Nick and Nate Diaz.(Screengrab.)
Nick and Nate Diaz.(Screengrab.)

UFC and its complicated history with marijuana

  • USADA has announced that it has struck the use of marijuana as a punishable offence. USADA is the anti-doping partner of UFC and has seen several fighters being flagged for its use.
By YASH BHATI
UPDATED ON JAN 16, 2021 01:04 PM IST

In the past, there have been several fighters flagged by The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and UFC for the use of marijuana before fights. Fighters like Nick Diaz, Matt Riddle, Alex Cacares, and Pat Healy have faced issues in the past due to the presence of carboxy-THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, in their bodies. The suspension related to the use has been talked about and criticised in the past by several fighters.

But they won’t have to face the issue anymore. USADA on Friday announced that it has struck the use of marijuana as a punishable offence. USADA is the anti-doping partner of UFC and has seen several fighters being flagged for its use.

However, the punishment related to its use in the past has been condemned by some fighters. The best-known case of a suspension related to marijuana is Nick Diaz. The older Diaz brother tested positive for the use of marijuana after his UFC Middleweight bout against Anderson Silva. It was his third offence and the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) suspended Diaz for 5 years and fined him $165,000. Silva had also tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

Even though the ban was reduced after several appeals, Nick Diaz has not fought since that fight.

Then comes the case of former UFC fighter-turned WWE Superstar Matt Riddle. He was flagged twice for the use of cannabis and his victories over Chris Clements and Michael Kuiper were overturned. He was released after his last positive test even though he won that fight. He left MMA to pursue a professional wrestling career soon after.

But starting from Jan 1, 2021, no fighter will be flagged for marijuana use. However, if USADA is able to prove that a fighter has intentionally used it for performance-enhancing purposes then they could take action.

Earlier it was difficult to pronounce how the use of marijuana impaired the fighters' ability to fight. UFC had a threshold set at 180 ng/ML and anything above that resulted in a doping violation.


"I can't think of one instance in any historical cases where that evidence has been there," UFC senior vice president of athlete health and performance Jeff Novitzky told ESPN.

"It would probably require visual signs if the athlete shows up at an event stumbling, smelling like marijuana, eyes bloodshot, things like that. And that's ... something you rarely, if ever, see. I certainly haven't in my six years with the UFC."

"Why the hell do we care what someone did a week before, let alone a night before, when it doesn't have any effect on their ability to fight," Novitzky continued.

Riddle was quick to comment on the development as he claimed he received the ‘greatest birthday gift’.


The debate surrounding the use of marijuana in sports has raged in the past 7-8 years. It is known knowledge that several fighters and athletes use marijuana for recreational use. Even Jon Jones has admitted that while UFC colour commentator Joe Rogan is a strong advocate for it.

“That's also the weird thing about martial arts. A tremendous amount of UFC fighters smoke pot. I mean, a massive amount where it's a huge issue with them involving drug tests, you know, where they have to stop smoking weed for the last four weeks or so in order to pass drug tests. More UFC fighters smoke pot than don't smoke pot," Rogan said.

Now with USADA removing it as a punishable offence, several fighters like Riddle and Diaz would also be annoyed that they were banned for something that eventually became legal.

USADA had the job of catching fighters who were using performance-enhancing drugs but with the earlier policy doping violations were handed for the use of marijuana. Although with modern science, UFC and USADA have changed their policy. On top of that, it has been reported that UFC is also contributing to research to see if the use of psychedelics can cure head trauma.

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