In combat sports, what happens between teammates – or, fighters who train at the same gym – and training staff is supposed to stay behind closed doors. Even the most seemingly innocuous statement can tip off the media or potential opponents about a fighter’s nagging injuries, holes in their game, or personal issues that are really nobody’s business.
So when MMA trainer Frank Lester started opening the book on UFC Lightweight Champion and the #1 Pound for Pound fighter on the planet, Jon Jones, it came as no surprise that he was doing so as a disgruntled employee on his way out of the legendary JacksonWink MMA gym where he had been coaching and where Jones has trained for the duration of his mixed martial arts career.
But, it also came as no surprise when Lester dropped the dime that Jones happens to be a proponent of cannabis smoking and, we’ve got to admit, it was a bit refreshing to learn that (according to Lester) UFC Champ Jonny “Bones” Jones likes to roll up a couple of bones and spark them before every single training sesh. Yep, according to his now-former coach, Jones would insist that a handful of coaches and teammates join him for the pre-practice ritual of Bob Marley and blunts before hitting the mat.
Lester claims that he wasn’t down with the pre-fight high at first but that peer pressure from the most dangerous man on Earth opened his eyes, “I didn’t end up liking that until Jon made me do it all the time. It’s kind of like, you see openings in sparring.”
Of course, while Jones will admit his affinity for cannabis, he does so carefully as USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency) still considers the plant and its cannabinoids and derivatives as “substances that are prohibited in-competition”.
USADA has been contracted by the UFC to handle all drug testing of the fighters on their roster, and thier guidelines warn the fighters that “the use of prohibited substances in sport, without an approved Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE), may lead to an anti-doping rule violation and sanction.”
Don’t believe them? Ask Nick Diaz. In 2015 the Stockton bad boy and UFC fan favorite was slapped with a 5 year suspension by the Nevada State Athletic Commission based on a drug test that came back hot for marijuana use. Diaz, even more so than Jones, is wide open about his cannabis use, once proclaiming that drug tests didn’t scare him since he says he drinks 10 pounds of water each day and sweats it all out the next day. That method might help you fool your HR Department wherever you work, but Diaz is still inactive in his professional career despite being considered one of the best to ever enter the octagon.
It’s interesting, isn’t it? Two of the best to ever participate in such a dynamic and consequential sport both not only confess to using cannabis, but they both swear by it as a crucial part of their training regimen while in the prime of their unrivaled careers.
While the UFC plays patty-cake with Aurora Cannabis to allegedly study the safety of “100% hemp-derived CBD” supplementation and the efficacy of such products in dealing with pain relief and head trauma, they are clearly missing the bigger picture.
As we know, it is the full spectrum “entourage effect” of all naturally balanced cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids that will deliver the relief that these fighters need, and you will not get that from hemp.
So as a growing number of states here in America, and countries across the world begin to form highly lucrative and completely legal cannabis markets for adult use, why then are sports leagues and athletic commissions still hell-bent on banning cannabis? Especially when some of the greatest athletes of all time are using it?
PERFORMANCE __________ DRUG
The age-old stereotypes about ‘lazy stoners’ are quickly going up in smoke and Nick Diaz is a perfect example of why. Aside from being a top tier professional fighter known for having relentless cardio and energy inside of the octagon, Nick and his younger brother Nate also run marathons for the hell of it so clearly cannabis is not the anchor that some folks consider it to be.
Any sport in which athletes receive repeated cranial and bodily impact should have a moral (if not legal) obligation to consider the neuroprotective, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and pain-relieving qualities of cannabis.
Nick Diaz would not put it into his body if it was detrimental, period.
But is it a performance enhancer? The Diaz brothers would likely say that it is, and Jon Jones would likely agree with them, but not all professional sports leagues agree.
“In addition to the fact that the substance is illegal under federal law, abuse of marijuana can negatively affect the performance of professional athletes,” read a recent statement released by Major League Baseball (MLB). Pro baseball players, unlike most professional athletes from other sports, are not tested for cannabis on any sort of a regular or scheduled basis. Rather, they are only tested “for cause” and a failed test is usually remedied by therapy rather than fine or suspension.
