Dana White says UFC is looking into research on micro-dosing psychedelics to combat brain trauma

Jack Baer
·Writer
·3 min read

Concerns about brain injuries in mixed martial arts are again on the rise after a devastating MMA Fighting article about former UFC veteran Spencer Fisher’s condition.

Fisher, a fan favorite with the nickname “The King,” has reportedly been declared permanently disabled, with the damage severe enough that he says he forgets the names of his three children. With little support from UFC, Fisher’s wife is left to take care of both him and their children.

When asked about Fisher’s condition by Yahoo Sports’ Kevin Iole, UFC president Dana White revealed that, in addition to UFC’s past contributions to the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, the promotion has approached researchers at Johns Hopkins University about a new kind of treatment: psychedelics.

Specifically, micro-dosing psychedelics.

“They’re micro-dosing psychedelics and they’re saying that it’s helping some of these guys with brain injuries,” White said. “We’ve talked to Johns Hopkins and we’re working on getting us involved with that too. ... The list goes on and on of all the things that we’ve done to try to improve the sport.”

Discussion about micro-dosing psychedelics has increased since HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” aired a segment on the research being done on the matter. Former UFC fighters Ian McCall and Dean Lister told HBO they experienced improvements after such a treatment.

Johns Hopkins says the results have been highly encouraging:

Our research has demonstrated therapeutic effects in people who suffer a range of challenging conditions including addiction (smoking, alcohol, other drugs of abuse), existential distress caused by life-threatening disease, and treatment-resistant depression. Studying healthy volunteers has also advanced our understanding of the enduring positive effects of psilocybin and provided unique insight into neurophysiological mechanisms of action, with implications for understanding consciousness and optimizing therapeutic and non-therapeutic enduring positive effects.

UFC senior vice president of health and performance Jeff Novitzky told ESPN’s Marc Raimondi that the promotion’s interest came after the HBO segment aired, with a “directive” from White to look into psychedelic research.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 17: UFC president Dana White interacts with media during the UFC Fight Night press conference at UFC APEX on September 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Could psychedelics help UFC fighters? Dana White wants to find out. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Novitzky reportedly said the UFC could become a benefactor of a psychedelic study, with the possibility of recruiting current or former UFC fighters to take part.

From ESPN:

"Dana said, 'Hey, find out what this is about,'" Novitzky said. "To see if it does help with some traumatic brain injury, addiction, mental-health problems. We want to be on board and we want to be first."

Of course, even with encouraging steps in brain treatment, the danger of MMA fighting will always remain. Years of punches to the head will always be potentially traumatic, and White essentially said it was the cost of doing business for Spencer and other fighters.

“Everybody who gets involved in this sport, nobody is under the misconception that getting punched in the head is good for you,” White said. “Getting punched in the head is really bad for you. We all know it going in, the people who participate in it, the people who promote it, the people who watch it and the people who cover it. This is one of the facts of combat sports and contact sports as a whole.

“Spencer Fisher definitely isn’t the first and he won’t be the last.”

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