Can CBD show up on a drug test?
Workers who use a lot of CBD (cannabidiol) for pain, anxiety, insomnia, or a host of other symptoms, can accidentally (and unfairly) fail drug tests for cannabis in certain cases, media and experts report.
“We are aware of a few reports of CBD users who have flunked a drug test,” said Dale Gieringer, co-director of California NORML.
‘We are aware of a few reports of CBD users who have flunked a drug test.’
Dale Gieringer, co-director, California NORML
In the most common workplace drug screen—a urine test—employers aren’t looking for CBD, because CBD has never been found to impair judgment or motor skills. Instead, workers fail workplace drug testing for marijuana’s main active ingredient, THC, which can exist in low amounts in some CBD products and then persist in the human body for weeks.
A CBD product’s label might misstate the amount of THC, depending on the market in which you’re shopping. State-licensed adult-use and medical cannabis stores are regulated and mandate product testing, but outside of those systems, CBD product quality can vary in a largely unregulated market. Tests of CBD products from unlicensed stores have come back positive for THC.
“It’s caveat emptor,” said Barry Sample, Ph.D., senior director of science and technology for employer solutions at the nation’s biggest drug testing company, Quest Diagnostics. “The real issue is, how do you trust the labeling?”
Furthermore, if you consume enough CBD—on the order of 1,000 milligrams a day of CBD—just the residual THC could put your test results in the danger zone. This is a big deal because a failed drug test can result in the denial of loss of both job and income, and can also lead individuals to lose access to important resources like education and welfare benefits, child custody, and prescriptions for pain medication.
Can you fail a drug test for CBD oil ? Not really, but sort of
You won’t fail a drug test for CBD, but you could potentially fail a drug test for any residual THC in that CBD product.
Sample said Quest Diagnostics does not test for CBD. THC, however, is on the lengthy list of drugs they test for.
How do drug tests for cannabis work
Here’s how drug tests work. Employers collect and send off samples—largely urine—to drug testing companies who run them through a machine that can measure trace chemicals in the liquid. Technicians look for evidence of a byproduct of THC, the main active cannabinoid in cannabis — not CBD. (More rarely, employers may test saliva, hair, or blood from their employees. We’ll get to that in a minute.)
One key guideline is drug-testing rules for federal employees. A federal worker will fail a drug test if their urine tests positive for any more than a trace amount of the THC metabolite (THC-COOH). And by “trace,” we mean just 50 billionths of a gram per milliliter of urine (50 ng/ml).
THC is the most common reason a worker fails a drug test. Some 2.3% of all US drug tests came back positive for cannabis use in 2018.
Watch out for old tech
There’s also the potential that an older, not uncommon type of analytical method falsely identifies THC in a sample that only contains CBD. That method is gas-chromatography mass-spectrometry with the derivatization agent trifluoroacetic anhydride (TFAA). Tens of thousands of false positives might stem from the error annually, reporter Amanda Chicago-Lewis estimates, but at least there is some recourse—CBD users have successfully challenged a failed drug test for THC if the lab used this specific method, which can result in a false report of CBD as THC.
Why is there THC in my CBD oil?
The cannabis plant produces both THC and CBD. Medical cannabis and industrial hemp are cousins—both create dozens of similar compounds called cannabinoids.
So CBD from “federally legal” hemp can still consist of up to 0.3% THC. If you ingest very high doses of CBD—in the thousands of milligrams per day—from federally legal hemp oil, that means you may also be ingesting at least 1 mg of THC as well.
“If you’re liberal with your hemp CBD oil use, you could hypothetically test positive for THC,” said Greg Gerdeman, Ph.D., chief science officer at Colorado’s United Cannabis, makers of Prana Hemp and Prana Medicinals.
Many times, labels are just plain wrong, too. Outside of state-licensed systems, no mandatory oversight exists, said Martin Lee, co-founder and director of Project CBD.
