It’s getting harder and harder to justify punishing professional athletes for using marijuana, so give the Nevada Athletic Commission (NAC) some “credit” for persevering against all reason.
The governing body that oversees most combat sports seen in America—including the UFC, which stages most of its main event fights in Las Vegas, where the NAC is king—has cracked down hard on athletes caught using cannabis and has stuck to its rules despite little scientific justification for denying an athlete this particular drug and questionable public support for such nanny-state policing.
Like most efforts at drug prohibition, it’s never really worked—but UFC has managed to make a unique mockery of its own rules.
Though Nick Diaz’s notable (and since reduced) five-year suspension for marijuana use raised hackles and suggested the NAC was at least nominally serious about its weed ban, (more serious about weed than it was about steroids, at least), a “majority” of UFC fighters continued to smoke marijuana anyway.
But now that recreational marijuana is legal in Nevada and Las Vegas is planning to add cannabis to its carnival of attractions, the NAC is finally catching up.
On Friday, the NAC is scheduled to discuss dropping “cannabinoids” from its list of banned substances entirely, TMZ Sports first reported.
The NAC has been dragged towards progress on the issue before, and not just by a Diaz brother.
In 2013, the NAC raised the bar for a positive marijuana test from 50 nanograms per milliliter of blood (50 ng/ml) to 150 ng/ml, keeping in line with standards set by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
That wasn’t quite a generous enough allowance for a man of Diaz’s appetite, who received a five-year ban in January 2015 for testing positive after a title fight with Anderson Silva—who tested positive for steroids, and received lighter punishment.
That episode illuminated the inherent silliness of the NAC’s weed ban. But the ban could also be dangerous.
There’s mounting evidence that CBD could have use as a neuroprotectant, helping the brain recover from trauma like repeated blows to the head. As it happens, repeated blows to the head are a common occupational hazard in mixed-martial arts. While the UFC doesn’t have anything like the NFL’s concussion scandal on its hands yet, a 25-year-old former UFC fighter was diagnosed in October with CTE, the dreaded neurodegenerative condition caused by head trauma. It stands to reason that more former fighters will follow, but since CTE is diagnosed only by a post-mortem examination (i.e. an autopsy), it’s still all speculation.
Speculating further, awareness of such a potential disaster could be why neither the NAC nor the UFC did much when Nate Diaz appeared at a post-fight press conference puffing on a CBD vape pen.
As MMAFighting.com pointed out, however, the issue isn’t settled even if the NAC drops the ban. WADA still bans the drug in competition—that is, six hours before a fight and six hours after.
In theory, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, WADA’s domestic partner, could still sanction a fighter if he or she were found to have cannabis in the body in that specific window.
But will they?
Nick Diaz was UFC’s last prominent marijuana suspension, and the sport quickly caved after an outcry. On this, mixed-martial arts appears ready to admit it’s time to tap out.
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