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NCAA to Consider Removing Cannabis from Banned Drug List

The committee will gather input from the membership this summer, with final action expected in the fall.

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The NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports signaled its support for removing cannabis from the Association's banned drug list and testing protocols. The committee will gather input from the membership this summer, with final action expected in the fall. 

This issue was referred to the committee, which met in Indianapolis this week, by Divisions II and III. Those divisions asked CSMAS to further consider the Association's cannabis policy and whether NCAA drug testing should be limited to performance-enhancing substances.

For the cannabinoid class to be removed from the NCAA list of banned drugs, each of the three NCAA divisional governance bodies would have to introduce and adopt legislation.

The committee will also seek support from the NCAA Board of Governors to stop testing for cannabis at NCAA championship events while legislative action is considered.

The rationale for considering the change was largely informed by the December 2022 Summit on Cannabinoids in College Athletics and includes the consensus opinion that cannabis is not a performance-enhancing drug and that a harm reduction approach to cannabis is best implemented at the school level. Additional rationale included:

  • Focusing on testing for substances that provide an unfair advantage by enhancing athletic performance.
  • Shifting toward a harm reduction philosophy for cannabis, similar to the approaches taken with alcohol.
  • Realigning toward institutional testing and how that testing supports/enhances campus efforts to identify problematic cannabis use.
  • Educating student-athletes on the health threats posed by contemporary cannabis and methods of use.
  • Identifying and explaining relevant harm reduction/mitigation strategies to those student-athletes who choose to legally consume cannabis.

In addition to the policy and testing changes, CSMAS also signaled its support for the development of a comprehensive communication and education campaign that provides guidance to the membership about cannabis. 

Trace level threshold 

CSMAS adopted a Drug-Testing Subcommittee recommendation that the trace level threshold for the banned hormone and metabolic modulator GW1516 be established at a threshold of less than 0.1 nanograms per milliliter.

The committee's action intends to limit unintended eligibility impacts on student-athletes who may test positive from unintentional ingestion of the substance (e.g., through contaminated supplements) or situations when student-athletes are disproportionately penalized due to the extended time the substance takes to completely leave the body.

The committee made this change based on the following rationale:

  • The impact on student-athletes for clearance for competition or return to eligibility.
  • The opportunity for continued education of student-athletes about GW1516 and supplement use should they test positive below the threshold.
  • NCAA drug testing and appeal data associated with GW1516 positives that suggests many positives may be a result of unintended use.
  • Subject matter expert insight regarding concentration levels and elimination response based on administration/exposure.

Mental health best practices

The committee supported the general direction of preliminary concepts developed by the Mental Health Advisory Group to update the NCAA Mental Health Best Practices document. With the committee's preliminary support, the Mental Health Advisory Group will continue its work to develop final recommended updates to the best practices for the committee to consider later this year. 

The advisory group will continue to discuss the issue, with the goal of the updates being available by the 2024-25 academic year. 

Advisory groups

CSMAS voted to establish three advisory groups for the purpose of supporting the membership in its future efforts to develop and disseminate guidance, rules and policies based on consensus of the medical, scientific, sports medicine and sport governing communities, as established in the updated NCAA constitution. The new advisory groups will be Sport-Related Illness and Injury; Performance; and Social and Interpersonal Health.

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