NCAA Changes THC Limits for Student-Athletes

At a recent February meeting, the Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports (CSMAS) made an increase in the THC limit for student-athletes who test positive. The other important part of this is that they are also reconfiguring the penalty structure if you do fail a drug test.

The increase in the THC limit follows in line with the World Anti-Doping Agency. It increases the allowable levels of THC from 35 nanograms per liter up to 150 nanograms per liter. It is a substantial increase in the allowable THC levels and these changes are effective immediately. In fact, the increased levels are also applicable to any drug tests that were given in the fall of 2021 as well. The NCAA also made clear that the THC threshold limit for student-athletes could change in the future depending on the WADA.

What Is the Rationale

When it comes to THC it seems everyone has a different opinion. The NCAA wants to be careful not to encourage drug or substance abuse. But this decision was mainly based on THC not being a performance-enhancing substance.

“Reconsidering the NCAA approach to cannabis testing and management is consistent with feedback from membership on how to better support and educate student-athletes in a society with rapidly evolving public health and cultural views regarding cannabis use,” said Dr. Brian Hainline, the NCAA’s chief medical officer. “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.”

What Is the Proposed Penalty Structure for THC

Not only did the NCAA decide to more than quadruple the limit of allowable THC but it is also looking to reduce the penalties if you test over the limits. As of now, these new penalties are only proposed. Drug testing penalties are regulated by NCAA bylaws. This means that each division will actually need to adopt the new regulations on an individual basis. There isn’t any reason to think that each of the divisions will follow suit with the recommendation.

The proposal for positive THC testing is as follows:

  • First positive test: No loss of eligibility but the school must provide a plan to manage and educate the student-athlete.
  • Second failed test: Again, no loss of eligibility if the school provides a plan to manage and educate the athlete. School must also confirm the athlete was in compliance with the original plan. The athlete has to sit out for 25% of regular-season contests only if they were not compliant with the original plan.
  • Third failed THC test: Again, no loss of eligibility if the school provides a management and education plan as long as they confirm the athlete was compliant with the first two treatment plans. If the student-athlete was not compliant they have to sit out for 50% of regular-season contests.

In a way, these guidelines seem ridiculous. They more than quadrupled the allowable limit and then there are really no penalties for failing the drug test. On top of that, the only eligibility they seem to be removing for not following a plan is for regular-season games. It specifically spells out regular-season so you can only assume none of this even matters when it comes time for playoffs.

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