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Mixed Martial Arts and Marijuana: Some Answers

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Here are some answers to questions about state athletic commission testing for marijuana in our sport of mixed martial arts.

I will answer directly based on questions or arguments presented to me. Here goes, and thank you for being patient.

1. Look Luke, I am not saying I agree with marijuana laws (I am all for legalization) nor do I expect the athletic commssion to act as an extended judicial branch, what I was stating is that the athletic commission's hands are tied on this one. Under american law marijuana is an illegal drug (prescription is for terminally ill patients, not joe blow off the street, two totally different scenarios), and as such those who use it "recreationally" are subjected themselves to be punishable by law, same as those who are "jaywalking, cheating on taxes, hitting and running, assault and battery, drinking under age, drinking and driving, doctor shopping for prescription pills". Athletic commissions, being branches of the government, must too follow the laws of the land and penalize fighters who happen to break these laws.

No, they don't. At all. It is a complete and total fantasy that the athletic commission is required by either federal or state laws to a) test for marijuana at taxpayer expense and b) render punishments for aforementioned "infractions", i.e. testing positive for some traceable level of THC. Their hands aren't tied in the least; they are electing to test and electing to punish fighters, boxers and other athletes.

And athletic commissions are not branches of the government; they are simply organizations within the government itself. They do not operate under special or extralegal considerations. For these organizations to act with impunity and punitive recklessness is the perhaps the origin of the fantasy that we - the MMA community - must confer upon them some sort special reverence. They serve a vital role within the fight community, but they are not the viceroys of this industry.

2.  Whoa - okay, how about we go this route; if it has no performance enhancing effect (according to you) then why the fuck take it? Safety of the fighters is one of the jobs of the athletic commision. A person risking their life while being under the influence is not one of the things that an athletic commision wants to see happen.

Now since you are an expert on drugs and their effects, tell me that THC is not an effective pain killer. Tell me that it doesn't slow down relexes. Or reaction time. These are all effects that could be had by the ingestion of marijuana....if according to you the fighter was even under the influence. But if they weren't, then why waist time smoking?

Explain to your readers the logic?

Sure. Absolutely THC has a host of effects that could affect fighter performance. However, since there is no dose correlation that can reliably determine impairment via urinalysis, we'll actually never know to what extent fighters are or aren't impaired during their matches.

As for the effects, you're grossly distorting what's actually going on. THC does cause some muscle relaxation, but nothing even approximating the duration of intensity of regularly prescribed pain medications. More importantly, this notion that they are "pain killers" is taken wildly out of context. Just like popping two Aleve won't make a fighter's jaw any stronger, smoking marijuana does not cause one to be impervious to pain. What THC does is help with chronic illnesses by easing inflammation or reducing muscular pressure. In fact, that's why cancer patients use it. THC causes a significant reduction in intraocular eye pressure, thus alleviating pain. THC isn't Novocain, it's simply a natural way for those who suffer from chronic physical ailments to get some temporary relief.

Could these side effects be detrimental during MMA fights? Sure, but again, since athletic commissions decide to use tests that can't reliably determine impairment from marijuana use, all they are accomplishing is a massive waste in taxpayer money.

3.  The thing is...you know you're going to get tested for it.  It is not an addictive drug (at least to the point where you will go through the kind of withdrawals associated with harder drugs)...so why not just take a break.  Regardless of if a commission shoud be testing or should not...if you know they will be, how do you not just stop getting high for a little while and not do damage to your own career.

Maybe it shouldn't be tested for as it has no impact on the result of a fight, but you either respect your career or you don't...If you're willing to get fined and take suspensions just to smoke some pot...well then I just can't feel sorry for you.

Yes, this point is hard to find overly disagreeable. If you know the rules, why be so hardheaded as to try and - usually very lazily - skirt them? But here's the other side of that equation: What, exactly, are these athletic commissions accomplishing? Keith Kizer stated repeatedly the objective in testing for marijuana was to see if fighters were entering contests impaired. It's a noble cause, but the measures and procedures in place are Sisyphean to the point of embarrassment. They are Don Quixotes attacking the windmills of marijuana use. If they are truly concerned about fighter safety, then they know better than to use urine tests. Period. In the interim, they are wasting taxpayer money, hurting fighter's careers, causing untold and unnecessary social embarrassment and condemnation, and acting far outside the boundaries of what is their essential task at hand.

And that's the essential problem here. If you're in favor of marijuana testing, ok, stick to your guns. But how it's currently being applied is grotesque. They are no closer to proving fighters are fighting impaired from marijuana use than they are to establishing there is green cheese on the moon. If it's not dishonest, it's incompetent. And it's woefully destructive either way.

This is to say nothing of what we're actually testing for here. I agree fighters shouldn't be fighting high, but since we aren't testing for that with urine tests, what are we doing? Regulating private choices that have nothing to do with the fight game? Since when was that the jurisdiction of any athletic commission? The jurisdiction of athletic commissions if fighter safety and if that's the case, then aren't there other substances that could be regulated? To wit:

Heroin and cocaine were ranked most dangerous, followed by barbiturates and street methadone. Alcohol was the fifth-most harmful drug and tobacco the ninth most harmful. Cannabis came in 11th, and near the bottom of the list was ecstasy.

In terms of health, perhaps the athletic commissions could barge their way into after parties and ban or limit cigarette and alcohol use, no? And drop the "legalities" argument and pick up rationality instead. It will take you further.

4.  Luke, I read the old entrys on your blog and it sounded like a cry for help for Nick Diaz. The best part was when you quoted a doctor and his opinion on  marijuana. Scare tactics work much the same way - find one point that verifys you opinion, and run with it. Oh no, all of a sudden, it is gospel!!!

Unfortunately, Nicks blood level was over 3 TIMES the limit set forth by the athletic commission. THREE TIMES! (Source: Latest issue of FIGHT! magazine) We aren't talking about an isolated incident with him. Thats why they test.

I don't care if he tested positive at three hundred times the limit (a limit set arbitrarily, by the way); if there is no dose correlation that proves impairment from urine tests, the point is moot. End of argument.

And I was defending Nick because he needed to be defended. Here was a guy who in everyone's rational mind had done little wrong and was being heavily punished for it. Justice isn't merely a matter of banging a gavel. There has to be some sort of relationship between the infraction and athletic commission's response. Moreover, if we are concerned for fighter safety and health, why not make Diaz attend drug counseling or addiction treatment? Diaz might be sick, but he's not a criminal (I happen to believe he's neither). Instead, the athletic commissions treated him as if he were some sort of cheater using marijuana to give him some sort of performance edge. One can barely tell if this is an idea from the 19th century, a bad joke or a bad dream.

Also, I didn't directly quote a doctor. I quoted an author and highly-respected thinker/writer on this subject. Disagree with him all you like. He doesn't have a purchase on the truth more than any other man. But if Doherty is renowned for anything, it's for being eminently reasonable. His work is highly acclaimed not just by sources close to his line of ideological thinking (and he is more pragmatic than anything), but by a variety of scientists, scientific journals, newspapers, magazines, and publishing houses. I contacted Doherty because of his sober analysis (no pun intended) and encyclopedic knowledge of this subject matter. It does us no good to find sources that agree with our line of thinking to buttress our insecurities. I am happy to relinquish any element of my argument with proper guidance from countervailing sources. But for my money, I can find no one more authoritative than him as a single source. I don't agree with all of his ideas about addictions, but insofar as marijuana testing is concerned, you would do well to read his work. So would Keith Kizer and Armando Garcia.