Elias Theodorou Fights Against the Stigma of Medical Cannabis
Mixed Martial Artist and UFC Middleweight Elias Theodorou is taking his latest fight outside The Octagon and into the ring of public opinion. Theodorou is trying to end the stigma against medical cannabis in the sports world, a stigma that has led the medical treatment to be categorized as “performance enhancing” by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and has seen cannabis banned by sporting bodies such as the IOC, NHL, and UFC. Theodorou uses cannabis to manage pain from a medical condition and is the first professional athlete to apply for a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) to use the treatment “in competition” periods under guidance from his doctor and team at Solace Health Inc, a subsidiary of TerrAscend Corp (CNSX:TER) (OTCMKTS:TRSSF). Despite a growing body of evidence that cannabis isn’t a performance enhancing drug (PED), Elias Theodorou faces a two-year ban from UFC events if medical cannabis is found in his system “in competition”.
James West: And joining me now in studio is the main event himself: Mr. Elias Theodorou is here. Elias, do you think you could kick my ass in an MMA cage fight?
Elias Theodorou: Yes, I do.
James West: Elias, you’ve been working with the anti-doping agency on their medical marijuana policy for athletes during in competition periods. You want them to allow the use of cannabinoids as a recovery tool.
Elias Theodorou: Yeah. Moreover, allow them to recognize what my doctor’s already diagnosed and prescribed as a medical cannabis patient. So what comes in to play is the fact that obviously being in Canada, we have certain, you know, medical guidelines, etcetera, and a process that we are doing; and you saw that the anti-doping agency is an American-based. So there is a little difference in regards to the way they treat medical cannabis. Obviously, with America still classifying cannabis as a Schedule I drug, they technically don’t see there being a medical property to cannabis.
Where Canada, and moreover, the CCS, which is the, you saw it as alternative in Canada, or subsequent, anti-doping agency in Canada, it’s called the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports, and they actually lobbied to remove cannabis from the prohibited list where it currently resides. And the big issue with what I’m trying to do is the fact that, and also talk in public, is that cannabis right now is on the prohibited list deeming it a performance-enhancing drug, but it simply is not.
James West: Performance-enhancing? I would think quite the opposite.
Elias Theodorou: Well, that’s exactly the point, and for me as a patient, what I personally use it is for pain management. I have a condition called bilateral neuropathic pain. It’s essentially nerve damage; it’s prevalent in my upper extremities, and the way to kind of understand that is, you know when we hit our elbow, it’s no real funny matter, it’s a stinger that you kind of get. Well, I constantly get that through the day because of my condition, and also because of my line of work: I use my hands a lot, punching, kicking, and everything in between.
So that toll really takes its toll on my quality of life after the fact, and that’s what I’m trying to manage in regards to pain. And also, I use medical cannabis because it’s the only alternative for me.
James West: SO did this condition evolve as a result of your line of work?
Elias Theodorou: Yes. It also started very, very earlier, very much earlier, in the sense that in a previous life, I was a skateboarders, and I used to jump off dozens of sets of handrails and stairs, and before I fell, I didn’t realize I was actually terrified of heights. So it was abbot that time I fell and broke my hand, two breaks, four fractures; they took bone out of my hip and make me a new wrist for a bone graft. So there was already arthritis and limited movement and rotation in regards to my wrist, and it degenerated from it, because as my mother, she has osteoarthritis rather, and it’s a very much a degenerative disease that I have myself, and it’s degenerated from there to become bi-lateral neuropathic pain.
James West: Wow. So you better win all of your fights .
Elias Theodorou: well, that’s always a must in general, but in regards to my own condition, it’s something I have to deal with. And not being able to medicate with cannabis puts me at a competitive disadvantage compared to my opponents, who can opt out for first-line medications. Whether you’re for our against cannabis, I think we can kind of agree that something like Vicodin, which is allowed, is a much more serious medication than something like cannabis, where like I mentioned: my opponent, whether it’s this fight or next, could opt out for something like Vicodin and it be in their system and it wouldn’t be an issue, where cannabis in any type of cannabinoid will get me a two-year suspension.
So it’s really discrimination in regards to my medicine as a Canadian, where it obviously is a fundamental right being attached to healthcare.
James West: Sure. So is that what the alternative would be, would be an opiate like Vicodin?
Elias Theodorou: Yeah, and that’s something I’ve had to exhaust throughout this process. It’s been an 18-month application; it’s called a therapeutic use exemption. So as I mentioned, cannabis right now is on the prohibited list, which you know, it’s putting it right up there in regards to steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs like, you know, HDH or anything like that – which is madness. But, with that being said, I had to first exhaust all my first line medications, where it’s something you take like SSC or anti-depressants, opioids, and let the basically side effects, which there were many, take hold, and use that as proof why cannabis is the better alternative. Which is a kind of backwards way to medicine if you think about it, right?
My family doctor, who I’ve been working with in many of this process, and he’s kind of scratching his head in the sense of, modern medicine, when we find something that works, we don’t then exhaust everything else just to get back to where we came from; but that’s where I kind of lie in there being, you know, this stigma and this certain perception of cannabis that is in the anti-doping agency.
