Here is where I recognize that I'm horribly out of touch with the youth of America, because I had no idea that synthetic marijuana was an actual thing that kids used to get high. I dismissed it as a bogeyman like bath salts or meow meow or cheesing, but science has apparently come up with a non-marijuana product that mimics the effects of cannabis. And apparently, it works.
I would have known all this if I had hung out with Tyrann Mathieu, Spencer Ware and Tharold Simon, the three LSU players suspended for Saturday's Auburn game after testing positive for synthetic marijuana. They'd tell you that the synthetic stuff might be easier on the lungs than the real deal, but the effects don't last as long. And since the DEA banned the sale and possession of synthetic marijuana in March, it's no easier to get and the penalties are no less stiff. So the question is, why not just smoke real weed?
Because the NCAA can't touch you for the fake stuff. Only because it was LSU doing its own optional testing did these three get caught. Drug Free Sport, which handles the NCAA's drug testing, puts players through the most common urinalysis test, which will turn up positives for the "big five": marijuana, amphetamines, heroin, opiates and PCP. This doesn't include the synthetic cannabinoids, so even if a player is chosen for NCAA drug testing the day after smoking an entire bag of spice, it wouldn't raise a red flag. (The NCAA's testing program only requires a minimum of 18 football players from each team to be tested annually, but that's a different story.)
The NCAA's associate director of health and safety tells ESPN that this is because their drug labs aren't equipped to test for synthetics, but it may be more of a cost problem. The standard-issue drug test runs about $35 per person, but to test for every substance on the NCAA's banned substance list (synthetic marijuana was added this summer) would run upwards of $300 per player. Instead the NCAA leaves it up to individual schools, which have an awful lot of leeway.
Schools can decide which drugs to test for (LSU is in the minority in that they do test for synthetic marijuana), and more importantly the schools get to hand out their own arbitrary discipline. A positive test is a mandatory one-year suspension from the NCAA, but since Mathieu, Ware and Simon ran afoul of LSU's voluntary testing, Les Miles and Joe Alleva will handle sentencing. In this case, it looks like the Fake Weed Three will miss one game. Even that's a harsh sentence compared to others: Kansas notoriously sentences its drug offenders to "three or four" counseling sessions.