Pot Smoking Triples in NCAA Drug Survey

By Dirk Hanson 07/01/11

From 28 college athletes in 2008, to 71 in 2009, if you want to get technical about it. Did we mention it was off-season?

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Swimmer Michael Phelps, case in point.
Photo via roblongshow

When we were in college, it was always the swimmers. Why do you think they can hold their breath so long? Michael Phelps came as no surprise to us. Phelps was caught on film toking on a bong, after winning a record eight gold medals in the Beijing Olympics, which is even more medals than swimmer Mark Spitz, widely known as a non-pot smoking Olympic medalist, won in his day. Nor were we surprised at the results of a recent analysis by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which sparked a few alarming headlines with its finding that college athletes were testing positive for marijuana at three times the rate found a year earlier. The NCAA believes this to be a matter of concern, primarily because the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, the official testing organization for the Olympics, believes it to be a matter of concern. “It’s too early to tell if this is a one-year spike or indication of a larger problem,” said an NCAA spokesperson.

We agree. Because, first, the study was based on athletes who tested positive for pot at postseason events, not during the season. And because, second, the tripling business turns out to be an actual increase from 28 positives in 2008, to 71 positives in 2009. Oh, and three, the marijuana positives represented less than 3% of the total samples tested for the NCAA survey, according to USA Today. No matter. Travis Tygart, head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, said that “even if the use was not criminal or was for medicinal purposes, sports are unique and are supposed to present human competition at its finest.” Oh, please. Hand us a shovel. At the last human competition we saw on video, fans set the torch to downtown Vancouver in a frenzied postgame riot triggered by alcohol, not marijuana. And it seemed like half the promising MLB players in spring training this year got arrested for DUI. No word on whether the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency plans to inaugurate stringent off-season booze testing for college players—and coaching staff.

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]