James West: Sure. Are you the only MMA fighter in the league that’s lobbying this way?
Elias Theodorou: I’m not only the only UFC fighter, but I’m actually the first professional athlete ever. United States Anti-Doping Agency is a part of WADA, so this is under the umbrella of the World Anti-Doping Agency. So the same standards and same organization that tests for the Olympics as well. So this, in many ways, would set precedent not only for myself, but all other Canadian athletes moving forward, because my next fight is not against one man; it’s against the stigma of medical cannabis.
James West: Wow, interesting. And so how do you feel that your fight is progressing? Are you getting understanding, are you making progress? Are we moving towards the elimination of CBDs and THC from the prohibited list?
Elias Theodorou: CBD at this point is removed from the prohibited list; it’s the application of having THC in it. And which, again, which is the one that works best for me as prescribed by my doctor. And again, there’s an aspect in regards to, obviously as an athlete I have to become the best me on game day; and without being able to have my medication, I’m at a competitive disadvantage, as I’ve spoken about.
But you know, anything worth fighting for usually takes a long time. I have resubmitted my therapeutic use exemption; again, under the guise of – under the recommendation and help of my family doctor but also from my medical cannabis health practitioner, Solis Health Network, who has been very instrumental with regards to empowering me as a patient and an athlete.
James West: Okay, so if you, at this point you’re not allowed – you can’t use cannabinoids to treat your condition leading up to this fight because it’ll be in your system and you would be disqualified and penalized and banned for two years?
Elias Theodorou: Yeah. Diving even a bit deeper to that, so there’s something called out of competition and in competition. The UFC, who has been very helpful throughout this process, and has partnered with USADA as a third party testing organization – and again, don’t get me wrong, huge believer in clean sport. I’m happily a part of this program because again, a level playing field is what I truly believe in and that removes any actual PDs, performance-enhancing drugs. And that’s something you saw oh CCS and even WADA are very instrumental in regards to not only my sport, but all governing sports that they deal with.
So what I’ trying to do is give them enough information and enough medical work along the way that they can’t deny me, right? Because one of the really progressive things that UFC has done is, with the out of competition, they don’t test for cannabis. But it’s the in-competition that they do. But again, it’s a little backwards approach in the aspect of, the hardest parts of training is leading up to the last month, and I have to taper off and make sure that cannabis is not in my system in any way, shape or form.
Moreover, the blanket test that they use is actually, in many ways, a discriminative against females, because they test for fat – well, cannabis attaches to fat, and that’s where they test it through. And because women percentage have higher fat levels in regards to this specific test, it actually, again, discriminates them longer, and that’s one of the things I want to bring out there, as well.
James West: You bet. So has it not occurred to the anti-doping agencies that Vicodin and opiates are actually performance-deprecating drugs, and especially in your line of work, which beyond any other, relies on speed of reaction and action, I mean, it just strikes me as completely unintellectual, unintelligent.
Elias Theodorou: Yeah, and I think a lot of that is an outdated mindset. Again, they’re drawing from a US-based medicine practition, like they’re the base, right? So again, with cannabis being a Schedule 1 drug, there’s no medical properties at all; it’s at the same level as heroin for whatever reason. We know what reason; because of prohibition and because of even more outdated thought processes in regards to racist laws, etcetera, etcetera, that have come up with regards to where cannabis finds itself in the States.
And luckily, Canada, was able to break from. But with that being said, there is a pathway to get this therapeutic exemption, it’s just the process of giving them more and more information, which I have over the course of the 18 months, until they can’t say no. if you build enough of a case, because again, they never say no, they say Denied, please give us more information. And that’s where I find myself.
And again, in the structure of what I’m asking for is to be able to medicate all the way to the date before my fight, which is weigh-ins, because of, again, the debilitating pain that I feel and suffer from in regards to not only my condition, but also my line of work. And this is a form of pain management and recovery. So I’m medicating after every training session, and I plan to do that after my fight.
So it removes any conversation about whether it’s performance-enhancing or even any type of inebriation, because of the fact that I won’t be competing, medicated. I will be waking up the day of my fight, competing, and then the next day recover. So I’m trying to make this as good of a case, and it’s been taking a long time, but again, worth the wait.
James West: You bet. Okay, so tell us about your fight on December 8th.
Elias Theodorou: I’m really excited. Obviously, fighting in front of a hometown crowd, fighting in Toronto, at Scotiabank Arena, so it’s very exciting to bring it all home. I very much have always tried to encompass the fighter’s journey in my martial arts traveling, training and fighting all over the world. But as I said, very excited to fight in Toronto.
My opponent, Eric Anders, is a tough individual. He’s going to try and knock off my block, but I’m going to show him the differences between chess and checkers, and I’m really going to break him mentally and physically.
James West: All right, great. Well, we’ll be rooting for you! Thanks very much for joining me today.
Elias Theodorou: Thank you so much, and my pleasure.