the Nevada State Athletic Commission, the problem is that the substance is a danger to the user. Hmmm. Wait, I am an MMA competitor as well, and I find that if I have too many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (my personal vice) right after weigh-ins, it causes pretty much the exact same effect as the symptoms Mr. Kizer described. Should my pb&j be banned too? That would suck. Again, I’m not advocating or addressing the legality of marijuana (because honestly it doesn’t really matter to me personally), I’m just looking to rationalize a suspension that could equal the equivalent of disciplinary measures used for use of PEDs (performance enhancing drugs.)
It’s not surprising that number of competitors have obtained the proper physicians clearance to use the substance for its pain relieving and calming properties (ok by prescription in 19 states and Canada). For these fighters the issue of legality would not be a concern, but for the fact that it is a banned substance in the sport of MMA. Given that marijuana is illegal if not properly prescribed, I suppose it is true that this whole rambling only really pertains to those who have jumped through the proper hoops up to fight time.
I digress . . . The fact is that regardless of your stance on marijuana, every fighter is going to get tested. This is no big surprise. It is not like they spring it on you at the last minute. So, why are fighters getting caught?
I understand that the nature of the urinalysis is that it can only read for marijuana “metabolites” which are the processed form of the substance. This indicates that at some point the competitor has consumed marijuana, but the length of time that the “metabolites” are detectable can range anywhere from a few days to up to a month post- utilization. The only way to accurately measure intoxication is through a blood test (supposedly more expensive) which indicates the current levels of THC in the body.
It is also my understanding that there are supplements sold over the counter (detox) that can be taken to decrease the amount time the substance remains detectable in the body. So, the fact that they know its coming and that there is something they can take to get rid of it leads me to wonder if too much THC to the brain is causing these competitors to be too stoned to realize that unless they figure out a way to not get caught there are going to be consequences. Said consequences are often issued in the form of suspension, win revocation and/or rehab.
The most infamous fighter guilty of marijuana usage is Nick Diaz, though suspensions have also been issued for Thiago Silva, Matt Riddle, Dave Herman, Diego Sanchez, Tyson Griffin, Issac De Jesus, Mike Moreno and Kazuhiro Nakamura to name a few.
Earlier this year, repeat offender, Diaz invoked the help of a legal team to try and change the current regulation through litigation, but such battles are rarely a first round-knock out for the change proponent.
Though I am still a little confused on the amount of harm marijuana can cause in the cage and the reasons fighters test dirty, I look forward to monitoring the progress of any litigation that may arise and I also plan be personally more aware of my pre-fight pb&j intake.
What are your thoughts?