“Substances of Abuse” Modified Under UFC/USADA In Competition Ban

Update – USADA has now released a press release with their take on these changes along with their actual policy wording below. It is worth noting that ‘substances of abuse’ mean not just cannabis but also various narcotics and stimulants. Also worth noting that the lack of punishment is not automatic but discretionary and premised on compliance with a substance abuse treatment program. Importantly USADA notes in their press release that where fighters use cannabis for “alleviating pain or anxiety” USADA can consider still that performance enhancing.

10.6.4 Substances of Abuse: Rehabilitation in Lieu of, or to Reduce, Ineligibility Notwithstanding any other provision in this Article 10, (i) when a violation of Articles 2.1 or 2.2 involves a Substance of Abuse and (ii) the Athlete can establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the violation did not enhance, and was not intended to enhance, the Athlete’s performance in a Bout, then, provided that the foregoing clauses (i) and (ii) are satisfied, the otherwise applicable period of Ineligibility may be reduced or eliminated, as determined by USADA in its sole discretion based upon the Athlete’s participation in a rehabilitation program as provided below. Completion by the Athlete, at the Athlete’s sole cost, of a certified, accredited and independent substance abuse treatment program may result in a reduced or eliminated period of Ineligibility, as determined by USADA in its sole discretion. The reduction or elimination of the period of Ineligibility shall at all times be subject to the Athlete’s full and satisfactory completion of such substance abuse treatment program. To the extent that the Athlete does not complete such substance abuse treatment program in accordance with the foregoing sentence, the Athlete’s otherwise applicable period of Ineligibility shall be automatically imposed (subject to receiving credit under Article for the time period served by such Athlete in the substance abuse treatment program).

10.6.5 USADA’s discretionary decisions to eliminate or reduce, or not to eliminate or reduce, the otherwise applicable period of Ineligibility under Articles 10.6.1, 10.6.2 or 10.6.4 may be reviewed in a hearing or subject to appeal solely to the extent that the Athlete establishes in such hearing or appeal that such discretionary decision was retaliatory or otherwise biased against the Athlete due to the Athlete’s views on the Program.

The UFC/USADA Prohibited List defines ‘substances of abuse’ as follows:

Substances of Abuse: The following Prohibited Substances shall be considered Substances of Abuse: • CANNABINOIDS: Natural or synthetic delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabimimetics (e.g., “Spice,” JWH-018, JWH-073, HU-210). •

NARCOTICS: Buprenorphine; Dextromoramide; Diamorphine (heroine); Fentanyl and its derivatives; Hydromophone; Methadone; Morphine; Nicomorphine; Oxycodone; Oxymorphone; Pentazocine; Pethidine. •

STIMULANTS: Cocaine, methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, “ecstasy”), dimethylamphetamine (DMA), benzylpiperazine (BZP), methamphetamine (D-), p-methylamphetamine, methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA)


For years I have been advocating that cannabis should be removed as a banned substance for in competition use. Not that fighters should be allowed to compete while impaired but rather that the way in competition failures are tested for are divorced from reality and often identify only lawful out of competition use. Testing for indicia of impairment prior to the bout, rather than cannabis metabolites after the bout has taken place, would be a better way to address the legitimate interests at play.

In a breath of fresh news the UFC’s private anti doping partner, USADA, has modified their practices moving in this direction.

Today MMAJunkie reports that in competition cannabis detection will no longer be considered a doping policy violation for UFC athletes under this program “unless additional evidence exists that an athlete used it intentionally for performance-enhancing purposes.

Instead athletes will be screened for suspected impairment via visual evidence and cognitive behavioral tests to make sure a person is not stepping into the cage while compromised.

It is important to note that this development does not protect fighters from consequences by an overseeing athletic commission, but for UFC self regulated events this is a big step in the right direction.

MMAJunkie’s John Morgan reports as follows:

In short, positive tests for carboxy-THC, regardless of levels, will no longer be considered violations to the policy “unless additional evidence exists that an athlete used it intentionally for performance-enhancing purposes.”

“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. “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.”

Novitzky said athletes will still not be allowed to compete under the influence of marijuana, but that the UFC and USADA will rely on visual evidence of impairment and cognitive behavioral tests to make such determinations rather that any sort of blood level detection, which can often indicate usage well outside of the competition window.

“The bottom line is that in regards to marijuana, we care about what an athlete consumed the day of a fight, not days or weeks before a fight, which has often been the case in our historic positive THC cases,” Novitzky said.

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