“Mislabeled CBD products proliferate outside the licensed cannabis marketplace,” Lee said. “Some CBD products labeled as ‘THC-free’ aren’t what the label says. If a CBD user tests positive for THC, either the test is inaccurate or, more likely, the no-THC product contained some THC.”
Avoid accidental THC exposure by using state-licensed and tested CBD products. Depending on the state, CBD products can be thoroughly tested and the labels are accurate. If the label says there’s no THC in there, it’s probably true.
How much CBD will make me fail a drug test?
Again, it’s not the CBD. But flunking a THC drug test because you took CBD depends on the source of your CBD, how much you took, over how long, your metabolism, and other factors like hydration levels.
Full spectrum CBD vs. broad spectrum CBD vs. CBD isolates: Consider your CBD oil’s source
A pure “isolate” of just the CBD molecule, which is commercially available, should not contain any THC. However, these isolates are extracted from hemp oil, and are of varying quality. By law, federally legal hemp oil can have up to 0.3% THC in it. Sometimes that number is higher, because of variations in test results.
Other factors that could result in failing a drug test
Beyond your CBD source, dosage, length of use, personal chemistry, and other factors determine drug test success or failure.
At one end, someone who smokes high-THC cannabis every day and then stops can still fail a drug test more than a month later. That’s because the human body stores THC in fat cells and burns it into THC-COOH later, Sample said.
At the other end, you could theoretically take CBD hemp oil for months, at low amounts (50 mg/day), and never fail a urine screen for THC-COOH. It’s not clear how much CBD hemp oil is needed—or for how long—to end up with more than 50 ng/ml of THC-COOH in your urine. But certainly, if you’re taking large amounts of CBD, depending on the source, you could test positive for THC.
“Any time THC enters the body, you have the possibility of having it stored in the fat cells and slowly released,” said Sample.
How to pass a drug test for CBD
You won’t get drug tested for CBD—you’ll be drug tested for THC. If you’re concerned for any reason, you may consider following the detoxification guidelines for THC, including discontinuing use, dieting, exercise, and staying hydrated to get trace THC out of your system.
How long does CBD stay in your system?
CBD effects last 90 minutes to several hours, depending on how it is consumed. The body turns CBD into the byproduct CBD-COOH in a matter of hours, and then it sticks around for at least several days. But it doesn’t matter, because no employer is testing for CBD-COOH.
Does CBD show up on a mouth swab test?
Mouth swabs don’t check for CBD—again, they’re checking for THC, said Sample. So no, CBD won’t show up on a standard workplace drug test mouth swab. THC will, though, so keep off large amounts of CBD with trace levels of THC.
Oral fluid testing is uncommon. In 2018, general workforce testing included over 6 million urine screens, versus just 1.3 million oral fluid tests, and 200,000 hair follicle tests.
“Almost all” of those specimens are tested for THC-COOH, Dr. Sample said.
Does CBD show up in a hair follicle test?
Stop us if you’ve heard this one, but workplace hair follicle tests are generally not checking for CBD—they’re checking for that old standby THC-COOH. So no, CBD won’t show up on a standard workplace drug test of a hair follicle. THC will, though. Any CBD you took that had trace levels of THC could leave THC byproducts in a hair follicle, where they have the potential to stick around for a while. Hair follicles can contain a months-long record of drug use, depending on the length of the hair.
Can stomach acid turn CBD into THC?
You might have read rumors online that stomach acid can turn CBD into THC. That’s possible but unlikely, according to the experts we consulted.
CBD water marketers have trumpeted this claim lately to sell CBD water over other forms of CBD, said Gerdeman at United Cannabis, which makes and sells wholesale CBD isolate.
Multiple human trials of large doses of oral CBD have never resulted in the detection of THC in the blood plasma of test subjects—so if it’s happening outside of a lab beaker, no one’s proved it. Dr. Ethan Russo debunked the stomach acid theory in Trends in Pharmacological Sciences forum article Cannabidiol Claims and Misconceptions.
