“It’s college – everyone experiments a little.” This oft-repeated trope could soon have real-world consequences for today’s student-athletes.
The NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports recently “signaled its support” for the college athletics governing body to remove marijuana (THC) from the NCAA’s list of banned substances and instead focus testing only on “performance-enhancing drugs.”
That’s right, the governing body for college athletics might soon be telling their students – most of whom physiologically still have developing brains – that it’s OK to do drugs.
A cannabis at the “Weed the People” event as enthusiasts gather to celebrate the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana in Portland, Oregon, in 2016. (Reuters)
They appear to be willing to create this permissive environment despite a mountain of medical and scientific data that’s making it increasingly clear the impacts of today’s high-potency pot products, including vapes and candies, are even worse than we thought, particularly for our young people.
Medical science has shown there is a direct association between the frequency of marijuana use and higher THC potency with the development of drug addiction, IQ loss, motor skill loss and mental health issues, including psychosis, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and suicidality.
The NCAA would be endangering their athletes and sending a terrible message to all college students and college sports fans with this move. Ending the testing regime for student athletes when it comes to THC will doubtlessly encourage more use.
The marijuana industry has already spent enormous sums to reduce perceptions of risk and harm, especially among young people. Young people’s perceptions of harm for frequent marijuana use has dropped more than 50 points in recent years, while youth use of the drug is now at an all-time high.
The risks aren’t just for users. More young people are driving under the influence of marijuana too. In 2021, 10.67 million people admitted to driving under the influence of marijuana, including 1.36 million who were between the ages of 16 and 20. There were 2.41 times more minors on the road under the influence of marijuana than were under the influence of alcohol.
All of that should give serious pause to college administrators, athletic directors and coaches.
It is worth noting that the World Anti-Doping Agency continues to prohibit the in-competition use of cannabinoids, a position they most recently upheld in September 2022. Their three criteria for prohibiting a substance is that it has the potential to enhance performance, it threatens the health of the user, and its use violates the spirit of sport.
Despite supporters of legalization heralding commercial drugs and pot shops as social justice, only 4% of commercial marijuana businesses have any Black ownership. It’s a predatory industry. College athletics should be encouraging clean living, not capitulating to societal or commercial pressure.
The NCAA has long claimed it looks out for the best interests of the sports it governs from the perspective of the students-athletes. Opening the door to today’s high-potency THC products and increased drug use won’t bring these young people success on the field or in the classroom.