An Instagram video on Sunday roundhouse kicked the UFC rumor mill into overdrive. It came from Jon Jones, a mega-star, mixed martial artist who can’t seem to stay out of trouble. Jones saying he may be back in the Octagon soon. Soon? How soon? How could this be? People began to wonder. Just last week, one of the UFC’s biggest stars was almost certainly facing a two-year suspension following a positive drug test that ousted him from the much anticipated UFC 200 fight against Daniel Cormier.
Then on Tuesday, UFC President Dana White backed up Jones’ assertions. White told Jim Rome and later TMZ that Jones did not take what people thought he did and that while he can’t discuss medical stuff, it seems Jones took something else. A day later, UFC Middleweight Champion Michael Bisping topped off the rumors on Sirius XM radio by saying that Jones took Cialis, an erectile dysfunction drug, and that’s what caused his failed test. It’s still unclear how Bisping or White got confidential drug information ahead of a Nevada State Athletic Commission hearing. Yet, suddenly, most major MMA publications picked up Bisping’s rumor with headlines like, “Report: Generic boner booster triggered Jon Jones’ UFC 200 failed drug test.”
The problem is this: it’s scientifically impossible for an erectile dysfunction drug to produce the banned substances that Jones tested positive for. To understand why, you must understand the science of “doping” as it pertains to the Jones case.
Most erectile dysfunction drugs are PDE5 inhibitors, which means they basically act upon blood vessels to increase blood flow to the penis. On the other hand, Jones tested positive for Letrozole metabolites and Hydroxy-clomiphene. These are the byproducts of two very specific drugs, Letrozole and Clomid. Both belong to a class of drugs called SERMs or selective estrogen receptor modulators. SERMs bind to estrogen receptors and block the production of estrogen. Letrozole is commonly prescribed to treat breast cancer as part of a chemotherapy regimen and Clomid treats infertility. So right then and there you have two categories of drugs that act on very different components of the body and treat vastly different conditions.
Now why would those two drugs both be in his positive samples? This is an important question because Letrozole and Clomid are usually not prescribed together. They are used for very separate and unrelated conditions. Sometimes Letrozole and Clomid are both used in infertility cases but it’s usually one or the other, not both at the same time. But, they just so happen to be commonly used in combination for people in post cycle therapy who are coming off of steroid use. They are used together because their anti-estrogen effects help jumpstart the production of natural testosterone while protecting the liver. When people use steroids, it’s common for their natural testosterone production to decrease, so these drugs help raise their levels back to normal. They also help prevent secondary symptoms of steroid use such as gynecomastia (enlarged breasts in men).
So how on earth could an erectile dysfunction drug result in the detection of the metabolites of these two very separate drugs?
After speaking to numerous physiologists, researchers and specialists, including ones who used to work for WADA and on the International Olympic Medical Commission, I confirmed several things:
First, anti-doping tests look for very specific compounds. This means that if the tests were positive for Letrozole and Hydroxy-clomiphene then they found those exact metabolites.
Next, metabolites are byproducts of a drug, meaning they are what’s left over after the body breaks down the drug. Those byproducts can remain in the body for days, weeks or even months. Letrozole is a metabolite of the drug Letrozole and hydroxy-clomiphene is a metabolite of the drug Clomid.
The long and short of it is that if they found Letrozole and Hydroxy-clomiphene metabolites, the person almost certainly ingested Letrozole and Clomid. In contrast, in Cialis, the active ingredient is Tadalafil. Therefore, Cialis would never metabolize into or create the existence of Letrozole or Hydroxy-clomiphene; it would create the byproducts of Tadalafil. Pretty simple.
After speaking with several erectile dysfunction specialists, I further confirmed that NONE of the erectile dysfunction drugs have any ingredients that could possibly metabolize into Letrozole or Hydroxy-clomiphene.
Therefore, the only way for any of the erectile dysfunction drugs to cause a test to be positive for Letrozole and Hydroxy-clomiphene, is if that drug was laced with Letrozole AND Clomid. We know that’s almost one hundred percent not happening in the United States. It’s highly unlikely that a regulated, prescription-based erectile dysfunction drug would be laced with two separate heavy-duty prescription drugs. For the same reason, it is highly unlikely that any supplement would be tainted with not one but two prescription drugs at the same time and specifically drugs that treat cancer and infertility. In fact, most, if not all of the recent tainted supplement cases in MMA involve a supplement tainted by one banned substance not two.
Now what about drugs from outside of the United States, like the Anderson Silva off-brand “sexual enhancement” concoction from Thailand? Well that’s pretty much what we are left with here. Jones will need to use the “sex potion defense” coined by moi and catapulted into notoriety by Silva. I don’t see any other plausible way Jones can claim an erectile dysfunction drug was laced with Letrozole and Clomid besides claiming it was exotic and not home-bought ala the “sex potion defense.” It’s important to note that erectile dysfunction drugs need to be prescribed by a United States doctor to be legally used in this country. Importing a foreign-made drug into the United States, for personal use, when that drug is already available by prescription in the United States is generally illegal under federal law. So for example, if Jones procured a foreign version of Cialis and used it in the U.S. where Cialis is regulated by script, then he would technically be in violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, among other Drug Enforcement Agency laws.
Now even if he did take a doubly laced erectile dysfunction drug, why would that land him back in the Octagon soon? Surprisingly, erectile dysfunction drugs are not on USADA’s banned substances list. This is what played in Silva’s favor. For years, WADA and USADA have been considering adding erectile dysfunction drugs to the list because it is believed they may have performance enhancing effects. One study out of the University of Rome, found that erectile dysfunction drugs can enhance testosterone in users by reducing the conversion of testosterone to estrogen. For years, studies have been under way to confirm the PE effects of erectile dysfunction drugs but, as one researcher told me, his study could only support those findings at high-altitudes and not at sea-level so it wasn’t conclusive enough to justify adding those drugs to the banned list.
Thus, the erectile dysfunction excuse would help explain why Jones believes he will be back in the Octagon soon. Since the drugs are not banned, then technically he wouldn’t be in violation of taking a banned substance. However, he would be in violation of other drug policy requirements, such as notifying the NSAC and USADA of any drugs he put in his body.
Are there any other explanations besides a doubly laced tainted supplement or a doubly laced erectile dysfunction drug that would land him back in the Octagon soon? Yes, many… thanks to an express “loophole-like” provision in the UFC drug policy. Jones can claim he took a different prescription drug and not an erectile dysfunction drug. If said drug was banned but he had a good medical reason for taking it, then he could possibly get a lenient punishment. It turns out, the UFC’s custom-made drug policy allows fighters to apply for retroactive therapeutic use exemptions when medically justified. If he gets a doctor’s note and diagnosis then such an exemption could be applied and backdated if a USADA committee of medical experts agrees.
Yet, the same principal would hold true, Jones would have to prove that any other prescription drug was also laced with both Letrozole and Clomid. This appears to be a very tall order. The icing on the cake is the fact that Jones faces punishment under two separate regimes, USADA and the Nevada State Athletic Commission, which is historically hard on fighters who fail drug tests.
In short, it’s going to be a pretty interesting scientific sell. Jones will have to prove he took a drug that was either not banned OR medically justified AND that the drug was laced with not one but two prescription drugs that happen to indicate post cycle steroid therapy. Good luck on that one. If Jones succeeds then his case combined with Silva’s sets a dangerous precedent. It creates a loophole for fighters to repeatedly exploit. Fighters can continue to claim they ingested foreign-made sexual enhancement drugs that were laced with banned substances and get leniency. This is something USADA and the NSAC should address in its policies, in the interest of fairness.