By Perry Lefko

While Elias (The Spartan) Theodorou continues to battle inside the cage as a rising middleweight in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), he is also battling outside of it to use medical cannabis without being penalized.

Theodorou, who grew up in Mississauga, raised his pro record to 16-2 with a split decision over Eryk Anders at Scotiabank Arena on December 8. It was his first UFC fight in his hometown.

“It’s one of those situations where the further it goes from the fight the more you are able to soak it in,” he said afterward when asked if he was able to process what it meant to fight in a UFC bout in Toronto. “Obviously right now it’s a relief (to win).”

He also talked about how his next fight is not against a human but against the stigma of medical cannabis. Theodorou has nerve damage, or what is classified as bilateral neuropathic pain, in his upper extremities. He said it is 100 per cent related to his profession and has been increased because of his training and fighting. He has tried other medications and the side effects were worse or it had no effect.

He said he has been helped on his quest by his family doctor and the medical practitioners and the cannabis practitioners of the Solace Health Network in Mississauga.

“Their clinic has empowered me both as a patient and an athlete,” he said.

Theodorou has been battling the system for 18 months to have his condition accepted as a therapeutic exemption that requires marijuana usage for treatment. UFC competitors are not allowed to use marijuana and, if it is detected in their system in post-fight testing, it can lead to a suspension and loss of purse money.

“Everything I do involves my hands in some capacity,” he said. “What I’m trying to target is a quality of life afterwards. I can put everything I can into training, but it’s the weight on my shoulders, metaphorically and physically, that cannabis relieves. Other medicine doesn’t work for me as well as cannabis does.

“I was put in a competitive disadvantage compared to athletes who can medicate with first-line medication like Vicadin. I’m not saying Eryk Anders did, but if he had Vicadin in his system he’d be totally fine, where if I had cannabis in my system I would be suspended for months, if not years.

“You don’t have to take my word for it. Take the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports that lobbied last year to remove cannabis from the prohibitive list. What it means at the prohibited list is it is at the same level as human growth hormone and steroids. Whatever you think of cannabis it is not the same. Whatever you think of cannabis, it is not the same. What I’m asking is not to be medicated on game day. What I’m asking is to be medicated all the way up to weigh-ins (the day before a fight).”

He said he is a huge believer in the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which sets standards for it is allowed and what is prohibited in terms of allowable medications found in the system following post-fight drug testing.

“One of my proudest moments in when the UFC partnered with USADA (in June 2015),” he added. “I believe in everything that (USADA does), but it’s the one aspect in regards to still keeping cannabis on the prohibited list that is an outdated mindset.

“That outdated mindset and look has robbed us of inroads we could have had in regards to cannabis on a medical front. They’ve already seen the potential of cannabis for epilepsy or Parkinson’s.

“What I’m not trying to do is tell anyone else what they should do. It’s more in regards to describing what I and my doctors feel works best for me. Obviously Canada has been in the forefront in regards to recreational cannabis use, but we’ve also been at the forefront of medical cannabis for more than 10 years now. It’s been a fundamental right because every Canadian enjoys the fundamental right of health care.”

Photo: Elias Theodorou following his win in UFC231

Photo: Perry Lefko