Last year, the NFL began to study the use of marijuana for muscle recovery and relaxation.
In June, a professional 3-on-3 basketball league known as the BIG3 permitted the use of cannabidiol (CBD) for pain management and recovery.
Now, a new contender has entered the ring: The UFC.
Entering into a deal with Aurora Cannabis (TSX: ACB), the mixed martial arts organisation has announced plans to progress clinical trials and research into hemp-based CBD to the tune of several million dollars.
All studies on CBD and it's efficacy within sports will be done in Las Vegas, Nevada at the UFC Performance institute involving both athletes and clinical experts. The trials will center around exploring many of the benefits associated with CBD use such as pain relief, inflammation, muscle recovery, and mental health.
The multi-year, multi-million dollar deal sent Aurora stocks up 1.5% following the announcement last Tuesday.
Assisting the research will be an independent Director for Aurora Cannabis, Dr. Jason Dyck, who also teaches at the University of Alberta.
With over 300 million fans and 70 million social media followers, the UFC's interactions with CBD will be highly visible worldwide.
"Since the day we opened the Performance Institute, our primary goal was to offer UFC athletes the best possible training, nutrition, and recovery services. This partnership with Aurora is an extension of that goal, and we're looking forward to collaborating with Aurora to find new ways to improve the health and safety of athletes who compete in UFC."
– UFC President, Dana White
Following on from the passing of the Farm Bill in 2018, farmers can now legally cultivate and distribute hemp. We've seen a subsequent crop of hemp-based CBD products emerging in nearly every industry, from skin care to pet supplements, medicines, foods and beverages.
Now, CBD is making waves in the athletic sector.
In early 2018 the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed CBD from its list of prohibited substances. While THC (the active compound in cannabis which gets users high) remains largely illegal, the addition of CBD to the list of allowable substances was a huge win for athletes that use the compound to maximize their performance.
CBD is said to have powerful anti-inflammatory effects, with the capacity to reduce joint-swelling and decrease the risk of arthritis, allowing it to integrate almost seamlessly into the lifestyle of modern athletes. Simply placing a few drops of CBD oil onto your tongue will give users a feel for how much they need to achieve the desired results.
And when it comes to sports, arguably none are as brutal as the UFC. One only needs to type UFC into YouTube to see some of the brutality involved. According to Dr. Beau Hightower, director of sports medicine for the Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA team, UFC fights are like "being in several car wrecks. When fighters get up the next day, they often-times can't walk for a few steps, and then they're hobbling around."
UFC fighters are no strangers to injury, but they must also be careful about how they treat their pain. They know they may not win, and even if they do claim victory, it's usually after they've been pummeled for close to 20 minutes straight.
A UFC heavyweight fighter, Brendan Schaub, infamously had part of his skull shattered in a 2011 fight against Mirko Filipovic. The injury would eventually cause Schaub to develop an addiction to Oxycontin.
"I had a doctor who was like 'Oh I'm cool, I'm hip, here's 200 Oxycontin.' and I was like 'Hell yeah!' Got the brackets taken out, next thing I know I'm still filling in the prescription, popping every single day, didn't even notice. I was probably doing it hardcore for like four months."
– Brendan Schaub, UFC fighter
Though to ask a UFC fighter not to use a painkiller is to effectively tell them to suffer in silence.
Few know this better than Bas Rutten, another professional fighter who found himself addicted to Oxycontin a little too late. Rutten used the drug to deal with injuries much like Schaub, leading him down the path of addiction.
It wasn't until after his career had ended before Rutten eventually made the change to CBD.
UFC: Ultimate Fighting Cannabidiol
UFC Viewers want to watch a tactical display of strength, finesse and perhaps just a little bit of destruction.
But on one end of that destruction is a fist, with the other end being someone's face. This fact alone requires a huge amount of maintenance for athletes to avoid them being injured for months at a time.
In fact, dealing with injuries is largely what prompted the development of the UFC's Performance Institute (where the CBD studies will be carried out) in the first place. Kitted out with nap pods, pools, saunas and laser light therapy, the Performance Institute is free-for-all for UFC fighters, and is designed to maximize performance while minimizing injuries.
Now, the Performance Institute will also carry out trials over the next few years studying the benefits of CBD.
Evidence has continued to mount surrounding the health benefits of CBD. As the drug is known for its' ability to alleviate chronic pain, assist with muscle recovery and provide users with a deeper sleep, it seems clear why CBD could be of use to athletes.
While clinical research can take a lot of time and money, the anecdotal evidence surrounding CBD is already soaring ahead. In fact, it was largely thanks to Nate Diaz—one of UFC's most watched fighters—that CBD is now legal within the sport, after he smoked a CBD vape pen at a post-fight press conference.
Diaz's open display and support of the then prohibited CBD sparked a global conversation that put a lot of eyes onto both the UFC and the compound. As we now know, the compound came out on top.
Nate and his brother Nick, who also fought in the UFC, have since started up their own CBD company called Game-Up Nutrition which sells CBD-based muscle balms, oils and multivitamins. And they're not alone, alongside the Diaz brothers there are many other UFC fighters using and promoting Cannabidiol.
In fact, many UFC stars can be found at the Black Belt CBD Invitational, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament which is run by Altitude Products to promote their 'Black Belt CBD range.' At the event you can find former UFC champions Frank Mir and Forrest Griffin, who have both gone on to integrate CBD into their daily regimens.
Griffin represents the ideal scenario in which a fighter may use CBD. Previously using NSAID's (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs,) Griffin wanted to switch to a more natural alternative without the side effects.
Octa-Gonna Buy Some CBD
If anecdotal data tells us anything, we will probably continue to find new uses for CBD within the octagon that we perhaps hadn't even thought of. Assuming the CBD trials show promising results, UFC's vast audience will certainly put some eyes on the compound.
And with Aurora as a partner, the UFC has nestled itself deeply into the cannabis world. Aurora is the second largest cannabis company by market size, after Canopy Growth Corporation. The UFC picked wisely.
The CEO of Aurora, Terry Booth, said that "this global partnership places focus squarely on the health and well-being of UFC's talented and highly trained athletes. The Aurora-UFC research partnership creates a global platform to launch targeted educational and awareness campaigns, while creating numerous opportunities to accelerate our global CBD business."
Only time will tell what effects CBD has for fighters. However, if the only benefit yielded is reducing opioid and NSAID addiction, that's still a pretty big win in our books.