At-home CBD drug testing kits
Leafly does not know of any at-home CBD drug testing kits, or why you’d take one. If you’re worried about failing a workplace drug test, you could take an at-home THC-COOH test, though accuracy varies among these products.
What’s the future of CBD drug testing?
The trend is toward less drug testing for non-safety jobs. More and more states are ending discrimination against use of THC. Federal bills like the MORE Act are following suit.
How to Address CBD Oil in Company Drug Testing Policy
From makeup, drinks, food products, and stress relief oils and capsules, cannabis-based goods are flowing into the marketplace and employers are now grappling with employer CBD use and the rising legalization of recreational and medical marijuana in states across the country.
So, where do we stand right now? Eleven states including California, Oregon, Maine, Illinois, and the District of Columbia have made it legal for adults to possess small amounts of marijuana for recreational use. Meanwhile, 28 states, along with the District of Columbia have extensive medical marijuana programs and 17 more permit the use of products with a low level of THC to address medical concerns.
Despite the rising number of states legalizing the drug, testing workers for marijuana (products with over 0.3% THC) has dipped only slightly nationwide.
The percentage of urine drug tests that included screening for marijuana fell to 97.6% in 2018 from 99.2% in 2015, according to Quest Diagnostics. In states where recreational use of marijuana is allowed, the percentage of such tests dropped to 94.7% from 98.5% during that time period.
While CBD may not get you high, they are still causing problems at work. So how do employers address CBD?
Before we get there, let us define what CBD is and isn’t. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of the many cannabinoids that can be extracted from marijuana or hemp plants. However, unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that is psychoactive, CBD extract does not have psychoactive properties.
Since 2018, when federal legislation in deemed that hemp was not an illegal controlled substance (like marijuana), CBD has been showing up in a widening array of goods.
Cannabinoid containing oils is made by using a strain of the marijuana or hemp plants that has a high CBD content and a low THC content. The reason for this is because tetrahydrocannabinol has been shown to counteract the medicinal benefits of CBD if there is high THC content versus low CBD. Therefore, only specific strains can be used for production.
According to Isodial’s website, “the oil is then filtered through various chambers under low temperatures and high pressure to ensure that the final product is of the purest medicinal oil available; meaning no other extracts found in the plants such as chlorophyll.”
Small amounts of THC can be left over, and manufacturers can sell CBD products that contain less than 0.3% THC because that amount is not enough to give the user any psychoactive side effects.
However, the extraction processes and product labeling have not been well regulated and is where the issues come into play. There is currently only one CBD drug that has been FDA approved, Epidiolex, which treats two epilepsy conditions and contains no more than 0.1% THC.
One of the things the FDA verifies when approving a product is the amount of each ingredient being used in product. This means, that because every other CBD product has not gone through the FDA approval process, the ingredients on these product labels may not be accurate. Therefore, many CBD products that claim they have no or little THC could be misleading.
Non-FDA approved CBD products are classified as Schedule 1 drugs, making them still illegal to produce, distribute, and possess. These are often referred to as “marijuana extracts”.
Testing Positive On A Drug Test For Using CBD Products
Most drug test panels, including the one used for federally regulated drug tests, test for THC, not CBD. However, CBD products may contain levels of THC that lead to a positive drug test.
Dr. James Berry, WVU Medicine said, “It is possible to test positive for THC if THC is in that particular batch of CBD oil. That’s where I warn people, buyer beware, despite what the label on that bottle says you don’t know exactly what is in there. There could be THC or there could be any other product that could be harmful for you”
The issue has drawn the attention of the FDA. “In addition to safety risks and unproven claims, the quality of many CBD products may also be in question. Many were found to not contain the levels of CBD they claimed. We are also investigating reports of CBD potentially containing unsafe levels of contaminants.”
Since we don’t know what exactly is in products containing CBD, or how much, employees should be careful when using these products. Also, since these products are not FDA approved, there are no valid prescriptions for them, and positive results cannot be overturned by a medical review officer (MRO).
