Elias Theodorou is scheduled to meet Eryk Anders at UFC 231 next month, but “The Spartan” has a bigger fight in front of him.
Theodorou is working towards getting a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) for medical cannabis from USADA, the UFC’s anti-doping partner. The Canadian middleweight first revealed his intentions to TSN last month.
Unbeknownst to most, Theodorou has been advocating for medical cannabis and privately working with USADA for a year and a half. He decided to make his fight public once cannabis was legalized in Canada in October.
“I really feel that with Canada’s historic move of ending prohibition for our country has removed the need for me to hide in the shadows of what I’m doing,” Theodorou told Bloody Elbow.
Theodorou said he suffers from bilateral neuropathic pain — that is, nerve damage — thanks to his days as a skateboarder. The pain started in his left wrist and right elbow, and affects him on a day-to-day basis — not just when training or competing. He experiences cramping, burning, and other symptoms, plus “constant shock spikes” when he throws a punch. That’s why Theodorou threw mostly kicks in the Daniel Kelly fight last year, he said.
Theodorou believes he’s at a “competitive disadvantage” in the cage without medical cannabis.
“Obviously, this is a very specific thing in regards to my own ailments and my own medical condition,” Theodorou said. “But this is also for all Canadian athletes. It is my hope that when I do get my TUE, it’ll set precedence not only for myself, but all Canadian athletes that want to medicate how they feel is best for them in conjunction with the doctors’ diagnosis and prescription.”
Theodorou’s wish is to be able to use medical cannabis until weigh-ins, then continue using it the day after the fight to recover. He does not wish to be allowed to use medical cannabis on fight day, as it impairs users.
Under the UFC anti-doping policy, cannabis is only banned in-competition, not out-of-competition. This means fighters cannot test positive for cannabis between 12 p.m. on weigh-in day and the conclusion of post-fight drug testing or one hour after a fighter clears post-fight medicals.
But cannabis metabolites can stay in a user’s system for up to seven days (or longer) if they are a moderate or frequent user. So, even if a fighter stops using cannabis two days before their fight, they could test positive for the substance in an in-competition window. A TUE would avoid that scenario entirely.
Theodorou said he decided to bring his fight for medical cannabis in the Octagon to the forefront and “no longer hide” to “push the stigma” away.
“There is a real importance for people like myself to use our platforms to tell other athletes or individuals that there is nothing to be ashamed of and really fight the stigma,” he said. “I am fighting Eryk Anders, and he’s a tough individual no doubt, but my biggest fight is not against one man — it’s against the stigma of medical cannabis.”
Theodorou said he has submitted a TUE request three or four times, and that USADA has denied his requests and asked for “more information.” Theodorou, who plans to submit another request soon, seems confident he’ll get the TUE. He said he’s “very close” and will get an answer 21 days after he submits his next request, well before his Dec. 8 fight in Toronto at UFC 231.
To prove that medical cannabis is the only substance he can use to help his ailments and limit side effects. The Ultimate Fighter: Nations winner has taken prescribed painkillers, SSRIs, antidepressants, and recorded the results. Theodorou said he often felt constipated and bloated, and gained 12 pounds throughout the process — which isn’t good, especially for athletes constantly looking to lose weight in training camps.
“I’m going through the steps, doing what I need to do, to exhaust all other options,” Theodorou said.
“I have one more test I’m gonna do that will definitively show that not only do I have nerve damage, but that my nerve damage is increasing, and that without the ability to medicate with cannabis, it’s putting me at a bigger disadvantage, especially with the other alternatives that don’t work because of side effects. Some of the medicine just doesn’t register with me — there’s no added benefits at all.”