Most of the articles that I have contributed to Fix Your Gut are written to educate people about the digestive system. This article falls under the category of an op-ed and is for entertainment purposes only. I do not claim to be one of the experts in the anti-doping field, but I would like to point out some inconsistencies in some of the statements made by UFC employees regarding his failed anti-doping tests collected from August through November 2018. For this article, I am not interested in his licensing as a fighter, or any sanctions that may be levied upon him from the data that was released. The information that I have comes from three sources, the Dana White/Jeff Novitzky press announcement on ESPN MMA on 23rd, December 2018, the UFC 232 Pre-Fight Press Conference on December 27th, 2018, the JRE MMA Show #53 with Jeff Novitzky also on December 27th, 2018.
UFC Fighter, Jon Jones tested positive for a metabolite of turinabol.
The anabolic steroid, turinabol has several synonyms including, oral turinabol; 4-Chlordehydromethyltestosterone (CDMT); Dehydrochloromethyltestosterone (DHCMT); 4-Chloromethandienone, and possibly some street names to which I am not aware.
This is the synthetic anabolic steroid, turinabol:
This is the androgenic hormone DHT that our bodies naturally produce:
They have a very similar in structure except turinabol has two double bonds in the A ring, and a covalent chorine bond (also to the A ring) to increase its binding potential to androgen receptors, and making it possible to consume orally, rather than through intermuscular injection. Users of turinabol will have, primarily, a strength increase, and it also increases the user’s ability to build and maintain muscle tissue.
In most competitive sports, the use of turinabol is forbidden. Athletes are tested for this substance and others through urine analysis. Most metabolites of turinabol leave the body quickly making it hard to detect, but in 2012, Tim Sobolevsky and Grigory Rodchenkov developed a new testing protocol that makes it possible to identify the “M3 metabolite.” Due to lack of research, and the small sample size, not much is known about this test, the metabolite, or turinabol in general.
On The JRE MMA Show #53, Jeff Novitzky shares a series of lab result collected from Jon Jones between August and November of 2018. He stated that the M3 metabolite has been appearing in Jones’ urine during this time. The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) believes that this is residue from an earlier failed test, and they are not seeking sanctions against Jones.
I don’t have a problem with USADA’s decision. I only have a problem with some of the statements that were made on USADA’s behalf. They are as follows:
“[Jon Jones] retains no athletic, performance-enhancing benefits from the small presence of this substance.”
Jeff Novitzky, ESPN MMA, 23 December 2018
The substance that Jeff Novitzky is referring to is a metabolite (M3) of turinabol, not the turinabol itself (which, of course, would not have any performance-enhancing properties in any dose), and he states later in the interview that “the experts testified that, you know, this was residual effects that he had no performance-enhancing benefits from that.” On the JRE MMA Show, Novitzky addresses this again and says again that the experts have concluded that “based on these low level, picograms, there’s no performance enhancing benefit.” Novitzky goes on to say, “If there was any indication that there would be a benefit from, even though it technically wasn’t a violation, I’m not going to stand by while anybody licenses that guy to fight.”
Let’s ask the question clearly:
Is Jon Jones’ athletic performance currently being enhanced by banned substances?
Based on the information that we were given (the failed anti-doping tests containing the M3 metabolite) I don’t see how anyone could conclude that. I am not an expert in the anti-doping world, but I know the difference between a qualitative and quantitative functional assay. The UFC representatives seem to be wrapped up in the reported values of the M3 metabolite, and they make numerous references to the picogram unit of measurement, but the function of the test is 100% qualitative, even though there is a quantitative element to the anti-doping test. In other words, the test should be interpreted as follows: Does the athlete’s urine contain the M3 metabolite, yes or no? Not, how much of the parent compound did the athlete take? The former is the intent of the assay; the latter is impossible to determine from the test performed.
It is impossible to determine how much of the parent compound is in the athlete’s body given the testing parameters and here’s why:
The picogram measurement is just half of the equation; the other half is the volume. For instance, if Jon Jones tested at 60 pg/ml, well that means that there were 60 picograms in a milliliter of Jon Jones’ urine. From this information, we don’t even know the total mass of M3 that he excreted to perform the test because we don’t know the total volume of the sample that he submitted. Did he urinate a cup or a quart? Well, if it were a cup, then he would have urinated out 0.0144mcg (micrograms) of M3. If he urinated a quart, it would be 0.0567mcg, and so on, and that’s just one time that Jon Jones took a piss that day! How much does he urinate on a typical day? How much M3 is being excreted in total? To approximate how much of the parent compound is currently in Jon Jones’ system, we would have to collect every drop of his urine, keep track of all of the M3 metabolites until it was no longer detectable, add up all of the values, and do a cross multiplication to adjust the difference between the mass of the M3 metabolite, and the parent compound—and even this would be a stretch, because there is nowhere in the scientific literature has this method been documented, or reviewed for this purpose.