How to Address CBD Oil in Company Drug Testing Policy
Problems that are arising include: job applicants not knowing what is in their CBD product, what impact CBD may have on their employment, and what happens if a worker received a positive drug test result even if an employee presents you with a “CBD pure” product as proof.
Here are some guidelines when developing a CBD oil company policy:
1. Review state laws
According to an XpertHR’s survey of more than 700 professionals, nearly 25% of human resource managers say they “are extremely challenged” trying to comply with the various laws.
Employers can, generally, prohibit the use of marijuana on their premises, even if an employee is legally allowed to use it for medicinal purposes and job applicants, as well as hired workers who test positive for THC, can be denied employment or fired if that is the workplace’s policy.
But increasingly there are some state or jurisdiction exceptions.
- New Jersey: The medical use of marijuana is legal but there are protections for workers or job applicants who test positive for the drug. Employers must offer workers or job applicants who test positive the chance “to present a legitimate medical explanation for the positive test result,” or to retake the test at their own expense, according to the statute. Employees can still be penalized for using medical marijuana at work or for being impaired by the drug during work hours.
- Oklahoma: They permit the use of medical marijuana but says employers cannot discipline or refuse to hire someone solely because they test positive for marijuana. That doesn’t apply however to those who don’t have a health-related reason to use the drug or who have jobs deemed “safety-sensitive.”
- New York City: As of May, employers with at least four people on staff cannot require a job applicant to take a test for marijuana as a condition of being hired. The law does not override drug testing that is mandatory in collective bargaining agreements or required to get a job with the federal government. It also doesn’t apply to those wanting to work in law enforcement, childcare, and other fields where the public or other workers can be impacted.
Most CBD products are not regulated by the FDA and run the risk of containing more than the federally permissible amount of THC, even if sold in a state that does not permit the sale of marijuana products. So, there is a possibility that an employee could use what he or she believes to be a legally permissible, hemp-derived CBD product, but the unregulated product could trigger a positive test result for THC. In those types of situations, an employer may not definitively know whether the positive result was triggered by CBD oil or marijuana use.
2. Consider revising policies to address CBD use
Employers should consider updating their anti-drug guidance “warning employees of this issue because it is a very big problem. Studies show a lot of these CBD products are containing higher levels of THC.”
The Society for Human Resource Management has also offered guidance. “While some states have legalized recreational and medical use of marijuana, it is still illegal under federal law. In states where it is legal, employers should ensure compliance with state laws, which may require a review of the circumstances.”
There may also be rules specific to the medicinal use of CBD. An employer might decide to make an exception to its drug policy if the person has a disability for which they use CBD oil, particularly if they are not impaired on the job.
3. Talk with your employees and train managers
Your managers will need to know how to address situations where an employee defends a positive drug test result by using CBD. We hear this often in our industry.
If someone who is using CBD oil keeps their use of it private and tests positive for THC, it is best practice for employers to refrain from taking action until they have a conversation with the worker. An employer might decide to make an exception to its drug policy if the person has a disability for which he or she uses CBD oil, particularly if he or she is not impaired on the job.
Employees should give their workplace a heads-up. It is best practice for an employee using CBD products to alert their employer so there are no unexpected consequences down the line. The simplest thing to do is go to a doctor, get a prescription, and make sure your employer is aware of it as we do not want people trying to do the right thing to get penalized.
Employees should also read CBD product labels carefully. However, it is still a very much ‘Buyer Beware’ CBD world, so consider cutting out CBD while job hunting until CBD products are better regulated.
Employers and employees need to understand that the marijuana industry is largely unregulated as of now. Since we don’t know what exactly is in products containing CBD, employees should be careful on using these products.
Employers should work with employment counsel and prepare to be flexible until more CBD rules and regs are in place. Employers should also outline how they want to handle CBD use among employees in their drug and alcohol policies. Then, take time to educate employees on the dangers and consequences of using CBD products.
CleanFleet can help review policies and put together trainings for employees about CBD. If your employer needs help handling CBD in its workplace, please call (503) 479-6082 or check out more details from our policy development page.