March 4, 2020

1st Sanctioned Cannabis Athlete in Professional Sport

Midas Letter
Midas Letter
1st Sanctioned Cannabis Athlete in Professional Sport

You may remember Midas Letter interviewing Elias “The Spartan” Theodorou fighting against the stigma of medical cannabis in professional sports about a year ago (Linked here). The Canadian mixed martial artist is now back in studio after his latest victory. However, this time it isn’t by knock-out or submission… he just won a six-year battle to use medical cannabis. He is now the only professional athlete in the world who has an exemption to use medical cannabis while competing in a sport. The Former UFC star is hoping this victory sets precedent for all other athletes to apply for their own therapeutic use exemption if appropriate. Watch the full interview to hear about Elias’ uphill battles as a Canadian to exercise his fundamental rights to medicate, as prescribed by his doctor.


James West: My next guest is Elias ‘The Spartan’ Theodoru. Elias, welcome back.

Elias Theodoru: Thank you so much for having me.

James West: Elias, congratulations on achieving the first exemption as a professional athlete to be allowed to use cannabinoids as part of your medical regime.

Elias Theodoru: Yes.

James West: And that’s quite amazing.

Elias Theodoru: Yeah, and first of its kind in any capacity in professional sports. It sets precedent for myself, but also all other athletes. The avenue that I did it through was through the British Columbia Athletic Commission; now, because of my process and approval, it’s opened the doors for all other MMA fighters and boxers, both amateur and professional, to apply for their own therapeutic use exemption if appropriate.

Moreover, it also allowed, once again – because I tacked this therapeutic use exemption on different aspects with my counsel. One of them was, again, my medical needs as a patient, but also the standard of the testing that they have. They have a one size fits all, in the capacity of whether you’re 115-pound woman competing or you’re a 265-pound man competing, they have the same standard of test, which is ridiculous, because every body – 

James West: Same blood content?

Elias Theodoru: Yes, fat solubles, etcetera, etcetera, thresholds. For instance, one of my friends who’s a professional fighter, he’s a heavyweight, he got flagged for cannabis in his system. His win was overturned; he was suspended for, I think six to eight months. They penalized him, they fined him, and in addition, when he did his own private test – because it was weeks, if not almost a month, when he last medicated – it took 81 days for it to get out of his system. Because again, he’s just a bigger dude, and the same aspect would happen for females because of their body. And again, that standard of testing actually persecutes different athletes for their bodies, whether it’s, again, a larger heavyweight or a smaller female straw weight.

James West: Sure. So your friend, was he under the UFC?

Elias Theodoru: No, no, another organization. Again, as a blanket term, cannabis is a prohibited substance in athletics in general. So that’s why, again, this is the first of its kind in any aspect. Obviously, we’ve seen different organizations, different leagues, different sports, remove the testing, but this is not only a therapeutic use exemption, and what that actually means is, it’s the first case that cannabis is considered and approved as medicine in sport.

And the implications, again, go beyond what I’ve opened the door for all other athletes in British Columbia, both in boxing and MMA, as mentioned. But now, because of the way the North America Athletic Commissions work in cohesion to have a comprehensive standard, they respect the rulings of other jurisdictions. So both for the positive and negative aspects.

So for instance, if I was to, let’s say, get caught with a steroid in New York and I’m suspended for a year, California wouldn’t approve me to compete there until my suspension is up. Now, too, the therapeutic use exemption would be accepted as a ruling and in any jurisdiction in the US and Canada that has medical cannabis, I would be a, what’s it called, candidate to an approval there, just because of the way the system works.

So ironically enough, no longer with the UFC, and a free agent now. I can still be an agent of change for medical cannabis in athletics.

James West: You bet. What do you use cannabis for, medically?

Elias Theodoru: I have bilateral neuropathy. So it’s essentially nerve damage of my upper extremities.

James West: As a result of your career?

Elias Theodoru: My career, but also in a previous life I was a semi-pro skateboarder.

James West: Oh, wow, okay.

Elias Theodoru: Yes, so I used to jump off of very tall sets of handrails and stairs before I realized I’m terrified of heights.

James West: You’ve been a fan of giving yourself a beating for years. [laughter]

Elias Theodoru: Yeah, yeah, different directions, right? Whether it’s gravity or another person punching me in the head.

James West: Sure, right, right.

Elias Theodoru: But specifically, I had surgery in my wrist; two broken bones and a couple fractures. They made me a bone graft where they took bone and cartilage out of my hip and replaced my wrist. From there, there was degeneration, arthritis, neuropathy that developed as well, and then my career itself, the right side in regards to my neck and my elbow, there’s stingers, radiating heat and other type of detrimental aspects that affect me and my quality of life both as a athlete and a patient.

And that’s where the two brackets that I fall under.

James West: Sure. So it’s primarily for pain mitigation, then?

Elias Theodoru: Pain management, yes. And obviously, the anti-inflammatory components that come with it in regards to alleviating it. Again, more and more research has been showing that inflammation in general is the cause of a lot of different ailments and diseases throughout the spectrum. So in my specific case, cannabis is the only medicine that works for me individually as a patient, and all other aspects which I was forced to exhaust in this process just compound not only the debilitating symptoms that I have, but also the side effects, as well.

Being forced, as a professional athlete – not even as a patient, but as a professional athlete – to compete at the highest level when told I’m not allowed to take my medicine, and forced to take alternatives that, again, give me side effects that really hinder my ability to compete. But now, with a therapeutic use exemption, I’m able to compete at a even playing field, and more importantly, as a Canadian, to exercise my fundamental right to medicate as prescribed by my doctor and open up that door for all other athletes.

James West: Beautiful. Do you know of other athletes, as a result of your success, who are now moving towards receiving an exemption?

Elias Theodoru: I don’t know specifically if that’s the case, but many different athletes have reached out to me, both in regards to BC, Canada, MMA fighters, boxers, also other Olympians, because they’re under the same protocols under the World Anti-Doping Agency, which sees cannabis as a prohibited substance. So, unfortunately for the US athletes, they don’t have the avenue of medical rights that we are lucky to have here in this country.

James West: Due to the Federal prohibition in the States.

Elias Theodoru: Federal prohibition, and that was one of the uphill battles in regards to my therapeutic use exemption with USADA. They are primary funded by the US government, which looks at cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug, which means there’s no medical property to it, technically, under their regulations.

So the interesting aspect, again, the different avenues I was able to attack this therapeutic use exemption, both as a medical aspect, the standard of testing, and also my fundamental rights afforded to me in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada, and more so, you know, without – the technical term, I always mess it up, but essentially, there’s more rights afforded to me as a patient and without medical persecution under the Disability Act that Canada has.

James West: Sure, very cool. So, do you think that professional sports could be one of the primary avenues by which maybe the US Federal government will begin to consider changing the law, because there is so much desire on the part of professional athletes to access cannabinoids: CBD for pain and sleep, and THC for other things, as well? Do you think that’s going to happen?

Elias Theodoru: I think definitely, because we have a platform that expands to the masses, and can really be a game-changer. Obviously, there’s other individuals and sectors of the country in the US, but also even here in Canada, that are still under the prohibition based on their medical rights and needs. I can bring up myself as an athlete, other athletes as mentioned, but also first responders, union workers, and even veterans in some capacity have some restrictions in their cannabis use as professionals.

James West: You bet. All right, Elias, that’s a great update and I really appreciate your advocacy for cannabis. Thanks very much for joining us again.

Elias Theodoru: Always a pleasure.

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