‘Big’ John McCarthy Weighs In On Medical Marijuana

“Big” John McCarthy is a pioneer in mixed martial arts.  He has refereed fights since 1994 beginning with UFC 2. He’s played an enormous role in rule implementation and regulation of the sport that helped bring it from a grassroots following into mainstream America.

McCarthy recently sat down with Vegas CANNABIS, a local Las Vegas publication, to talk about medical marijuana.  While McCarthy has never used marijuana, his wife uses medical cannabis to help treat her symptoms of lupus.  McCarthy spoke about the benefits of medical marijuana and how it impacts MMA. 

“The understanding of concussions and their severity is one of the big hurdles facing all combat or contact sports. We must do everything we can to educate the fighters about taking care of themselves not only in the cage, but in training as well. We need to do more to keep the fighters from getting dehydrated and carrying that condition into competition. We need to learn from studies concerning alternative medications that are less harmful to the fighters overall health and ones that actually help regenerate cell activity instead of impede it. Thanks to researchers like Professor Yosef Sarne of Tel Aviv University, we’ve discovered that cannabis may help prevent long term brain damage by administering THC before or shortly after the injury. In fact, Israel Defense Force (IDF) practitioners administer CBD or low-dose THC as a first-line of treatment to IDF soldiers. Is that something that could possibly help a fighter who has developed Traumatic Brain Injury or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy? I don’t know for sure, but why in the world would we not explore the possibility,” he said. 

Cannabinoids are on the banned substance list for in-competition testing.  A fighter is not permitted to be under the influence of marijuana during a fight, but there’s no limit to how much THC an athlete can have in their system during out-of-competition testing, as it isn’t prohibited at that time. 

“The UFC doesn’t test fighters. The UFC uses USADA as the organization that checks and tests fighters under contract to the UFC. USADA does have a 50 nanogram limit on THC during in-competition hours. Those hours are 12 hours each side of the fighters competition time. There is no limit on THC in what is called out of competition testing. If you test positive for 300 nanograms of THC during a test that is outside of in-competition testing, you will not be penalized by USADA,” he explained.  

“What they are saying is, we don’t want fighters under the influence of THC during the actual fight. They are not saying that they think THC is performance enhancing, what they are saying is they don’t want a fighter under the influence of THC because it could possibly slow his reactions or instincts which could possibly endanger that fighter who has THC in their system.

“Well, lets make one thing clear,” McCarthy added.  “I have never ingested cannabis. Growing up, my father was against it and I have had asthma my whole life, so I wasn’t big on inhaling anything into my lungs. So, I don’t have any type of personal experience to say yes or no. But my personal opinion on marijuana as a Performance Enhancing Drug for fighting is absolutely not. I think the problem with marijuana when it comes to fighting is it can reduce your abilities, slow you down, diminish your reflexes, which in essence makes it more dangerous for the fighter ingesting the marijuana.”

New research has shown the benefits of medical marijuana for a number of aliments.  Medical marijuana is legal is 28 states and in the District of Columbia.  The new research has brought changes in the attitude toward medical marijuana use.  McCarthy believes that we can’t hold on to outdated mentalities. 

“I think every athlete under the care of a physician should be able to discuss with their physician what type of medication is best for their particular style of life and ailments. I think it is silly to say that marijuana is a dangerous drug, while opiates and opioids are being used all the time and under medical supervision are considered safe. Any medication can have side effects, but we should always be open to finding better ways to handle some of the aches, pains and problems that come with pushing your body to the point of it breaking down. I can remember commercials from when I was a kid that talked about all of the health benefits associated with smoking cigarettes. Is that what we say today? We should always be striving to learn and evolve. We should never hold onto old and outdated methods just because that’s the way we did it then,” he said. 

Part of the stigma that surrounds medical marijuana is the falsehood that people using it just want to get high.  McCarthy’s wife has benefited from marijuana’s medicinal properties to treat her lupus.  She currently uses medical marijuana, and it isn’t to get high. 

“She started using cannabis to help her lupus in 2016, so it has not been a long time, but we can really see how it makes a difference with her headaches and her fatigue,” said McCarthy. 

“I want to be very clear, my wife doesn’t use cannabis in a recreational form. She has a serious disease and uses cannabis as a medicine to assist her in living as normal a life as possible. That is the thing that is crazy about this. When you tell people that you use marijuana to treat your illness, right away they get this look like, ‘Oh, you just like to get high.’ That is the last thing people like my wife are doing. All they are doing is trying to live a normal life and thank God there is something out there that actually helps them do that.”

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