From Free Agent To Agent Of Change: Elias Theodorou's Cannabis Advocacy Has Changed The Game For Professional Athletes Across The Globe

Last year, professional MMA fighter, Elias Theodorou, was released from his contract with the UFC.

Like a lot of folks, when the news broke, I couldn’t believe it.

The Canadian-born athlete had a solid 8-3 record during his time with the company, and he was highly respected among other professional fighters. Even comedian and UFC commentator Joe Rogan, who boasts the world’s most popular podcast with nearly 200 million downloads per month, opined on the news, saying …

“Obviously I’m a giant fan of the UFC, I love them to death. I am so happy and I would (do) nothing for any other organization. I would never want to work for any other organization. But I don’t like the way they do things. There are a lot of things I don’t like. They just cut Elias Theodorou. One loss (to) Derek Brunson, cut. Like, explain that. How do you explain that? That one doesn’t make any sense.”

Of course, I’m merely a spectator, and have no idea what goes on behind the scenes at the UFC. But I’d be lying if I said I was pleased with the decision. Ever since seeing Theodorou compete, and win, on the Ultimate Fighter, I’ve been a fan.  And certainly I want to continue to watch him compete.

Fortunately, I had that opportunity after Theodorou joined forces with the PFC, and won his first fight with the organization with a TKO against Hernani Perpetuo.

While I will miss seeing Theodorou fight in the UFC, admittedly,  there is a silver lining with how all this played out. A silver lining that could actually end up helping a lot of other professional fighters.

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You see, last month, Theodorou won an exemption to use medical cannabis. Prior to this decision, there wasn’t a single professional fighter given permission to use cannabis as medicine – regardless of how effective the medicine was.

The fact that a professional athlete would even need permission to consume cannabis seems so absurd, anyway. But that’s another rant for another day.

The bottom line is that Elias Theodoorou suffers from peripheral neuropathy, which is essentially severe brain and spinal cord nerve damage.  From what I understand it’s excruciatingly painful. But since cannabis has been prohibited by various athletic commissions, Theodorou essentially had to train and fight without consuming his medicine - which was prescribed by a medical doctor.

Can you imagine if you couldn’t keep your job if you weren’t allowed to take blood pressure pills or cholesterol medication? It’s the same thing, really. Medicine that gives you the opportunity to live a full and healthy life.

So when I heard that Theodorou was given a medical exemption to use cannabis, I was floored. Not just because this gifted fighter can now medicate responsibly without fear of losing his job, but because this sets a precedent for other athletes that also rely on medical cannabis to stay healthy.

When you think about it, this is a pretty big deal for Theodorou. He’s the first. And because he’s a legitimate professional fighter, his story will reverberate throughout a global community of professional athletes.

I had the chance to speak with Theodorou about this, and here’s what he had to say …

JS: You’re the first professional fighter to be granted a medical exemption for cannabis. Obviously this is a huge deal for you, but it’s also a huge deal for the world of professional sports. A lot of athletes will be looking to follow in your footsteps. Do you think that with this decision, you’ve pretty much opened the floodgates for potentially hundreds of other athletes who also rely on cannabis as medicine?

ET: Yes.  With  my case, it has set precedent. It was approved by the athletic commission of British Columbia.  And the way athletic commissions work, they have cohesive relationships.  With this early approval in this jurisdiction, other jurisdictions will now consider doing the same.  There’s no guarantee, but other jurisdictions now seem more open to it.  The main problem in the US though is that cannabis is still federally illegal.  And USADA (U.S. Anti-Doping Agency) does get funding from the US government, which still recognizes cannabis as a schedule one drug. In Canada, however, cannabis is completely legal.  Here, you have the right to use this medicine.

Still, with this exemption in BC, this is the first of many dominoes for other jurisdictions to open up. There are actually other athletic commissions that have reached out to my team to  learn how to do this, too.

For the most part, athletic commissions are open to this.  And they do work with other organizations to honor these types of precedents.  And because all athletic commissions are built off of boxing, any therapeutic exemption will also open the door for boxing as well.

Noticias sobre cannabis y CBD en Español en El Planteo.

JS: When did you start using cannabis to treat your peripheral neuropathy?

ET: When my own condition started to affect my quality of life and  my performance, I knew the first line medications were not going to be right for me.  Those being opioids, which would ravage my body and create the potential for addiction.

But in order to get an exemption for cannabis, I was required to exhaust all the other options first.  I had to take opioids and antidepressants to numb the pain.  But that stuff also numbed me as an individual.  It affected my ability to perform as a professional athlete.  Meanwhile, I was consulting with my doctor, stuck to it, and kept a list of the side effects, which were detrimental to me as a patient and an athlete.

JS: Without naming names, are there any other professional athletes you know that also rely on cannabis for pain relief?

ET:  A lot of athletes. Especially in Jiu-Jitsu culture, where athletes have been using cannabis for years.

JS: When the UFC released you from your contract, people went nuts.  No one could really figure it out.  You had an 8-3 record while you were with the UFC, you won the Ultimate Fighter, and even Joe Rogan came to your defense, questioning the UFC’s decision.  Do you think your cannabis use had anything to do with you getting released?

ET: The UFC is a business.  They make decisions for any number of reasons.  But after becoming a free agent, I realized that I could also now be an agent for change in cannabis.  It’s not just about me.  I’m doing this for other athletes, too.

JS: Your story is a pretty unique one, and I’ve always enjoyed your outlook on the sport and on cannabis.  Have you ever considered writing a book or doing a podcast?

ET: The next step for me right now is just to use my platform to be an agent of change.  I got plenty of fight left in me.  I’m looking to compete three times this year.  This is a really big opportunity for me to fight and to educate.  

Canada ended prohibition, but there still remains a lot of individuals that don’t have access. Athletes, first responders, union workers.  I’m going to highlight my story and journey and medicine and the hurdles I had to go through so I can help others.

JS: Since leaving the UFC, you’ve had one fight, and that was with PFC.  You won by TKO and you looked fantastic going into that fight.  I know a lot of your fans are looking forward to your next fight.  When can we expect that?  

ET: It’s a rough ETA, but it’s looking like it’ll be around May.

JS: I can’t wait!!!

To keep up with Elias Theodorou’s journey, follow him on Twitter, here: @EliasTheodorou

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Jeff Siegel is the co-founder and managing editor of Green Chip Stocks, a private investment community focused on socially-responsible investing. He has been a featured guest on Fox, CNBC and Bloomberg Asia, and is the author of the best-selling book, "Investing in Renewable Energy: Making Money on Green Chip Stocks.” In addition to his work as an investment analyst, Siegel is also a cannabis legalization advocate, MMA enthusiast, and CrossFit junkie.

The preceding article is from one of our external contributors. It does not represent the opinion of Benzinga and has not been edited.


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