NCAA Removes Cannabinoids (Marijuana) From Its List of Banned Drugs for Championships (D1)

The NCAA Division I council has removed cannabis and cannabis products like marijuana from their list of banned substances and any student-athletes currently serving penalties will have those penalties discontinued.

The ruling is specific to Division I athletics and does not apply to the Division II or Division III levels, though Division II and Division III adopted similar proposals in January that are in effect now, but awaiting final ratification by their memberships next January.

“The NCAA drug testing program is intended to focus on integrity of competition, and cannabis products do not provide a competitive advantage,” said Josh Whitman, chair of NCAA’s Division I Council and the athletic director at the University of Illinois. “The council’s focus is on policies centered on student-athlete health and well-being rather than punishment for cannabis use.”

The NCAA says that it will shift its focus to education and harm-reduction strategies.

“Cannabinoids will be addressed like other non-performance enhancing drugs like alcohol,” the NCAA’s public relations group said. “NCAA members will focus on harm-reduction strategies problematic cannabis use, centering health of student-athletes.”

During the regular season, schools have their own drug testing policies and standards, with NCAA testing, standards, and penalties taking over in the postseason. This ruling technically only applies to the post-season when the NCAA’s policies are in effect, though it is expected to strongly influence how individual schools handle these tests.

The removal was recommended by an NCAA panel last summer. The NCAA recently conducted a survey on student-athlete substance use, surveying more than 23,000 student-athletes from across the country. Self-reported cannabis use increased to 26% as compared to 25% in 2017 and 22% in 2013. Use was reported as highest in men’s sports, at the D3 school, and for those attending schools in places where recreational marijuana use has been legalized.

26% is lower than the 40% usage rates from surveys among general undergraduate populations.

The NCAA’s ruling still leaves many student-athletes in limbo as they are subject to the parallel rules of the World Anti-Doping Association, which has a threshold for a positive test set at 150 nanograms per milliliter – which is roughly three times more lenient than the old NCAA policies of 50 ng/ml.

There are about 1,100 schools in the U.S. and Canada; Canada is the first G7 nation to legalize recreational marijuana on the federal level. In the U.S., it has been approved recreationally in 24 states as well as the District of Columbia and medically in 38 states (and D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and U.S. Virgin Islands).

Federally, the U.S. Justice Department and DEA earlier this year reclassified marijuana from a Schedule I drug (alongside substances like heroine, ecstasy, and cocaine) to a Schedule III drug (alongside substances like ketamine, anabolic steroids, and codeine). U.S. President Joe Biden endorsed that move.

The drug is being viewed as a possible solution to the opioid epidemic, offering an alternative to more dangerous and highly addictive pain killers.

Case Study: Florida Atlantic University researches conducted a study on marijuana-related deaths in Florida from 2014 through 2020, and found that the 386 people in the state died as a result of cannabis use. 258 of those were caused by synthetic cannabis usage, and nearly 65% of these cases involved synthetic cannabis as the only drug. Read more about the research here. Comparatively, Schedule I drugs are connected with a relatively-higher rate of deaths. A 2018 study in Florida found 2,882 statewide cocaine deaths over a four year period, with most of those involving cocaine in combination with other drugs. Read more about that research here.

In 2021, American track star Sha’Carri Richardson was infamously removed from the U.S. Olympic Team as the result of a positive test for THC. The White House said that it was pushing for a review of the rules relating to cannabis use in sport.

Among the swimmers who have been banned from competition by an anti-doping authority after testing positive for THC include American Tate Jackson.

Singapore’s Olympic gold medalist Joseph Schooling was recently barred by his country from competing after confessing to using marijuana, but that ban was the result of Singapore military policy and was not within the anti-doping framework.

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15 days ago

Snoop Dogg is headed to college!

16 days ago

I have never taken weed myself. I did have a roommate that took it daily. One of the things I really noticed was that it helped him sleep amazingly. SO in the sense that it really does calm you down and put you to sleep, I think it definitely can enhance recovery. Now I don’t know if it overall makes a difference, ultimately I think someone who wanted to sleep would sleep regardless, but I think if there was an argument to be made that it is performance enhancing, that would be the best grounds for it, much more so than it being a drug that directly correlates to better performance for athletes.

Reply to  Carter
16 days ago

hehe, ‘take weed’.

Post grad swimmer
Reply to  Carter
14 days ago

Ah yes, next time I can’t fall asleep I’ll just tell myself that I don’t want it enough

The Michael Phelps Caterpillar
16 days ago

I cannot believe this. Marijuana is the most overdosed drug in America and now we are actively encouraging our youth to smoke it? I fear for us….

Reply to  The Michael Phelps Caterpillar
16 days ago

Ambien is prescribed for sleep also because it’s better for putting one to sleep than cannabis and it’s not a banned substance.

be fr
16 days ago

war is over…

16 days ago

Chat is this poggers?

pete kennedy
16 days ago

Student health – so says the NCAA.

Aragon Son of Arathorne
16 days ago

about time- weed does nothing to enhance performance. If anything the opposite.

Former swimmer
Reply to  Aragon Son of Arathorne
16 days ago

Yeah, I’m wondering if the people that are down voting have never toked up or taken an edible. It’s laughable that it would be considered performance enhancing in any capacity.

Last edited 16 days ago by Former swimmer
David S
17 days ago

Are psychedelics allowed in university sport?

Reply to  David S
15 days ago

They don’t test for psychedelics and they have an incredibly short half life.

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Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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