By now, you’ve probably heard of cannabidiol (CBD), the incredible compound in the cannabis plant that provides relief from pain, anxiety and more without producing a high like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can. CBD is considered safe, nonintoxicating and without potential for abuse, so it greatly benefits folks looking to use cannabis’s healing powers without its mind-altering effects.
CBD is also easy to access because you can extract it from hemp, which isn’t as strictly regulated as medical or recreational cannabis.
With all of these benefits, you may think that you could never get in trouble for taking CBD. But some CBD consumers are starting to ask one important question: Can taking CBD cause me to fail a drug test?
To understand the issue with drug testing and CBD, you first have to grasp how the government defines cannabis and hemp. Hemp and cannabis are different varieties of the same type of plant, and both can produce CBD, THC and over 400 other organic chemicals. While cannabis cultivators focus on maximizing the production of these therapeutic chemicals, hemp farmers’ main concern is the production of hemp fiber, which companies then use for industrial purposes like making paper or fabrics.
Since the government is primarily concerned with regulating THC, the highly psychoactive chemical in the plant, they distinguish between hemp and cannabis based on how much THC is present. A plant with less than 0.3% THC is considered hemp. Anything above 0.3% THC is considered cannabis and falls under much stricter rules.
Many think that hemp-derived CBD products won’t have any THC in them. But in fact, most hemp products do contain at least some small amount of THC. Since drug tests are looking for THC, it’s an important distinction to understand.
There are a few different ways to test for cannabis, but they all look for the presence of THC. To determine whether there’s been any exposure to THC, the screening may examine:
In blood tests, doctors can look for THC in the blood directly. Hours or up to a single day after consuming cannabis, THC levels will be temporarily elevated—and will likely show up in your blood.
But even after these levels go back down to normal, testers can still look for its metabolite, THC-COOH. A metabolite is a substance that your body makes in the process of metabolizing something. And THC’s metabolite hangs around in the body for much longer than THC itself.
Urine tests are probably the most popular choice for drug testing, and these look for THC-COOH. Still, it’s not entirely clear how long these metabolites stay detectable in your body.
Research has shown high variability from person to person when it comes to this. Estimates have been anywhere from three to 40 days for the metabolites in the urine to totally clear someone's system. The reason for this wide range is the variability in people’s cannabis consumption and metabolism.
Those who have been taking cannabis for longer or folks who take higher doses, may find it takes longer for the metabolites to leave their body. Some people may also be naturally quicker or slower when it comes to this process, so it’s notoriously hard to predict.
Hair tests have the longest window for detection, with the ability to find metabolites up to 90 days after consumption.
Drug tests only look for THC, not CBD. So, CBD consumers may think they have nothing to worry about. But while none of these tests look for CBD directly, it may be possible (although unlikely) for tests to detect the THC in your CBD products and cause a failed test.
In fact, this has already started to happen. A woman from Atlanta says she lost a job opportunity because a pre-employment drug test showed THC in her system. She says she never consumed cannabis, other than a doctor-recommended CBD oil.
But since CBD oil can contain trace amounts of THC, if taken in big enough doses these small amounts can start to add up. For those taking high doses, such as 1,000 mg or more of CBD on a daily basis, they may be consuming a significant amount of THC without even realizing it and it could be enough to fail a drug test.
And don’t think that using CBD topically will help you avoid this problem. One study also looked at other CBD applications like using hemp oil products on hair and skin. In this study, just applying hemp CBD oil to someone’s hair could cause them to fail a hair test for THC. So, while both topical and ingestible CBD is widely available, depending on how it’s used either form could contain enough THC to trigger a positive test result.
To make matters more complicated, hemp is only approved for industrial uses—not as a food product—so it isn’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the way most products that we ingest are. No one’s checking to see if these products’ claims and dosing guidelines are accurate. It’s possible that a hemp-derived product has much more THC than is strictly legal for hemp.
Without regulation from the FDA, there’s no telling what’s in that random bottle of CBD oil you picked up at the convenience store. It may just be vegetable oil without anything else in it; it may have too much THC to be considered hemp; or it may be something more dangerous.
In Utah, something sold as CBD oil poisoned over 50 people. In fact, it didn’t contain any CBD but rather a dangerous synthetic cannabinoid known as “spice.” This is why it’s so important to make sure you buy CBD from a reputable brand that lab tests their products.
So, CBD can make you fail a drug test, but it’s unlikely. Positive tests for THC are rare with CBD consumers, especially when the CBD isn’t taken in high doses. But it’s possible—and could be more likely for those with slower metabolisms.
For folks subject to drug testing, a failed test is a real risk to be aware of. Still, for most CBD consumers this will never pose a problem because they simply aren’t consuming enough CBD to trigger a positive THC result.
To reduce your risk of a failed drug test, aim for lower doses of CBD and go with lab-tested products so you know exactly what you’re putting in your body. Plenty of companies are rushing to put CBD on the shelf, but the gas station or corner store isn’t the best place to go for it.
To avoid accidentally ingesting too much THC with your CBD, make sure you go with well-established, extensively tested and medically-oriented hemp CBD brands.
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