NCAA committee recommends colleges stop testing athletes for cannabis

NCAA cannabis drug testing

College athletes are no longer sweating the small stuff (like weed) following a recent decision from the NCAA. The NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports (CSMAS) directed the collegiate athletic divisions to stop drug testing athletes for cannabinoids. The focus will move toward harm reduction, centering on those struggling with addiction rather than medical or responsible adult use.

“We are recommending a big shift in the paradigm when it comes to cannabinoids. We want to modernize the strategy with the most up-to-date research to give schools the best opportunity to support the health of student-athletes,” said James Houle, committee chair and lead sport psychologist at Ohio State, in a press release.

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Fall meeting results in cannabis-forward result

Last week, CSMAS met in Indianapolis to discuss cannabinoids, concussion safety, and mental health. The meeting resulted in an official ruling from the Committee that drug testing for cannabis is no longer required. However, this recommendation is contingent on rule changes from the three division presidents.

Drug testing is conducted on campus by universities. The schools decide how frequently to test student-athletes. The Committee has directed cannabis drug testing solely to identify if a student-athlete has a substance issue that requires treatment.

The decision comes after fact-finding at the December 2022 Summit on Cannabinoids in College Athletics, where empowered parties agreed that cannabis was not a performance-enhancing drug. They also deemed a harm-reduction approach to cannabinoids more suitable than prohibition.

This Summit inspired CSMAS to signal unofficial support for removing cannabis from college athlete drug testing in June, alerting the NCAA Board of Governors that this drug testing policy change was on the table. This recent announcement is the final move from CSMAS solidifies that:

  • The existing policy of banning, testing, and penalizing is ineffective.
  • The NCAA drug-testing program addresses only performance-enhancing substances.
  • A harm-reduction strategy that prioritizes education and support at the school level is more effective than penalties.

Now, the ball is in the court of Division I, II, and III memberships, which set their own rules. The change could take a couple of months as each governing body goes through voting and structuring processes. CSMAS has instructed each division to incorporate a “robust” educational program on public safety and harm reduction alongside removing cannabis from performance-enhancing drug testing.

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This recent recommendation continues an athletic movement to free the plant seen as high up as the NBA and UFC. Cannabis is slowly sauntering off the NCAA performance-enhancing drug list to be managed similarly to alcohol. Whether they consume tincture for workout recovery or share a joint with 21+ teammates at a bonding event, college athletes may be able to stop stressing about their drug tests soon.

Cara Wietstock is Senior Content Producer of and has been working in the cannabis space since 2011. She has covered the cannabis business beat for Ganjapreneur and The Spokesman Review. You can find her living in Bellingham, Washington with her husband, son, and a small zoo of pets.