Medical Marijuana use in MMA: Nature’s Gift or Devil’s Poison?


Under the preamble to the World Health Organization’s Constitution, it states, “The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without the distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition”. 

So why then are athletes who suffer from clinically diagnosed illnesses prohibited from using medical marijuana by athletic commissions when a medical professional legally prescribes it? Are athletic commissions interfering with the ‘right to health’ of athletes, or are they simply maintaining the integrity of competition?

Putting conspiracy theories aside for a moment, athletic commissions have a responsibility to protect the safety and health of athletes, and to ensure that athletes do not use performance enhancing illicit substances.  As open-minded readers, we need to establish for ourselves whether the use of medicinal marijuana affects the safety of the fighter when competing, and secondly, whether the use of medicinal marijuana is performance enhancing.

On an ESPN special, Dr. Gary Wadler, a New York University School of Medicine professor and lead author of the book “Drugs and the Athlete” stated:

“All forms of marijuana…are mind-altering (psychoactive) drugs; they all contain THC the main active chemical in marijuana that effects changes in the brain of the user. Marijuana’s effects depend on the strength or potency of the THC, which is only one of more than 400 chemicals present in marijuana”.

According to Dr. Wadler, the effects of marijuana on performance include:

-Impairment of skills requiring eye-hand coordination and a fast reaction time

-Reduces motor coordination, tracking ability and perceptual accuracy

-Impairs concentration, and time appears to move more slowly

-Skill impairment may last up to 24 to 36 hours after USAge.

-Reduces maximal exercise capacity resulting in increased fatigability

-Marijuana has no performance-enhancing potential.

While the evidence indicates that there is no performance enhancing benefits, there is clear evidence that competing under the influence of marijuana would adversely effect an athlete’s coordination, motor skills, and reaction speed. The level of effect being dependent on the amount of marijuana consumed.

In your opinion, should athletes receive medical exemptions for marijuana use, or do you believe the commission should maintain its strict no tolerance policy?

  • Well for one, it's illegal. It is only approved medically in 19 states out of the whole country. I dont get why people keep debating on it like if it was a right being taken away. It's like any other sport, if it's not in the rules, it's not in the rules. Good write up, though!

  • As reign said, it's legal in 19 states, and the best thing about rules is that they can be changed. Since it's not a performance enhancing drug, of course THC testing should be eliminated. I will concede that it would be unsafe for a person to compete during the 24 to 36 hours of skill impairment, but testing can be implemented for that.

    • What kind of weed are you smoking that lasts 24-36 hours. Those would have to be some damn strong edibles.

      And this shouldn't be how the debate is framed. I think this debate needs to be framed around the question, should the athletic commissions be regulating the morality of the fighters. It has no benefit as a performance enhancing drug except being a pain killer but I'm sure there are plenty of other (less safe) options someone could use after training that are legal or wouldn't show up if taken weeks out from a fight so it kind of defeats the point. The only reason that they "should" be conceivably testing for marijuana is some bs like trying to make sure fighters are setting a good example for kids and not using illegal drugs but anyone who's spent 15 minutes googling the real facts about marijuana would know it has no business being illegal. Anyone who thinks it should be an illegal (legally) substance is simply uneducated, not dumb just uneducated and if it was made legal under the law I'm sure it would be much easier to for athletic commissions to quit testing for it.

  • They should recieve it, and they should be given a saliva test on the day (or at the weigh in) of the fight. Considering a saliva test can only date back a few days it is the perfect solution.

    • Charlie Sheen has medical cocaine and a medical use dead ****** in the trunk of his car.

    • @Evan…good point….If the commission can implement testing that focusses on the present condition of the athlete it would definetly be a positive step forward for those who genuinely rely on its use. Currently guy are trying to sweat it out three to four weeks prior to an event when realistically they should only have to sustain 2-3 days prior based on a different testing model as you suggest.

  • Good to see an article debating the actual rules on it, not whether or not a guy deserved to be punished after he broke those rules.

    I am honestly not sure if I feel it should be allowed or not, I have no experience with it and can only go off other people's opinions… as usual that is always a difficult way to make judgement.

    Until then though, guys HAVE to stop doing it or they can find another job.
    I only see guys like Nick Diaz and Matt Riddle having a problem with the rules when they get in trouble, they seem fine with them when it's other guys getting suspended.

  • Whats the fuss, I dont care if it helps the fighter or not illegal is illegal. Just because Joe Rogan supports it doest make the argument relevant!! drug abuser are ban,i see the same case for weed. If u think Marijuana is good look at Riddle,Diaz and Rogan they look like ****, tho I have a huge respect for Joe.This debate is stupid it doesnt sent any good message for any kids!!!!

  • I live in Washington, totally legal to smoke marijuana if your over 21.
    Recreational use, just because we want too, no medical cards ect ect
    More states will fallow us and legalize it also, its only a matter of time.

    Im not going to argue about it, but the law was made almost 100 years
    ago, its out dated. I smoke alot everyday, for 15 years, just because i like to
    get high no other reason. People drink booze and smoke cigs everyday
    and people die everyday day from those to reasons. You cant link a single death to Marijuana, and its illegal… Some of you people are sheep/lamb/goats, fooled by
    government and propaganda….. get with the times

      • C'mon Doc. If you're going to cite info, at least make it legitimate info.\

        The two biggest points in there are Marijuana still causes health problems (that's not news). And that the corresponding percentage of marijuana smokers that could die from its use, if it were to be smoked as much as tobacco throughout each day, is 30,000. 30,000 deaths isn't even a real statistic. Just a comparison.