Among members of the cannabis community, drug testing is often a lingering issue that is an unfortunate part of life. For the lucky cannabis consumers that are not subjected to drug testing, it’s not a concern, however, for the rest of the cannabis community it can be a major life hurdle.
One area where testing for cannabis is very common is in the employment arena. For some candidates, it’s only required at the time of hiring. For others, it may be ongoing and at random times.
Many professional athletes around the world are subjected to drug testing. Depending on the sports league or type of athletic competition, a professional athlete can be subjected to random, mandatory drug testing with very stringent limits.
For instance, the National Basketball Association holds all of its players to a threshold of 15 ng/mL of THC, regardless of the legal status of cannabis in the state or country where they reside, Olympic athletes are held to a standard of 150 ng/mL.
Common drug testing practices and policies in professional sports is rarely based on sound science. A new testing model recently adopted by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) could become the new standard for drug testing in professional sports across the globe, and would be a significant improvement compared to current practices.
A New Drug Testing Pilot Program in the UFC
The UFC has launched a pilot program in which an oral-based drug test will be used instead of a urine-based drug test.
Urine based drug tests measure metabolized THC, which can be problematic because of various factors:
- How fast the human body metabolizes THC
- The duration of impairment depending on consumption method
- How long THC stays in a person’s system
- Tolerance level
Just because someone has THC metabolites in their urine does not mean that they are impaired at the time that the test was taken. Cannabis can stay in a person’s system for as long as 100 days according to at least one study, which means that a failed drug test could be due to consumption that occurred months prior, rather than in the near past.
The new oral-based test that the UFC is piloting will detect cannabis consumption that was more recent, and will hopefully result in less athletes being sanctioned for cannabis use that did not result in on-the-job impairment.
Does a ‘Perfect’ Sports Cannabis Drug Test Policy Exist?
Cannabis prohibition is a harmful policy, whether it exists in public policy or elsewhere, including professional sports. With that being said, it’s a reasonable standard for employers to expect their employees to refrain from being impaired while on the clock. It’s part of responsible use on the part of the cannabis consumer.
However, professional sports leagues and regulatory bodies have a responsibility to ensure that impairment concerns are addressed in a manner that is fair and based on science, and not based on outdated political views.
The approach that is being piloted by the UFC is better than other forms of drug test collection. However, that’s not to say that the approach is perfect. Collecting oral saliva samples may indicate recent cannabis use, yet it still doesn’t prove impairment.
If a competitor micro-dosed cannabis, they could theoretically fail a drug test while at the same time been sober at the time that the test was conducted. Because of that further research and improvements are needed when it comes to sports cannabis drug testing. Hopefully that happens as professional sports leagues work to get on the right side of history.