In 2021, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) took steps to shield professional fighters from penalties related to THC-positive test results. Now, the organization has gone one step further and officially removed cannabis from its revised list of prohibited substances for athletes. This historic update builds upon prior reforms within the organization.
“This is a central part of UFC’s expanded efforts to protect the health and safety of its athletes, and also to protect their right to compete on a level playing field. UFC’s goal for this Policy is to be the best anti-doping program in all of professional sport,” says a statement on the UFC’s website.
While the UFC’s prohibited substance list aligns with the framework established by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which has faced controversy for maintaining cannabis as a banned substance, the UFC is making adjustments “in light of historical findings (specifically, the removal of marijuana from the prohibited list).”
In a press release, Hunter Campbell, UFC Chief Business Officer, says that the sport’s goal is to be the best, most effective, and most progressive anti-doping program in all of professional sports.”
“UFC is proud of the advancements we’ve made with our anti-doping program over the past eight years, and we’ll continue to maintain an independently administered drug-testing program that ensures all UFC athletes are competing under fair and equal circumstances,” Campbell said. “With this new iteration of the program, UFC has once again raised the bar for health and safety in combat sports.”
Jeff Novitzky, UFC Senior Vice President of Athlete Health and Performance, says that the program is the “result of our continued efforts to protect the athletes who compete in the Octagon.”
“This new program is the result of years of input and trial and error taken by UFC, our athletes, and third parties who have assisted UFC in operating the program,” Novitzky said. “The anti-doping policy is a living and breathing document that will continue to evolve and adapt when clear science supports changes that can further protect UFC athletes who compete in UFC.”
Revisions to the New Policy
The UFC’s revamped Anti-Doping Policy has several key changes:
Sample Collection Conducted by Drug Free Sport International
From December 31, Drug Free Sport International (DFSI), a global leader in anti-doping, will conduct unannounced sample collections worldwide. This will provide greater global coverage compared to the previous program. These collections will be carried out 24/7, 365 days a year. However, DFSI will solely handle sample collection and won’t have the authority to enforce violations.
Sample Analysis Performed by Sports Medicine and Research Testing Laboratory
Samples will be analyzed at the prestigious Sports Medicine and Research Testing Laboratory (SMRTL) in Utah. SMRTL is widely regarded as one of the world’s top anti-doping testing facilities. Dr. Daniel Eichner, a renowned anti-doping scientist, will serve as the Science Advisor for the program. SMRTL will also conduct a significant number of “special analysis” tests to detect prohibited substances.
Administration and Sanctioning Overseen Independently by CSAD/George Piro
The administration of the UFC Anti-Doping Program, including decisions on sanctions, will be independently managed by Combat Sports Anti-Doping (CSAD), led by George Piro. Piro brings more than three decades of law enforcement experience, including with the FBI. CSAD will make all decisions independently, including issuing suspensions and addressing violations. A dedicated tip-line ([email protected]) is available for reporting drug use and abuse within UFC.
Comprehensive List of Prohibited Substances
The “Prohibited List” will largely follow the guidelines of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), with some modifications based on historical findings. Notably, marijuana has been removed from the prohibited list. The program will establish Decision Concentration Limits to distinguish between intentional and unintentional substance use.
New User-Friendly Digital Whereabouts Platform
UFC athletes will gain access to a new UFC Whereabouts Platform for updating their expected locations for testing. This user-friendly platform allows quick updates as circumstances change over time.
The UFC’s decision echoes that of the National Basketball Association (NBA), which removed cannabis from its list of banned substances in April 2023, following the lead of other top professional sports leagues, including Major League Baseball (MLB) and the National Hockey League (NHL).