One trend emerging during the COVID-19 pandemic is fighters taking short notice bouts and subsequently failing in-competition doping tests for cannabis.
Are these fighters competing while high? Probably not. Are they simply failing in competition tests based on legal out of competition use? This is a likely explanation.
It's important to remember that in many jurisdictions, and under WADA standards, cannabis is legal out of competition. It is only banned in competition. Commissions test for in-competition use based on metabolite thresholds in urine and if these exceed an arbitrary limit, in competition use is deemed. This practice is divorced from reality and often reveals nothing more than historic legal use as opposed to fight day impairment.
While a positive cannabis test does not bring the stigma it used to, athletes still face fines, suspension, wins overturned to No Contest, among other consequences.
Few believe cannabis is a true performance enhancing drug. It remains banned as a throwback from a war on drugs mentality against illegal ‘drugs of abuse’. However, as the drug enjoys increasing legality both medicinally and recreationally across North America, should regulators revisit its status as a banned substance? I would argue yes, and a template already exists with alcohol.
Regulators have a legitimate interest in athletes not competing while high. Alcohol gives us a good example. Alcohol is not a banned substance under WADA standards. However, if a fighter shows up drunk they would not be allowed to compete. This would not be an anti-doping violation rather it would simply be a commonsense safety measure. Cannabis should be treated the same way.
I propose a simple rule change – If an athlete shows signs of impairment pre bout when assessed by a Ringside Physician they cannot compete. If they are not impaired but simply fail a subsequent drug test for deemed in-competition cannabis use, that should be removed as an anti doping violation.
I posed this hypothetical rule on twitter. Of the 85 people who responded 99% agreed this is a sensible reform.
New MMA rule -
Athletic Commissions remove cannabis as a banned substance. If fighter show signs of impairment when assessed by Ringside Physician they cannot compete. Otherwise cannabis is a non issue.
New MMA rule -
With both cannabis and alcohol being legal on the State/Province level in much of North America, regulators should revise their rules to treat the substances similarly when it comes to anti doping in combat sports. Impairment is prohibited. Other than that, these substances should be a non-issue.