At this point, some of our more educated readers will be wondering, “well, can’t we just estimate the amount from the testing levels provided.” According to all of the data that we have available, there is no evidence that there is a correlation between the M3 metabolite value detected and the total compound in the athlete’s system. A correlation requires a scatter plot of values that is mathematically represented in a liner or logarithmic equation, and there is not a shred of evidence to suggest that this analysis has ever been performed at any time in history.
“Both USADA and Worldwide Anti-Doping Agents experts told us that this was not a re-ingestion of this prohibited substance, but it was remaining effects from the July 2017 positive test for which had already been sanctioned.”
Jeff Novitzky, ESPN MMA, 23 December 2018
I hope that Jeff Novitsky will pardon my paraphrasing, but here is my attempt to steelman his argument. According to Novitsky, the M3 metabolite appears longer in the testing process, and no metabolites that can be detected in a shorter duration were found; therefore, Jon Jones never re-ingested the turinabol. This brings about an important question: has any athlete ever tested positive for any of the other metabolite? In The JRE MMA Show #53, Novitsky uses the reference “Detection and Mass Spectrometric Characterization of Novel Long-term Dehydrochloromethyltestosterone Metabolites in Human Urine” written by Tim Sobolevsky and Grigory Rodchenkov to describe the different metabolites of turinabol and their duration of detection. From a historical perspective, this document was integral in the detection of turinabol. The first athlete that was reported by USADA to be sanctioned for turinabol was Frank Mir on 17 April 2017. The report goes back to 2001, and no one had ever been sanctioned for turinabol until after they utilized the Sobolevsky/Rodchenkov protocol for finding the M3 metabolite. Since then, they have discovered:
Dosterschill, Robert Kyle; Weightlifting; Androgenic Anabolic Steroid, Amphetamine, Drostanolone, Mesterolone and dehydrochloromethyltestosterone (DHCMT); 4-Year Suspension – Loss of Results; 05/31/2017
Roman, Lazaro; Weightlifting; Higenamine, Clomiphene, Dehydrochloromethyltestosterone (DHCMT); 4-Year Suspension – Loss of Results; 03/09/2018
Dudeck, Cameron; Weightlifting; DHCMT;4-Year Suspension – Loss of Results; 09/17/2018
There is somewhat of an inconsistency in the USADA report that I debated whether or not to include in this article because it does not agree with my thesis; nevertheless, I find it to be noteworthy, so do with it what you will: Jon Jones was not recorded as a turinabol violator. According to USADA, he tested positive for a “chlorine-substituted anabolic steroid.” This could refer to many compounds including clostebol, drostanolone, epitiostanol, mesterolone, stenbolone, and others.
It is also noteworthy to mention that all of these athletes were first time offenders, so they share a fact pattern that is similar to Jon Jones. Why don’t they pull their biological passports and look at that “gotcha” moment where they test positive for any other of the metabolites that only stay in the system for brief periods of time? With any of these athletes, could we determine when they took the banned substance based on the data we have available? If the tested value for M3 is dropping with each test, maybe we could make an educated guess that it is just working its way out of the system, but with Jon’s values, they fluctuate. Again, I am no expert on this subject, but I couldn’t reliably predict whether his post-fight test will produce a higher or lower M3 value than the December 9th test. Could anybody?
“It may be hiding in the fat tissues surrounding organs and maybe having a pulsing effect, where it’s released at certain times, and other times, you can’t detect it.”
Jeff Novitzky, The JRE MMA Show #53 with Jeff Novitzky, 27 December 2018
The explanation as to why Jone’s M3 values have been fluctuating is because of the “pulsing effect.” In The JRE MMA Show #53, Jeff Novitzky is very careful in saying that clomiphene and turinabol are two completely different compounds, but they share a common link: they are both chlorine salts. He doesn’t claim this to be the same for turinabol, but shares a summary of a peer-reviewed study from The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism that shows irregular excretion rates of clomiphene that seem to mirror Jon Jones’ tests. There are two problems with this: First, the twelve males that participated in the study were given ample doses of clomiphene daily. This defies the July 2017 narrative of how he was accidently exposed to a trace amount of turinabol that was like “throwing a pinch of salt in a swimming pool.” Secondly, Jon Jones tested positive for and received a one-year-suspension on 7 November 2016 for the use of clomiphene. The narrative used here was that he used a male enhancing supplement that leads to the one-time, accidental exposure. There was no record of any “pulsing effect” from that exposure.
I also would like to address the theory that it is “hiding in fat tissues.” To determine this, we have to look at the hydrophobic potential of the molecule because lipids (fatty acids) are hydrophobic. It has a chlorine atom covalently bound to it, and it carries a positive charge, so the potential is very low. This means that M3 is much more likely to dissolve in water rather than fat; so, the likelihood of this theory being accurate is also very low. The weight cutting that Jon Jones did coinciding with the positive test results is outstanding reasoning, but the biochemistry says otherwise.
“I put a pictogram of a steroid in my body.”
