Mixed martial arts has always been a pioneering sport, pushing the boundaries and now it is doing so again which could have an impact on the entire world of sport.
Cannabidiol - commonly referred to as CBD - is the non-psychoactive, pain-relieving cannabinoid found in cannabis. As well as pain relief, CBD beings many other health benefits, reduces inflammation, possesses anti-cancer properties, and perhaps most importantly, appears to have neuro-protective plusses for sportsmen and women more prone to traumatic brain injury, such as NFL players, rugby players and MMA fighters.
Since last year, sports people have been permitted to use CBD because the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) lifted it from its list of banned substances. But that is changing. Fast. And MMA is leading the way. Some fighters pioneered its use, in defiance of the authorities, even before the ban was lifted. The Diaz brothers – Nick and Nate - two UFC stars who are becoming icons for a new “greener” lifestyle by pioneering gluten free diets, daily jujitsu practice and a medical/recreational use of cannabis.
Greater numbers of fighters are beginning to make the clear argument that taking cannabis for injuries and as pain killers through camps, training and after fights, is more effective than over the counter or administered pain killers.
In recent times, the two biggest MMA fight leagues in the world - Bellator and the UFC - have aligned with CBD companies. CBDMD, one such company, is now a sponsor of CBS-owned Bellator MMA, while Canadian Aurora Cannabis has teamed up with the UFC on a new research project.
Hans Molenkamp, a long-time influential pioneer in marketing in MMA, was the figure who brought CBDMD to Bellator MMA. Molenkamp has had sponsorship involvement with brands such as Monster, Triumph, along with many of the biggest stars in MMA, including Conor McGregor, Rampage Jackson and Daniel Cormier, the current UFC heavyweight champion and one of the most respected athletes in the sport, who now has personal sponsorship from CBDMD.
“The CBD oil entering into this space for me was a personal thing because I am so injured myself," explained Molenkamp to The Telegraph, having once been a sportsman himself in motocross and surfing.
"I had a spinal fusion, my shoulder has been fused, my femur has been broken, my jaw has been broken, my orbital socket was busted - I’m a banged up individual. I’ve been through more body harm than any fighter," explained the 42-year-old American business entrepreneur.
"I’ve been on both sides. I’ve a motor cross and surfing background. I’ve had serious injuries. I started taking CBD years ago." It changed his life.
Molenkamp also knows what fighters go through, though he has not fought professionally himself but is a black belt in jiu jitsu and has fought in Thai boxing.
"When the company CBDMD approached me and wanted me to help from a brand building side I saw how it could help the athletes and organisations. And that it would be a gateway for alternative healing for these athletes that they didn’t have access to before. Now that it’s way more open and legitimate, we’re seeing a radical shift. We’re seeing a new onslaught of healing that will help fighters.”
Controversy, of course, has always surrounded the drug. But that has changed. “I think it’s moving at a pace that it’s much more widely accepted than a year ago," Molenkamp told The Telegraph.
"CBDMD is a publicly traded company. I’m trying to bring awareness to it. I’m out here marketing this product because I believe in it.”
But the stigma it once held has certainly faded. “The stigma is this. Multiple governments for multiple years have put such a bad stigma on cannabis and THC and anything that has anything to do with marijuana industry. Most of that was based around false information and political gain so they could continue to make money with the laws against it."
"As the walls and barriers against it have broken down in the last five years, you’re seeing a huge shift in public perception. You can’t deny this is the future and has to happen to heal people. I think we’re going to see some major shifts and plans on what CBD can do.”
Within the fighter community, its use is already widespread (indeed, many know in the industry that it was being used prior to WADA lifting the CBD ban.
“I think fighters are very aware of the effects of painkillers and what they can do to you long-term," added Molenkamp. "I’ve been in this industry for 20 years and I’m not going to name names, but there was a very long run of athletes that were heavily addicted to painkillers that only only ruined their careers, but their families and household income."
For some time, there has been major concern about fighters having addiction to painkillers - and indeed their long term affects. This week, Nate Diaz openly smoked CBD (minus THC) at a fighter work out. The message, says Molenkamp, is clear.
"We all saw Nate Diaz the other night. It’s very clear the stand he’s taking. If it’s going to help heal and it’s not going to kill, these supreme athletes are putting their lives on the line, their bodies are mangled, and we need to be able to help them to heal. This goes for all sports in general. We need to give them access to methods that can heal their bodies in a way that won’t destroy their lives." The revolution is coming for sportsmen and women. And it is just getting started.