Canadian middleweight fighter Elias Theodorou suffers from arthritis and chronic nerve pain, conditions he has had since before becoming a UFC fighter. He says the pain he experiences is enough that it sometimes wakes him up at night. Over time, he found that medical marijuana to be the most effective treatment, but thanks to World Anti-Doping Agency regulations around cannabis, Theodorou could risk not being able to compete if he tests positive for the substance during the UFC's mandatory testing.
"Right now cannabis finds itself on what is called the prohibited list," Theodorou told CityNews. "Unfortunately because of the classification its basically looked at as the same as a steroids or an HGH."
In order to make sure he passes his drug testing, Theodorou says he has to stop taking his medication three weeks before he is set to fight. This not only impacts his ability to fight but also presents a discrepancy between himself and other fighters who may choose to use more traditional pain medications.
"It puts me at a competitive disadvantage compared to my opponents who could opt for vicodin with no issues."
Theodorou has applied to the World Anti-Doping Agency for a therapeutic use exemption, though it was returned with a request for further information. He is now working with his doctor to resubmit the application.
"It isn't just necessarily the MRIs, the different test and diagnosis that I have to do, but it's also exhausting all other medical options," said Theodorou.
Theodorou says he hopes he can encourage patients to push for their own exemptions.
"I want to use my platform to let other Canadians and other athletes know that they shouldn't fear to tryout for their own therapeutic use exemption if they need cannabis, or more importantly, if their doctor has prescribed them cannabis."
If Theodorou does receive the exemption, it would be a historical first for a pro-athlete.