You know what else MLB doesn’t test for?
You know, an actual performance inhibitor?
This past July when a 27 year old star Pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks named Tyler Skaggs died unexpectedly in a hotel room, toxicology reports showed that he had overdosed on a deadly combination of fentanyl and oxycodone – two potent and dangerous painkillers.
Cannabis has proven to be a far safer and always non-fatal alternative to synthetic opioids yet MLB classifies them both as “drugs of abuse” and even warns players to avoid purely CBD products.
The National Football League (NFL) tests all players just once per year – and then randomly selects 10 players per team each week to test as well. Not until their 4th failed test will a player miss any playing time but the fines leading up to that punishment can total hundreds of thousands of dollars. Meanwhile, 52% of NFL players say that they have been prescribed opioids during their playing careers and of those, 71% say that they misused those drugs.
So, again, whether these players are using it medicinally after games and practices to aid with recovery or whether they are sparking some up in the player parking lot before suiting up for the Super Bowl, the league should have no say in the matter. There is no health detriment to doing so and while some players might swear that some weed helps their visual acuity or their confidence to make a big play, it does nothing to their 40-yard-dash time or their max bench press.
It is also worth noting that NFL coaches, training staff, and owners do not have to have their piss sniffed by anyone in order to keep their jobs.
Former NFL players estimate that as many as 80-90% of NFL players smoke weed despite the league’s half-baked attempts to stop them. This stat syncs up with estimates by former National Basketball Association (NBA) players who say that perhaps 85% of that league’s players are consuming cannabis.
The NBA does not test its players at all in the off-season, thankfully, but holds them hostage to four random tests throughout the regular season.
BY THE NUMBERS
Of the 123 teams that play in the four major sports, 45 of them (36.6%) play in states (or provinces, eh) where recreational marijuana is legal, and another 56 of them (45.5%) play in jurisdictions where medical marijuana is legal (45.5%).
That’s 82% of pro sports teams (101 of 123) that play in areas where players can legally buy cannabis at a well-lit dispensary but could lose their job for actually using it. These numbers will increase as more states move forward with cannabis reform.
The National Hockey League, of the four major sports leagues, is by far the most progressive. It does not consider cannabis as a banned substance and merely recommends treatment options to any players flagged with abnormally high levels of THC in their system.
“We are elite athletes and as long as it’s not performance-enhancing or illegal, we know what’s best for our own bodies. I find that a couple hits of weed at night is good for me. It’s legal, it’s natural, I don’t see anything wrong with it,” an anonymous NHL player told ESPN earlier this year.
Many former/retired professional athletes are now endorsing therapeutic CBD and cannabis use – some as paid influencers and others as board members of cannabis startups. This, we feel, is a big reason why pro sports leagues and organizations are hesitant to embrace cannabis reform – for fear of seeming to be a bad influence on the kiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiids. Cannabis advocacy has to tiptoe around this ridiculous issue while pro athletes can openly endorse national beer brands in post-game press conferences.
Still, prominent retired athletes like Matt Barnes, Ricky Williams, Kyle Turley, Al Harrington, Liz Carmouche, Megan Rapinoe, Eben Britton, Greta Gaines, and even Mike freakin’ Tyson are out actively promoting the many benefits of cannabis for current and former athletes and us weekend warriors alike.
To be considered the GOAT – the Greatest of All Time – at anything is an accomplishment but our society reserves a special type of worship for those that reach that plateau in the sports world. So when you have a once-in-a-lifetime phenom fighter like Jon Jones taking tokes minutes before hitting the mat, or world record annihilators – the fastest men on land or in the water – Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps each getting unfairly shamed in the height of their careers for getting high in their free time, maybe it’s time to ask if cannabis could be an all-natural ingredient in separating the very good from the greatest of all time.