Jon Jones, The UFC 232 Pre-Fight Press Conference, 27 December 2018
At the UFC 232 pre-fight press conference, Jon Jones was substituting the “pictogram” for “picogram” and only claimed to have taken a single picogram of the banned substance. This is 100% false. I don’t believe that Jon Jones was intentionally lying—as he admitted in the press conference, his academic proficiency in the sciences is lacking. Jon Jones also said that the amount he took was about as significant as throwing a grain of salt into an Olympic sized swimming pool.
We have to understand that the M3 metabolite is not the equivalent to turinabol. Take a look at this image:
This is the proposed metabolic breakdown from turinabol from a paper titled “Critical Point of View on Method for Detection of Novel Metabolites of Turinabol” published by Arthur T. Kopylov as part of CAS proceedings. At the top, you can see the description of the change in the molecule—bonds breaking down, compounds releasing, and so on, and on the bottom, you can see the mass spectrometry analysis of the compound that is used to determine that it is M3 in a test. According to the law of conservation of mass, matter cannot be created or destroyed. What this means, in this situation, is that M3 has to come from somewhere. There isn’t going to be spontaneous creation of M3 metabolites in the body just because you took turinabol at one point; instead, the turinabol, through enzymatic reactions, becomes M3.
I am not suggesting that this is what happened with Jon Jones, but frankly, we will never know what happened, but I want to use this example to show people how this works. Let’s say that athlete x tests positive for turinabol and the urinary excretion of 20 picograms of M3. Let’s say that they keep testing that athlete from that day forward and collect every drop of urine coming out of athlete x for the rest of his life. Well, athlete x urinates about 2 liters of urine every day. That’s 730 liters a year, and we collect for two years. Athlete x expresses this “pulsing effect,” but when we take the average, we see a mean value of 20pg/ml. These picograms are starting to add up! We went from a picogram to 0.0292 milligrams (and everyone knows what a milligram is and how powerful these synthetic androgens are). Now, since matter cannot be created or destroyed, there is a 1:1 ratio of the M3 detected to the turinabol; however, the M3 metabolite is not the only conversion/excretion of turinabol. Once we adjust for the difference in mass, and the population frequency of excretion, and we don’t even know the date that this started, so we end up with a value that looks like way more than the accidental ingestion of a trace amount of turinabol. What is the minimum effective dose of turinabol? How much of a performance benefit would someone get from 1 mg of turinabol? Now athlete x’s story is looking less and less credible. Again, this is just a hypothetical. In reality, we don’t know enough about Jon Jones’ case to even guess whether or not this was true for him. It was not wise of me to propose this hypothetical situation because I am missing so much crucial information, so why is okay for anti-doping agencies to do the same for athletes in a testing pool?
What Needs to Happen:
It is so evident to me that more research needs to be done on turinabol. We need to get a better idea about the toxicity and metabolism of this drug, we need to understand which enzymes in the cytochrome P450 pathway are acting on turinabol, we need to have a complete recreation of the metabolites so that we can measure everything going in and everything coming out, we need to understand the ratio of metabolites and collect a large population sample to make statistical comparisons, and we need to stop making assumptions. My biggest gripe with all of this is that we are assuming thigs to be true, and we have no idea. I could present my “athlete x” hypothetical as fact, and it holds just as much water as many of the theories that I have heard in these press releases.
Why can’t USADA just say something like, “Hey guys. We’re doing the best we can here, but we are dealing with a compound which there is very little information. We don’t want to punish Jon Jones because we don’t have all of the answers, so we are going to let him fight.” I’d be okay with that. It’s honest!
Conclusion: Jeff Novitzky is Doing A Great Job!
I quoted Jeff Novitzky several times and challenged some of his quotes, but you have to understand the difference between a primary resource, and third-hand information. When we are getting information from Jeff Novitzky, we are essentially getting third-hand information from USADA, and to some extent, WADA. He didn’t come up with this. He didn’t make any of the decisions related to Jon Jones. He is merely reporting what he is being told from USADA, and he has been very clear to say so. When has he ever said, “Jon Jones only took a picogram of turinabol?” He says things like, “According to USADA….According to WADA….According to the experts that I have spoken to.” Novitzky is in the dark just like the rest of us. At least he is being honest about it. He says that he has a financial background, not one rooted in science. When he doesn’t know something, he says so, and he has been very cautious with his speech.
I also really like how Joe Rogan handled himself in the interview. He asked a lot of brilliant questions. I have been paying attention to his podcast for a while now, and it never ceases to amaze me when he is talking to someone about a topic that he is not so familiar with and he makes the guest break down things that don’t make sense to him and he rarely ever lets people talk above his level of understanding.
Finally, I wish the best for Jon Jones. I hope that one day the science does prove his innocence one day, but to see him at the press conference with a big grin on his face because someone told him some less than conclusive information, and exaggerated details. He was talking about how his legacy was going to be saved by the findings. What happens if this works out against him? What’s that going to do to him? I sincerely hope that things don’t play out that way and I think that it was wrong to sell that narrative to him.