NCAA likely to remove cannabis from banned substance list

NCAA likely to remove cannabis from banned substance list

An NCAA committee is pushing to remove cannabis from its list of banned substances, advocating that collegiate drug testing should instead focus on testing for performance-enhancing drugs rather than recreational/medical substances. The proposal was released by the Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports (CSMAS) on Friday and represents a significant divergence for the NCAA, which has been testing for cannabis at championship events for nearly four decades.

The committee has suggested a suspension of cannabis testing at all championship events until a final decision is reached. For the rules to change, the new legislation would need to be introduced and approved by all three divisions of the NCAA: Division I, II and III. Division II and III administrators were the ones who requested that the NCAA committee examine and challenge the current rules around cannabis.

This recommendation comes amid a growing trend in the US, with an increasing number of states legalizing medical or recreational cannabis use. Twenty-three states have now legalized it for recreational use. In the past two years, two prominent US track athletes, Tara Davis-Woodhall and Sha’Carri Richardson, have served short bans for positive cannabis tests, both losing US national titles as a result of their positive tests.

In 2021, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) altered its code involving cannabis, allowing for a reduced sanction if the athlete’s use occurred out of competition and unrelated to sports performance.

Last December, CSMAS acknowledged that cannabis does not provide performance-enhancing effects and suggested implementing policies that instead address the potential risks associated with excessive recreational drug use by athletes.

Tara Davis-Woodhall
US Olympian Tara-Davis Woodhall at the 2021 US Olympic Track and Field Trials. Photo: Kevin Morris

Previous studies suggest that cannabis is not a performance-enhancing substance from the perspective of speed, power or strength. In one study, researchers had cyclists use cannabis and then evaluated their performance on the bike. They looked at both speed and power, and both were decreased in the cannabis condition. Others showed minimal or no difference in performance.

A final decision is expected from the NCAA before the start of the fall season.

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