Here’s Why MMA fighters are using THC

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Many top MMA fighters swear by cannabis, specifically THC—tetrahydrocannabinol, the element in cannabis responsible for its psychoactive effects. THC influences mood, memory, pain, and appetite, among other things. We’re delving into why fighters incorporate THC into their regimes, examining the potential benefits and risks.

THC for training

For many fighters, THC is a boon during grueling training sessions. Preparing for the MMA ring demands physical, mental, and emotional resilience. THC reportedly helps with relaxation, euphoria, and even creativity.

Fighters like Nate Diaz, a renowned MMA personality, use THC to ease pre and post-training jitters, claiming it aids concentration and enjoyment during workouts. Nate famously uses it to “ease his mind” and “find happiness”. Others, including his brother and fellow MMA notable Nick Diaz, turn to THC to break the routine, sparking fun and innovation in their sessions, enabling them to experiment with new fighting techniques.

Even heavyweight boxing legend Buster Douglas, remembered for his upset win over Mike Tyson in 1990, cites cannabis for bolstering motivation and enhancing training intensity.

In the past, smoking was the main method of consumption, which may have been off-putting for athletes concerned with affecting their breathing and cardiovascular performance. Nowadays, a wide range of THC consumption methods are available – from patches and tinctures to edibles and beverages. In particular, cannabis drinks are gaining popularity as a convenient and fast-acting way to use THC during a training session.

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THC is still prohibited by some state athletic commissions. Photo: 

THC for recovery

In the world of mixed martial arts (MMA), recovery is just as crucial as the training and fighting itself. It’s the time when fighters heal their injuries, replenish their energy, and work on injury prevention. Many (THC) to enhance this process, drawn to its anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antispasmodic effects.

The anti-inflammatory properties of THC, for instance, are particularly beneficial after the physical rigors of intense training sessions or bouts. Fighters like Buster Douglas, whom we’ve mentioned before, rely on cannabis to alleviate the aftermath of their rigorous exertions. Douglas openly credits cannabis with helping him “take the edge off” and reduce body soreness, underscoring its role in his recovery regimen.

Pain relief is another significant benefit that fighters associate with THC, especially following injuries or surgical procedures. The compound is believed to interrupt pain signals, engage the endocannabinoid system, and modulate opioid receptors. Elias Theodorou, a former UFC middleweight contender and the first athlete to obtain a therapeutic use exemption for cannabis in the sport, advocates for its use as a pain management tool. He personally utilizes cannabis to manage his chronic pain while sidestepping the undesirable side effects often associated with opioid medications.

Beyond mitigating pain and inflammation, THC is also utilized for its muscle-relaxing effects. Athletes experiencing muscle spasms or cramps find that THC can alleviate muscle tension, boost circulation, and stave off muscle fatigue. Matt Riddle, a former UFC welterweight fighter now with the WWE, is well-known for his use of cannabis. He touts it as a means to “loosen up” and ward off muscle exhaustion.

THC for Enhanced MMA Performance

In the competitive realm of MMA, performance is not just about physical prowess but also about mental acuity—it can dictate the outcome of a fight and shape a fighter’s legacy. THC is being utilized by fighters to potentially elevate their performance, with some reporting enhanced focus, creative thinking, and increased confidence as key benefits.

For sharpening focus and concentration in the heat of battle, fighters like UFC bantamweight up-and-comer Sean O’Malley, who openly identifies as a “stoner”, turn to cannabis. O’Malley believes that THC helps him eliminate outside distractions, quiet his mind, and achieve a “flow state,” allowing for a clearer vision in the octagon and potentially improving his engagement during a fight.

Creativity in the ring is another area where THC is cited as a potential enhancer. Athletes like Nick Diaz, known for his distinctive and unpredictable fighting style, have been vocal about using cannabis to fuel their creative processes. Diaz credits cannabis with his ability to “think outside the box” and bring an element of fun and innovation to his matches, keeping opponents off-guard with new techniques and strategies.

Confidence, too, is an essential component of a fighter’s in-ring persona, and some claim that THC assists them in this psychological aspect. By helping to quell fears, doubts, and insecurities, THC may enable fighters to fully express their personality and charisma during a match. Matt Riddle, noted for his exuberant presence, has mentioned that cannabis helps him “feel good” and allows him to “be himself” while competing.

Drawbacks and challenges of using THC in MMA

Despite these professed benefits, THC’s use in MMA isn’t without complications. Legally, it remains banned by various athletic commissions and WADA, leading to suspensions and fines, as Nick Diaz and Kelvin Gastelum have experienced.

Health-wise, THC’s impact on cardiovascular and respiratory systems, cognitive function, and mental health raises concerns, especially since peak physical and mental condition is non-negotiable for fighters.

Ethically, the use of THC is contentious. It’s viewed by some as an unfair advantage and even cheating. Prominent voices like Joe Rogan and Jeff Novitzky have expressed disapproval, with the latter backing WADA’s ban.

While THC use is prevalent among fighters for its perceived training, recovery, and performance advantages, it’s weighed down by legal, health, and ethical concerns. If you’re a fighter or fan considering THC, professional advice and a thorough understanding of sports cannabis regulations are crucial. What’s your take on THC in MMA? Are you for or against it? Join the conversation in the comments.