After UFC 202 Nate Diaz shocked many people, especially members of the media, by using a vaporizer pen during his post-fight interview. Nate pointed out that the vaporizer pen cartridge he was consuming contained cannabidiol (CBD), and touted its benefits. “It’s CBD,” Diaz said at the time. “It helps with the healing process and inflammation, stuff like that. So you want to get these for before and after the fights, training. It’ll make your life a better place.” CBD, which is one of dozens of cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, has been proven to help treat all types of ailments by various studies and personal testimonies.
CBD does not cause euphoria like its cannabinoid counterpart tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Because it does not induce euphoria, CBD has become more and more popular with people (including athletes) that want to experience cannabis’ medical benefits, but without the ‘high’ that comes with consuming THC. All but four states in America have passed cannabis reform measures that are at least CBD-specific. Most sports leagues have been slow to recognize CBD’s benefits, and prohibit CBD along with all other parts of the cannabis plant. One noteworthy exception would be the National Hockey League, which does not list cannabis (or any of its parts) on its banned substances list.
On Friday the World Anti-Doping Agency, which sets the drug testing standards that organizations like the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) follow, announced its list of prohibited substances for 2018. One substance was exempt from the list – CBD. Per MMA Fighting:
Beginning Jan. 1, Diaz could vape CBD in the pre-fight press conference if he wanted to, since it will no longer be prohibited at all.
“Cannabidiol is no longer prohibited,” WADA wrote on its website. “Synthetic cannabidiol is not a cannabimimetic; however, cannabidiol extracted from cannabis plants may also contain varying concentrations of THC, which remains a prohibited substance.”
On some levels this is a significant move by an agency that has long opposed cannabis in all forms. But the policy change is likely to prove to be largely symbolic from a functioning standpoint. In order for CBD to provide the most amount of benefit, it needs to be coupled with THC, a process known as the ‘entourage effect.’ In layman’s terms, cannabinoids from the cannabis plant work together to help each other travel throughout the human body. Isolated CBD or THC on its own will not be as effective. Combining one with the other, and other cannabinoids via whole-plant extractions, provides the most benefit to the person consuming the cannabis.
So in order for CBD to provide the necessary level of benefit in most cases, it would need to come from the whole cannabis plant. That means that some THC would be involved, putting the athlete at risk of failing a drug test. Athletes can certainly use CBD on its own, but it will not provide as much benefit as if they had consumed CBD combined with other cannabinoids. For some athletes the new policy will be enough, but for most athletes, the policy change by the World Anti-Doping Agency will be more symbolic than anything.
One significant takeaway from the policy change is that the agency does not view CBD as being a performance enhancer, at least not enough to cross the threshold to constitute CBD being a substance that is a performance enhancer as it relates to athletic competition. The new policy that UFC fighters will be bound by is much more progressive than the policies that professional football, basketball, and baseball players are bound to. The National Football League, National Basketball Association, and Major League Baseball still prohibit all forms of cannabis, although it’s worth pointing out that cannabis tests in those leagues only look for THC metabolites in players’ systems, not CBD metabolites. Hopefully this policy change is a step in the right direction rather than a permanent change, and will be followed by more comprehensive reforms.