Significant NCAA cannabis policy changes are in the works as the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports has shown support for removing cannabis from its list of banned substances. These changes, sparked by the growing recognition of cannabis not being a performance-enhancing substance, reflect the evolving societal and public health perspectives on cannabis use. Such transformations could significantly influence how student-athletes, the sports industry, and associated organizations approach cannabis usage in the future.
NCAA Cannabis Policy Changes Shaping the Future of Collegiate Athletics in 2023
On June 16, the Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports (CSMAS) of the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA), which oversees three divisions (I, II, and III), publicly endorsed the removal of cannabis from their list of prohibited substances.
This decision was influenced by a meeting held in Indianapolis at the request of Divisions II and III. Their goal was to reassess the NCAA cannabis policy, particularly whether drug testing should only focus on substances that enhance performance. This review was driven by the 2022 Summit on Cannabinoids in College Athletics, which concluded that cannabis does not enhance athletic performance and suggested a school-level approach to reducing harm from cannabis use.
CSMAS’s decision was based on several factors: the necessity of focusing on performance-enhancing substances that give athletes an unfair advantage, the adoption of a harm reduction philosophy similar to that for alcohol, and the importance of educating student athletes on the potential health effects of cannabis. As part of its proposed modifications to the existing cannabis policies, the committee supports a broad-based campaign to inform and guide NCAA members about cannabis.
In December 2022, the NCAA’s Mental Health Advisory Group had its inaugural meeting and is now updating the NCAA Mental Health Best Practices document. Brian Hainline, NCAA’s chief medical officer, emphasized the continuous priority of mental health and well-being of student-athletes since his appointment in 2013. He added that the Mental Health Advisory Group was established as part of ongoing efforts to enhance the organization’s programs and educational resources for its members and student-athletes.
The Mental Health Advisory Group’s draft document has been preliminarily approved by CSMAS. The Group is expected to continue working on the final updates this year and aims to make them available between 2024-2025.
In February 2022, CSMAS decided to raise the THC threshold for a positive cannabis drug test from 35 npm to 150 npm, aligning with the World Anti-Doping Agency standards. This decision reflected the NCAA’s evolving stance on cannabis testing and management, underpinned by the need to support and educate student-athletes in a society where perceptions of cannabis use are rapidly changing. Despite cannabis not being a performance-enhancing substance, Hainline emphasized the ongoing need for member schools to engage student-athletes in substance use prevention and to provide appropriate support and management.
Other sports organizations, such as the NBA and the NBPA, are also reevaluating their cannabis policies. They are considering lifting the ban on cannabis for their athletes and are exploring possibilities for players to invest in cannabis companies.
Additionally, the Chicago Cubs recently became the first MLB team to form a partnership with a CBD company, MYND Drinks. Alex Seyferth, Chicago Cubs Vice President of Corporate Partnerships, stated that they are proud to be the first club to partner with a CBD company. He stressed that the most important factor in this decision was choosing a brand that aligned with their values. MYND Drinks, a Chicago-based company, promotes overall wellness and helps alleviate daily stress, just like a Friday afternoon game at Wrigley Field. The partnership will be promoted through signage at Wrigley Field and other marketing initiatives.