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A new partnership between one of Canada’s largest legal cannabis firms and the league that brought mixed martial arts to a global audience is aiming to fuse medical marijuana research with the world of professional sports. 

Earlier this year, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) signed a multi-million dollar agreement with Canadian cannabis company Aurora to study the benefits of cannabidiol on pro-level combat athletes. Now, after a few months of logistics and planning, the first CBD x MMA clinical study is set to kick off at the UFC Performance Institute in Las Vegas.

According to CNN, the two global brands will test specific formulations of CBD topicals as treatment for post-bout wound care, recovery, injury, pain, and inflammation. Eventually, the companies hope to produce and distribute an Aurora-made, UFC-endorsed CBD topical product. 

“Collaborating with Aurora is the best way to educate ourselves and our fighters about the impact of CBD on MMA athletes and our sport,” Dr. Duncan French, UFC’s vice president of performance, said in a statement. “We want to apply science and see where it leads us. Ideally, these studies will give us the clarity we need to determine the effectiveness of hemp-derived CBD on athlete health and injury recovery.”

For years, professional athletes from across the sports landscape have espoused the benefits of CBD products in their active lifestyles. But thanks to strict cannabis bans by the federal government and in most American sports leagues, cannabidiol use and research in high level athletics has been largely stunted

Even with the potential for groundbreaking results in their CBD research, the commercial aspect of UFC and Aurora’s partnership has kept some members of the medical community skeptical of the research studies. Dr. Jeff Chen, director of UCLA’s Cannabis Research Initiative, told CNN that the clinical study is straight out of the “pharma playbook” in which a single study is used to support a market-ready product.

“It’s not uncommon to see this of companies [that] are just going for one study to have the marketing to back up a nutraceutical product,” Dr. Chen said.

Whether UFC and Aurora are starting up their study to learn more about CBD in athlete recovery, cash in on the cannabidiol trend, or some combination of both, the partnership is the first time that active professional athletes have participated in a cannabis-friendly clinical study. Plus, it’s specifically geared towards incorporating the plant into a sports league — and from where we stand, that’s a knock out.

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