A significant shift is underway within the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) that could reshape the landscape for college athletes. Members of the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports have officially advised the removal of marijuana from the list of prohibited substances for student-athletes. This marks a notable departure from the previous stance on cannabis within college sports.

The committee met with all three of the NCAA’s governing bodies, recommending an end to testing and subsequent punishment of student-athletes for cannabinoids, including marijuana. Members reported in June that additional input would be solicited before potential action to formalize the recommendation was executed in the fall.

Multiple factors played a part in the committee’s decision to approach ending the cannabis ban. Three reasons include finding the existing policy of banning testing and penalizing ineffective, the belief that cannabis does not fall under the category of performance-enhancing drugs, and the committee’s desire to implement an important harm-reduction strategy. These factors and doctors, membership practitioners, and substance misuse experts’ in-depth study on the issue motivate the recommendation.

Acknowledging how the cannabinoid landscape has evolved culturally and legally, the NCAA’s committee’s suggestion to exclude marijuana from student-athletes prohibited substances aims to prioritize student-athlete health and bring membership opinions to the forefront.

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In 2022, the NCAA enacted a significant policy alteration to increase the THC threshold from 35 to 150 nanograms per milliliter, similar to rules within the World Anti-Doping Agency. This latest potential cannabinoid reform will build on last year’s policy change, placing importance on allowing membership to vote on the outcome of this paradigm-shifting rule change.

The committee hopes to employ modernized strategies rooted in relevant research that equips schools to effectively support their student-athlete’s health. While the suggestion is to remove marijuana and marijuana constituents from the list of banned substances, there is also a push to develop extensive educational strategies that coincide with a potential change to legislation surrounding cannabinoids.

Policy changes influenced by the marijuana legalization movement have occurred throughout several professional athletic organizations. The NBA and its players’ union recently signed a collective bargaining agreement that the league will remove marijuana from the banned substance list. Players can also promote and invest in cannabis brands under certain conditions.

In 2021, the UFC declared that fighters would no longer be punished when testing positive for marijuana, while the NFL changed its drug testing policy in 2020. Earlier this year, the NFL and its player union announced their funding to support independent research exploring CBD’s therapeutic benefits and its potential to be a pain treatment alternative for players’ concussions, as opposed to opioids. Additional athletic organizations making CBD-based changes include the New York Media Softball League and teams within the MLB, including the Kansas City Royals and Chicago Cubs. Since marijuana legalization varies from state to state, some states, like Nevada, are more receptive to protecting athletes from marijuana possession.

The NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports could bring about a groundbreaking change in college sports with this latest recommendation.