Can you fail a drug test from taking CBD? Maybe, but the answer’s surprisingly more complicated than “No, you won’t fail a drug if you take CBD oil,” even though multiple articles and hemp oil websites claim this to be the case. To understand how a marijuana test could come back positive after taking CBD we need to start at the basics.
First off, cannabis screening tests target the cannabinoid metabolite 11-Δ9 –THC carboxylic acid (THC-COOH), generally considered to be a byproduct of the human body processing THC. The screening process for most drugs looks for metabolites.
Dr. Arpit Patel, director at Clarity Labs in New Jersey, explains, “THC has a very short half-life, that’s why whenever you test for THC you will not find the THC cannabinoid itself in the sample, but you will find the carboxy group off of the marijuana, which is marijuana metabolite. That is the only form of THC you can find in urine and hair samples. It gives you an assurance that the sample has gone through the metabolism system and was actually consumed [by the preson whose sample is being tested].”
We’ve known very little about marijuana chemistry until recently. All of the herb’s effects were generally attributed to the cannabinoid THC. While researchers were aware of over 60 cannabinoids in marijuana including cannidial (CBD), they didn’t consider them very clinically important. Medical marijuana policy in the United States gradually led to the cultivation of CBD-rich strains due to their medicinal effects, but cannabidiol remained virtually unknown to the greater public.
“I actually introduced CBD about 10 years ago,” expert and entrepreneur Matthew Morgan says, “I had the wrong demographic. My customers were looking to get high. CBD can actually reduce the high you feel since it is a modulator of the THC, so they weren’t ready for it. Really, people didn’t know how beneficial CBD was for health and longevity. We weren’t extracting the oil and using it as a supplement as much as leaving it in its flower form.”
Morgan says it was the 2013 story of Charlotte Figi that brought cannabidiol into the limelight. CBD halted the seizures she’d experienced since she was 3 months old caused by Dravet’s syndrome, an extremely rare and debilitating form of epilepsy. Not long after, preparations of this new nonpsychoactive cannabinoid began to circulate around the athletic and alternative health communities.
Hemp, the industrial sibling of cannabis was found to naturally contain high concentrations of CBD with minimal THC (less than 0.5%). Hemp oil extract began to show up on Amazon.com. The 2018 Farm Bill’s inclusion of hemp coupled with the DEA’s reclassification of CBD to a safe compound with medical merit gained the public’s full attention. The industry rapidly grew to exceed $1 billion in revenue last year.
The boom had little to do with seizures, but instead, consumers found CBD to effectively treat everything from depression to sleeplessness to arthritis with virtually no adverse side-effects.
Users experienced zero psychoactivity which made it reasonable to assume that there would be no positive finding on drug screenings for getting high. To reinforce this assumption, CBD users were reporting passing drug tests.
But Dr. Arpit Patel says the results at his toxicology lab have not told the same story. He says he has seen a spike in the last two years in positive marijuana drug screenings from, you guessed it, CBD products. Some companies have had substantial numbers of their employees fail drug tests who legitimately have not used anything other than a CBD supplement.
Dr. Patel says there is a way to tell: “[These oils] can actually cause the same metabolite as marijuana consumption in your urine sample. It was proven by one of the studies that we performed in one of our treatment facilities where the director himself tried using CBD oil. We tested four different samples. These samples were positive for marijuana metabolite at 45-50ng/ml, but CBD oils never exceed more than 100ng/ml. Keep in mind, this is the THC metabolite. When someone is positive for using marijuana, they have a sample concentration of more than 100 ng/ml.”
He also notes that second-hand smoke causes a positive marijuana screening with THC metabolites hovering around 79 ng/ml. The Clarity Labs director explains that another recent study was unable to conclude that the metabolite found in CBD products actually comes from low levels of THC or if they come from the high concentration of cannabidiol.
As if this wasn’t complicated enough, the industry standard for marijuana is 20ng/ml. Toxicologists have long considered this indicative of nonabusive use. So even though laboratory experts now know that federally illegal cannabis and legal hemp oil have different metabolite concentrations–over 100ng/ml and 45-50 ng/ml respectively–all of these tests get reported the same, positive.
These nuances are a bigger deal than you might think. Successful tech companies aren’t going to fire entire departments because someone is passing around legal hemp oil to increase their focus at work. These companies also don’t want anyone failing drug tests for any reason. Mothers considering CBD as a treatment for their children’s ADHD are going to have to risk their child receiving punishment for a potentially positive marijuana screening.
But these are indeed necessary problems to have as the paradigm on cannabinoids shifts from Gateway Drug to antiinflammatory super-food. The spike in positive drug tests led researchers to examine the exact mechanism of CBD metabolism in humans. Dr. Patel’s Clarity Labs is performing two studies right now to be released later in the year that examines why CBD oil can cause positive results. Other labs are following suit.
Remember marijuana screening is looking for the metabolite 11-Δ9 –THC carboxylic acid (THC-COOH). When we determine if CBD is capable of producing this derivative, we will know whether we need to restructure drug screening or just choose specific products. Regulators will also need to decide if they should raise the concentration level considered positive for marijuana use versus that of hemp oil. Keep in mind, many CBD users are passing screenings. Not everyone using CBD oil is testing positive. Up until now there just hasn’t been enough research on specific test groups taking isolated CBD versus full-spectrum oils.
Right now there are two distinct products within the market, full-spectrum CBD oil derived from either hemp or cannabis and CBD-only oil which has filtered out the other cannabinoids from the extract. The limited current research would suggest that consumers should be safe as long as they take a CBD isolated oil, but as Dr. Patel said, the information is not conclusive. Do your diligence in choosing CBD products from reputable sources and take it upon yourself to be clear about what you are using so you don’t have the unexpected complications of a positive marijuana screening while taking CBD oil.
“Cannabidiol and Drug Tests | Quest Diagnostics.” Quest Diagnostics Employer Solutions Blog. July 12, 2018. https://blog.employersolutions.com/cannabidiol-and-drug-tests/.
Kulig, Ken. “Interpretation of Workplace Tests for Cannabinoids.” Journal of Medical Toxicology 13, no. 1 (09, 2016): 106-10. doi:10.1007/s13181-016-0587-z.