College athletes in marijuana-legal states are taking a collective sigh of relief after the largest university athletics organization on Saturday significantly increased its tolerance for THC use.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which regulates competition for nearly 1,300 U.S. universities and is worth over $1 billion annually, will raise the THC blood content threshold for a positive test from 35 nanograms per milliliter to 150 nanograms per milliliter to match the limits permitted by the World Anti-Doping Agency.
The NCAA said the new rule will also be applied retroactively to drug tests taken since September 2021. Student-athletes who test positive for marijuana will now have four strikes before losing their eligibility to compete.
The new rules
Instead of being tossed out after a first positive test, an athlete must submit to the NCAA and undertake in a management plan and education to reduce their cannabis use. The athlete could then remain eligible after two subsequent positive tests if the NCAA determines he or she is following that management plan.
Dr. Brian Hainline, the NCAA’s chief medical officer, said the organization’s change in heart came after its leadership along with student advocates requested that it adapt to “rapidly evolving public health and cultural views regarding cannabis use.”
“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,” Hainline said in a statement.
Adult-use marijuana is legal for adults in 18 states and Washington D.C., while some form of cannabis is allowed in a total of 38 states.
Sports leagues and cannabis
The NCAA’s announcement follows moves from other major U.S. sports leagues in recent years to mitigate or eliminate penalties for athletes that use the plant. Major League Baseball has already taken cannabis off its banned substance list, while the National Basketball Association announced it would not be testing athletes for cannabis this season.
The National Hockey League and National Football League have also reduced penalties for marijuana use, and the NFL recently donated $1 million to a pair of universities conducting research on cannabinoids for pain and as neuroprotection from concussion in its players.