UFC, USADA Announce Changes to Anti-Doping Policy, Ease Marijuana Restrictions

Nate Diaz UFC
Nate Diaz, UFC 241 open workouts Credit: Gabriel Gonzalez/Cageside Press

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, who oversee the UFC’s Anti-Doping Policy, will no longer sanction athletes for recreational cannabis use.

In a press release Thursday, USADA along with the UFC announced key changes to the promotion’s anti-doping policy, as well as its prohibited substances list. The largest, by far, is the approach to marijuana use. As highlighted in Thursday’s announcement, “a UFC athlete who tests positive for carboxy-THC (the main psychoactive component in cannabis) will face a violation by USADA only if evidence demonstrates the substance was taken for performance-enhancing purposes such as alleviating pain or anxiety; otherwise the athlete will not be eligible for sanction. A positive test for the prohibited substance, THC, will result in an atypical finding that will only be deemed a violation if it meets the aforementioned condition.”

In short, athletes are free to light up — at least under USADA, assuming there is no performance-enhancing reason. Athletic commissions still have their own individual prohibitions against cannabis use, often with differing levels of what is considered an “acceptable” level of THC in the body.

Still, the change will likely be a favorable one with UFC athletes, as far too many have seen wins overturned due to non-performance enhancing drug test failures for THC. The alphabet soup of athletic commissions in the U.S. and abroad may choose to follow suit.

“The goal of the UFC Anti-Doping program is to protect the rights of clean athlete’s by deterring intentional cheaters and holding those who choose to dope accountable in a fair and effective way,” said USADA CEO Travis T. Tygart in Thursday’s release. “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.”

“While we want to continue to prevent athletes from competing under the influence of marijuana, we have learned that blood and/or urine levels of carboxy-THC have little-to-no scientific correlation to impairment,” UFC senior vice president of athlete health and performance Jeff Novitzky said in a statement (via MMA Junkie). “THC is fat soluble, meaning that once ingested, it is stored in fatty tissues and organs in the body and can be released back into the blood or urine, sometimes long after ingestion.”

The new UFC Anti-Doping Policy is actually already in effect, with the rules backdated to January 1, 2021. The full test of the policy can be found via ufc.usada.org