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NCAA Ups Threshold for Acceptable THC Levels

Andy Berg

The NCAA has approved new rules around testing student-athletes for THC, the active compound found in marijuana.

The new rules increase the testing threshold from 15 to 35 nanograms per milliliter in order to prevent those who have inhaled cannabis via second hand smoke from triggering a positive test and facing penalties.

“The committee wanted to be fair and to eliminate, as best as we could, penalizing students who receive passive smoke,” said Doug Ramos, committee chair and Creighton team physician, in a post on the NCAA’s website. “The decision is based on the science that pertains to passive inhalation." 

The NCAA raised the threshold from 5 to 15 nanograms per milliliter in 2017 out of concern for passive inhalation. Since the shift, the NCAA’s drug-testing partner, Drug Free Sport International, has tested 675 student-athletes, with 78 yielding a positive test. Of those, 40 percent registered lower than 50 nanograms per milliliter, including several student-athletes who indicated the positive test was the result of second-hand inhalation.

The new rules come as marijuana available on the market becomes increasingly potent, with higher THC content than in the past. The new threshold of 35 nanograms per milliliter is identical to the standard used by the NFL, NBA and WNBA. 

The NCAA said the move was in no way intended to endorse the use of marijuana.

“The committee also didn’t want to place the threshold too high and imply that the NCAA condones cannabis use,” Ramos said. “This is a health and safety issue — even though it is now more accepted nationally and societally, there are some detrimental effects.”

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