‘I was drugging myself for the past three years’: How Johnny Walker found new life ahead of UFC 279

Johnny Walker hasn’t been the same for the past three years, he said in an interview with MMA Fighting’s Trocação Franca. The Brazilian brawler, who returns to action Saturday against Ion Cutelaba at UFC 279, opened up on how using cannabidiol (CBD) led to a decrease in quality of life and mental health issues.

Walker started using CDB oil during his UFC run to improve his sleep and recovery from injuries after being approached by companies offering sponsorship deals in the past, but it took years for him to detect it was the cause of the many issues he’s experienced.

“I had no idea, and only found out four or five months ago, that CBD has a small amount of THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) in it, a small percentage, and I’m extremely allergic to THC,” Walker said. “It gives me schizophrenia, panic attack. I was getting drugged every single day for the last three years and didn’t know. It’s not strong, it’s a small percentage, but my brain is super sensitive for those substances and I didn’t know.”

Walker said he had two “episodes” in the past years that were caused by his CBD use.

After his fight against Thiago Santos in October 2021, Walker decided to take “ten doses” of CBD to ease the pain caused by an ankle injury suffered in the five-round decision loss, leaving him “f****** crazy” for days.

The panic attacks grew even worse during a vacation trip to Thailand with his fiancee, he said.

“I went to Thailand and the first week there I had an episode, the [CBD I used] had higher levels of THC,” Walker said. “It’s not a huge amount, but high enough for my brain. It took me 10 days to get back [to normal], brother. I was messed up for 10 days. My fiancee had to take care of me like a baby. I wouldn’t let her get away from me, I trusted nobody.

“She was giving me diazepam to sleep but I spit it out, I didn’t trust her. She put diazepam in a pudding and I ate two of them. I slept for half an hour and woke up and she had left for a massage, and I went after her. I took a van, a taxi, I went after her. Brother, I gave her a hard time. I woke up in the middle of the night seeing things, woke up and started packing my bags saying I wanted to go home, that I couldn’t stay there anymore. It was a tough episode, brother, and I knew it wasn’t normal.”

Walker said he did some research on CBD earlier this year and realized it wasn’t good for him. He’s now sleeping “like a baby” with the help of two mental coaches and no medication, and the 30-year-old feels his mental health is finally where it should be.

“When I stopped using [CBD] I became more confident and trusted people more, could focus on a goal and get early to the gym. My life is 100 percent better now, brother,” he said. “I was drugging myself for the past three years and I didn’t even know. I’m simply healthier now, head in the right place, able to make plans and everything is working out.

“I was having arguments with my fiancee all the time, thinking of a bunch of crap. I wasn’t acting like my real self, you know? It was affecting me a lot and I had no idea what it was. The more anxious I got, the more CBD I took, thinking ‘this sh*t will help me calm down,’ and was drugging me more with the poison. I’m not saying [CBD] is like that for everybody, it’s good for anxiety, but not for me, who has hyperactivity (ADHD). THC wasn’t good [for me] and I didn’t know.

“I’m back to being that guy I was. I didn’t need any of that — only rice, beans, and supplements, training f*cking hard and nothing else. I’m better now with all the experience I got, at the level I am. I’m fighting the best in the world and I have to take the responsibility. I know it’s hard. They train hard like I do, they’re great, they’re champions in their countries.”

Feeling “more mature” as a man and athlete and reading more books every week — he’s reading ‘Behind The Mask’ by Tyson Fury at the moment — Walker said the past three years were “a difficult moment” for him because “life doesn’t prepare you when you go from nothing to success, fame and money, other countries and other opportunities.”

“We have to stumble and lean how to deal with everything around you,” he said. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes and learned with every single one of them. I had mental health problems over the last three years and managed to win. I’m more focused now. I was always a bit late to practice, focused on different things, doing more strength and conditioning. Now I understand what I need. I’m a fighter, I’m not a weightlifter. I focused more on martial arts this time.

“It’s a daily struggle,” he added, “but I’m ready, I’m happy, I’m motivated, I’m back, and I’ve won already. Let’s go.”

Walker has lost four of his past five fights in the UFC after an impressive 3-0 start in the company, and feeling better mentally could help deal with the pressure of having his back against the wall.

Cutelaba is also looking to rebound from a loss, a first-round submission defeat to Ryan Spann in May.

“If Cutelaba fights like he does in all of his fights, I’ll knock him out,” Walker said. “I’ll catch him with a counter or set up some traps for him, make him miss a punch and when he does, it’ll be ugly. If he takes me down, he has no jiu-jitsu for me. His jiu-jitsu isn’t tight enough and he won’t be able to hold me there, and I can submit him. But the plan is to knock him out.”