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Trading Shots: CBD is off the banned list, but does it matter?

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A recent rule change takes a banned substance off the WADA list, which is good news for at least one UFC fighter who’s fond of it. But is the move a significant one? MMAjunkie columnist Ben Fowlkes discusses it with retired UFC and WEC fighter Danny Downes in this week’s Trading Shots.

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Fowlkes: Good news, homie. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is removing cannabidiol from its prohibited list beginning in 2018. That means the next time Nate Diaz wants to vape some CBD in full public view (“It’ll make your life a better place”), he doesn’t have to worry about the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) giving him a hard time about it.

Ultimately, this is a pretty small change. But am I alone in feeling at least somewhat encouraged? As much as we complain about the UFC’s anti-doping program focusing on the wrong things, shouldn’t we give the larger anti-doping forces some credit for being able to admit mistakes, however slowly, and edit their own lists accordingly?

Downes: Are you encouraged because your podcast has a CBD sponsorship? You’re a lot of things Ben, but I can’t believe that “Big CBD” was able to buy you off so easily.

I don’t see the big deal in this announcement. It will be helpful for fighters like Diaz who use CBD for pain or inflammation relief, but I would assume that’s not a large list of people. Also, if you read WADA’s own website, it states:

Synthetic cannabidiol is not a cannabimimetic; however, cannabidiol extracted from cannabis plants may also contain varying concentrations of THC, which remains a prohibited substance.

So what’s really changed here? This is a very specific, slight modification to the list. In the broadest sense, sure, let’s give them credit for not setting the list in stone and never changing it. That seems like a very small standard to have, though. If you’ve never washed a single dish in your house, should your wife be encouraged if you wash exactly one dish, one day in October? It’s one more than you’ve ever done, but one dish does not make a trend.

That’s not to say that every announcement has to be groundbreaking or completely precedent shattering, but what’s the point of getting excited about tiny, bureaucratic changes?

If that kind of stuff gets you going, I can give you all the recently published rulemaking documents from the Federal Aviation Authority. Wait until you get to the one about about “Incorporation by reference of ICAO Annex 2; Removal of Outdated North Atlantic Minimum Navigation Performance Specifications.” They really went all in on that one!

Fowlkes: It’s true that I’m coming to this with low expectations, but there’s a reason for that. I still remember when state athletic commissions were the only ones handling drug policy stuff in MMA. For a lot of them, the main focus seemed to be ensuring that they had to do as little as possible. They wouldn’t listen to reasonable appeals. They were resistant to any sort of change, no matter how sound the argument in favor of it.

Point is, don’t act like it’s a given that the anti-doping forces will make common sense rule changes when appropriate. And isn’t that what we’ve been asking for? When people complain about fighters getting in trouble for substances that shouldn’t even be on the banned list, or when fighters get popped for weed and we all roll our eye in unison, aren’t we saying that we want to see some changes in how the regulatory forces approach this stuff?

Now we have some change. It’s pretty minor, sure, but it’s an encouraging sign. We might get what we want after all – eventually. Are you too much of a cool kid to admit that we’re at least moving in the right direction?

Downes: Again, I’m willing to admit that we’re moving “in the right direction,” but you want me to gush over a minor change. Missoula, Mont., is more than 1,200 miles away from my house. If I take a couple steps north, I’m heading in the right direction, but I wouldn’t tell you to start prepping the guest room for me.

This isn’t about me being too cool to admit there’s progress. It’s about us wanting to give kudos to “accomplishments” that don’t mean anything. You want there to be improvements so badly, that you’ll take any small evidence to feel like your goals are closer to fruition.

It’s similar to the fans/media who want MMA to break into the mainstream. Look! Miesha Tate, Paige VanZant, Daniel Cormier and a few other fighters are awkwardly shadow boxing on “Good Morning America”! We finally made it, baby!

There are a lot of problems with anti-doping programs in sports. I’m sure the people at WADA are well-intentioned and want to make it better. I look forward to improvements and will champion them when they happen. What I won’t do, though, is give them credit just for trying. I would expect others to do the same.

Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie and USA TODAY’s MMA columnist. Danny Downes, a retired UFC and WEC fighter, is an MMAjunkie contributor who has also written for UFC.com and UFC 360. Follow them on twitter at @benfowlkesMMA and @dannyboydownes.



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