NCAA’s Division I Council’s Removal of Marijuana from Drug Testing Regiment Compromises Player Safety and Student-Athletes’ Long-term Brain Development

(WASHINGTON, DC) – Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) President Dr. Kevin Sabet released the following statement today in response to reports that the NCAA Division I Council has moved to remove cannabinoids from the banned drug class for championships and postseason participation in football. The policy change, which was opposed by families of student athletes, opens the door to student athletes’ use of today’s high-potency THC products and marijuana, which is known to be harmful to brain development, lower IQ, and create other health complications: 

“Opening the door to today’s high-potency THC drugs and increased drug use won’t bring these young student-athletes success on the field or in the classroom. The fact that college athletics’ governing body is telling students – most of whom physiologically still have developing brains – that it’s ok to do drugs creates serious risks and consequences, and it sends a terrible message to all college students and college sports fans. Allowing marijuana use to go on unaddressed while at the same time launching a mental health campaign is counterintuitive and sends a dangerous mixed message.

“The NCAA’s move flies in the face of science and the advice of every major medical association and Surgeons General who all recognize that today’s THC-laced drugs are damaging to the brain. Medical science has shown there is a direct associationbetween 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 decision also runs against the position of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which continues to prohibit the in-competition use of cannabinoids, a position it most recently upheld in September 2022.

Cannabis use disorder has become increasingly prevalent among college-aged Americans, with 4.8 million college-aged individuals having a marijuana use disorder in 2021. The NCAA has long claimed it looks out for the best interests of students-athletes, but that’s clearly not the case with this policy change. 

“The decision is especially disappointing because NCAA President Charlie Baker exercised leadership when addressing the real physical and mental health consequences of marijuana and THC drugs when he was Governor of Massachusetts. To see him fail to exercise the same leadership when it comes to the student-athletes is disheartening.”