The Battle Over CBD Use Among US Military Personnel
A surprising substance has been stirring quiet controversy within the United States military community this year. The use of cannabidiol (CBD) — one of the main active ingredients of cannabis, widely touted for offering a host of potential medical benefits without the “high” of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — is being contested, as legislators work to overturn a ban on CBD use by active-duty military personnel.
To give some idea of the scale of this issue, the US military employs around 1.3 million people, while 14 percent of US adults polled say they use CBD products.
In late July, the House of Representatives passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would prevent the Secretary of Defense from issuing a blanket ban on the use of CBD in the military. Should this provision survive the next iteration of the bill and pass the Senate, it would work to countermand a policy enacted by the Department of Defense (DoD) in February, which prohibits the use of any hemp products by active and reserve military members.
DoD’s February memo directed that criminal provisions for use of hemp products be added to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). It specifically notes that this includes CBD.
Prior to this, DoD had unofficially forbidden military members from using CBD, following 2018 legislation by the US government that legalized hemp products containing less than 0.3 percent THC.
The DoD states that these products have the potential to cause a THC-positive result on a urinalysis test.
The DoD memo opens with the statement that “Substance misuse by Service members is a safety and readiness issue, and the Department must remain vigilant in addressing emerging threats, including those that come from new products and sources.”
It continues that CBD products are unregulated and unreliable, and therefore have the potential to contain more THC than the consumer might believe. It also states that these products have the potential to cause a THC-positive result on a urinalysis test, and that “since it is not possible to differentiate between THC derived from legal hemp products and illicit marijuana … the use of hemp products could effectively undermine the Department’s ability to identify illicit THC use.”
There is some truth to the Department’s statement. Besides the prescription pharmaceutical Epidiolex, approved to treat a severe seizure disorder, CBD products are generally not FDA-regulated. In fact, it is illegal to even market them as a supplement, a category that has faced criticism for its already-lax regulatory standards.
“I get why they say it. With a full spectrum product that says ‘CBD only,’ an active-duty member can go and take a bottle thinking it’s only CBD, and then it has THC,” said Joshua Littrel, an Air Force combat veteran and the founder of Veterans for Cannabis, a company that lobbies for the rights of military members to access cannabis while also selling its own line of CBD products.
“[But] for the military to say there’s no way to guarantee that no THC is in it, that’s inaccurate,” he told Filter. “We have a CBD-only product developed specifically for active-duty members and those employees in drug testing positions… it’s made from isolate. When you isolate a molecule, the only thing in the molecule is that molecule itself.”
Littrel also noted a host of health benefits he believes CBD offers, including the reduction of inflammation and anxiety, which could be particularly useful to active-duty military members and veterans. While CBD has only been approved for medical use in the US for certain seizure disorders, people who use and sell the products report health benefits ranging from pain relief to reducing anxiety and depression, treating opioid addiction , and even stopping the spread of cancerous tumors .
While research is still relatively sparse, there are a growing number of studies backing many of these claims. Littrel specifically mentioned research out of Israel that linked CBD with faster recovery from traumatic brain injuries in mice.
“In the military, the biggest thing is, when you get an injury, it’s getting back in the fight—how quickly can you get back on your feet, get back in the fight, and take retaliation back on the enemy?” said Littrel. “If CBD can help our active-duty members return to service quicker, why in the world do we not allow that?”
Many experts sound caution, however. “The research [on the health benefits of CBD] is kind of lacking. There’s not a lot of good evidence for different conditions, but that’s not saying it doesn’t do anything,” Ryan Marino, an emergency medicine physician and toxicologist practicing in Ohio, told Filter. “The human body has CBD receptors within the nervous system, so it totally makes sense that it does something. I think high doses is where we will see effects … A few years from now, there will probably be more evidence saying CBD does things for other conditions.”
“First of all, I don’t know why the military is drug testing people all the time; drug tests are terrible tests to begin with.”
For the Department of Defense, however, the issue seems to be less about CBD’s potential efficacy or inefficacy, and more about whether or not a member’s use of a CBD product could interfere with the department’s ability to gauge and monitor drug use.
“First of all, I don’t know why the military is drug testing people all the time; drug tests are terrible tests to begin with,” said Marino.
Urinalysis testing is particularly controversial. Observed tests—meaning that someone is watching while the sample is produced—can re-traumatize sexual assault survivors or prove impossible for people suffering from paruresis (the inability to urinate in the presence of others). Urine tests are also fairly easy to cheat, and are often unreliable. They also cannot indicate whether or not someone has a substance use disorder, nor can they measure work performance. Nonetheless, drug test results are often misused to gauge both.
When it comes to testing positive for THC due to a CBD product, toxicologists agree that it is unlikely, but not impossible.
