Who Drug Tests and Why
The idea of submitting to a drug test is both uncomfortable and scary for many cannabis consumers, whether they use marijuana medically or recreationally. There is still a lot of grey area about how drug testing should be handled in states that allow for medical or recreational marijuana, but ultimately it is up to your employer as to whether or not they find it important to drug test and what they deem as an acceptable amount of cannabis in your system.
According to a 2006 survey from the Society for Human Resource Management, 84% of private employers drug test potential applicants before hiring, 39% of companies randomly drug test, 73% of employers conduct drug testing when given probable cause, and 58% drug test after work accidents. Each employer can choose to abide by state or federal law when it comes to cannabis, but many companies that do business across state lines follow federal guidelines. This means the company most often will ban their employees from using cannabis, even medically, which puts many people in a difficult situation between taking medication and losing their jobs.
How Long Does Cannabis Stay in Your System?
Standard drug tests are far more likely to detect cannabis than more illicit drugs, like cocaine, because of the way it is metabolized by your body. As many people know, cannabis does not dissipate from your system quickly, which can lead to confusion about when the cannabis was consumed. If your employer allows for use of medical marijuana outside of work hours, but does not allow for consumption while on the job, it can be impossible for a test to prove if cannabis was consumed inside or outside of work hours.
Previously it was believed that cannabis could stay in your system for 30 days, but it is actually much more variable than that. Ryan Vandrey, a professor of psychiatry at John Hopkins University says, “It is highly variable from person to person and it varies based on the frequency of use and the amount of use. So there is no way of predicting or knowing how long someone would test positive with any kind of certainty.”
To complicate matters, there are many different kinds of drug tests. Though a typical drug test by an employer is often conducted using urine, tests can also be conducted using saliva, blood, hair and breath. Hair tests can often detect cannabis for a far longer time than other tests, up to 90 days after cannabis was consumed.
What drug tests actually test for is not THC, but a THC metabolite called THC-COOH. Most tests do not test for the presence of CBD or metabolites of other cannabinoids. THC-COOH stays in your system far longer than THC itself. A review of studies published in the Drug Court Practitioner Fact Sheet found that in the case of urine tests, THC-COOH is rarely detected 30 days after consumption. Another study from the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment in 1984, however, found that some cannabis had been found in the system of participants up to 40 days after consumption.
The factors that make THC metabolites detectable in your system longer than usual are chronic usage, dehydration, and body composition. The metabolites store well in fat, meaning that people with lower body fat often rid themselves of cannabis within their system faster. Drinking lots of water, eating a balanced diet with low levels of fat, and exercise can all help boost your metabolism which helps rid your body of the metabolites more quickly, though they are not a guarantee.
If you only consume CBD products, you will most likely not test positive for cannabis, unless you consume very large amounts of CBD products with trace quantities THC, which could lead to a positive test result. It is also possible for second hand smoke to trigger a positive test result, though it is very rare and requires very close contact while another person is smoking.
What’s the Future of Drug Testing?
Drug testing is fairly simple. There is an amount of THC-COOH that can be found in a sample that is deemed acceptable by the company you work for, which is commonly 50ng/ml. If your sample alerts to a higher level than the acceptable amount, then the sample is often retested to confirm the findings. The simple process of drug testing, however, can greatly change the lives of many people who use cannabis as a medication.
The main roadblock to eliminating cannabis drug testing as a standard is the federal status of the substance. Many people argue that cannabis consumption for medicinal purposes should be protected under the American’s with Disabilities Act, which says that reasonable accommodations should be made for qualified candidates.
In theory, more companies should be tolerant of cannabis use if their employees are registered medical marijuana users, but the whole issue is still a large grey area. Companies are stuck between abiding by federal government law by saying cannabis is an illegal substance and risking repercussions for not providing their employees with the ability to use a viable medication. Sadly, until the federal government changes the way it views cannabis, it will be hard for medical marijuana patients to gain protection during company sanctioned drug tests. It is important that patients stay informed about their employers drug testing policy so they can be prepared for a possible drug test and the potential implications.