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NCAA Raises Cannabis Testing Threshold for Athletes

Avery Meeker Muu Zh Itg Qo E Unsplash
Photo Courtesy of Avery Meeker

The NCAA is changing its cannabinoid testing policies. At its Feb. 22-23 meeting, the Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports increased the THC threshold and recommended a reconfiguration of the penalty structure for student-athletes who test positive for THC.

CSMAS aligned with THC threshold levels established by the World Anti-Doping Agency, raising the threshold for student-athletes from 35 to 150 nanograms per milliliter. The threshold adjustment is effective immediately and applicable to drug tests administered in fall 2021 or later. Any future change to the NCAA threshold may occur in response to changes initiated by WADA and remain subject to CSMAS review and approval.

"Reconsidering the NCAA approach to cannabis testing and management is consistent with feedback from membership on how to better support and educate student-athletes in a society with rapidly evolving public health and cultural views regarding cannabis use," said Dr. Brian Hainline, the NCAA's chief medical officer. "Marijuana is not considered a performance- enhancing substance, but it remains important for member schools to engage student-athletes regarding substance use prevention and provide management and support when appropriate."

The committee also recommended that each division consider changes to the current penalty structure for student-athletes who test positive for THC during NCAA drug testing. Drug testing penalties are legislated under NCAA bylaws, so each division will be required to separately adopt new legislation before changes are made.

The proposed new penalty structure:

  • First positive test: No loss of eligibility if the school provides a management plan and education for the student-athlete.
  • Second positive test: No loss of eligibility if the school provides additional management and education and confirms the student-athlete was compliant with the original management and education plan. ¬†However, the student-athlete must be withheld from 25% of regular-season contests if they were not compliant with the original management and education plan.
  • Third positive test: No loss of eligibility if the school provides additional management and education and confirms the student-athlete was compliant with the previous two treatment and education plans. However, the student-athlete must be withheld from 50% of regular-season contests if they were not compliant with the previous management and education plan.

"These adjustments to the NCAA drug testing program were approved after careful consideration and extensive discussion of the recommendations made by the Drug Testing Subcommittee, which has been meeting since last fall," said Dr. Stephanie Chu, Colorado team physician and CSMAS chair. "The updated cannabis testing policies create a clear pathway for student-athletes to participate in education and management programs specific to their needs at the campus level."

Expanded CSMAS roster

The committee also recommended the addition of two new positions, which would increase the size of CSMAS from 23 to 25 members. The new positions are specifically allocated for a licensed mental health practitioner and a physician with expertise in endocrinology. Committee composition is legislated under NCAA bylaws, so each division will be required to separately adopt legislation in support of this recommendation.

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