“It could [cause a THC positive]. In most cases I think it would not, but it could, and you could test positive from taking CBD with that low amount of THC even if you weren’t getting any sort of high or intoxication or THC effect,” said Marino, adding, “It should not mess with a standard urine drug screen.” Other experts commenting for a Vice story agreed that while it was possible THC could accumulate and cause a positive drug test, most standard detection thresholds would prevent this from happening.
Marino also noted that, to his knowledge, CBD was not able to be absorbed through the skin, making it especially perplexing that topical products are included in the ban.
In addition to the general DoD ban, several branches of the military have issued their own rules governing the use of CBD products. This includes directives from the Navy that specifically target topical hemp products like shampoo, lotion and lip balm.
So what happens if a member of the military gets caught with the wrong shampoo? While the consequences of being caught using illicit substances, including marijuana, can vary for military personnel and can include court martial or service discharge, the use of CBD specifically violates Article 92 of the UCMJ, which means disobeying an order. The maximum punishment under Article 92 is dishonorable discharge and two years of confinement.
Mark Curci served in the National Guard until 2004, when he left at the rank of sergeant. He worked in security and administration, which included paperwork on service member reprimands. “If somebody had been busted for marijuana, I would have been the one to bust them,” he told Filter .
“If somebody pissed hot or whatever, they would get nonjudicial punishment … and we would have a conversation with their commander as to how to move forward. Something like pot, I don’t think anybody would have gotten kicked out,” Curci recalled, cautioning that the culture and responses could have changed since he left the military.
Curci now has a healthy relationship with marijuana, noting that since leaving the National Guard, he has experienced “positive effects of CBD for psychiatric issues and anxiety issues.”
“These people are risking their lives for us and they can’t use hemp shampoo.”
The new House measure, sponsored by veteran Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), would not automatically grant service members the right to use CBD, but it would take away the Secretary of Defense’s power to install the blanket ban.
“There is great research being done around hemp, resulting in new products coming to market that are proven to help with ailments like insomnia, inflammation, chronic pain, epilepsy, Traumatic Brain Injury, Post-Traumatic Stress and more,” Gabbard is quoted as saying in a July press release .
“The Department of Defense could … get approved providers,” suggested Littrel as a solution to the issue of the unreliable CBD market. “But they’re not willing to have a conversation. That’s really unfortunate.” He urged those who support the use of CBD to contact their senators and urge them to support Gabbard’s amendment.
“This [CBD ban] seems very misguided,” added Marino. “If they really have [drug testing and problematic drug use] concerns, they should be working on these concerns instead of preventing military members and US service members from having the shampoo they want or taking a CBD gummy.”
“It’s kind of crazy,” he said. “These people are risking their lives for us and they can’t use hemp shampoo.”
Photograph of US soldiers in Southwest Asia by Master Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol via Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
A House measure would countermand a blanket Department of Defense ban—imposed in part for fear that CBD use could cause THC-positives in drug tests.
Does the Military Test for CBD?
Posted on August 7th, 2020
The cannabis plant is loaded with phytochemicals that may have a positive impact on human health. More than 100 of those are known as cannabinoids. THC is an example of a cannabinoid and it’s famous for the psychoactive properties it lends to marijuana. THC is still considered illegal in most of the country and is tested regularly by employers, government agencies, and the military. But what about cannabidiol, better known as CBD? CBD is another cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant that boasts numerous potential benefits. While CBD is known for its non-psychoactive components, some CBD products still contain trace amounts of THC. Whether you are considering joining the military or are an active member, this may have you wondering: “Does the military test for CBD?”
What Is CBD?
As mentioned, CBD is another example of a well-known cannabinoid in the cannabis plant. Unlike THC, it does not possess any psychoactive properties. It is also legal in most countries and is not tested for during drug tests. The long list of potential benefits and continued legal status of CBD has helped it become a popular product on the market.
CBD and THC, along with the other cannabinoids, interact with the human body through the endocannabinoid system. Recent studies indicate that the CB1 and CB2 receptors are responsible for interacting with CBD. These unique interactions lead to the many different potential health benefits associated with CBD-based products, such as pain management, reduced stress, and lower symptoms of anxiety.
Choosing the Right CBD Products
There are a lot of products on the market that may contain smaller amounts of CBD or even more amounts of THC (the legal amount of THC in CBD products is 0.3%) than what is labeled. It’s important to purchase from a reputable company and we encourage you to look for a high-quality CBD company, like Tanasi, that tests their products through a third-party lab and provides a certificate of analysis.
Furthermore, if you’re looking to experience the full effects of CBD you may want to consider full-spectrum products. Full-spectrum CBD products include all of the added terpenes, cannabinoids, and other phytochemicals available in the hemp plant which provide what’s known as the “entourage effect”. But, if you’re looking to avoid THC at all costs, consider a broad-spectrum or CBD isolate product.
But Is CBD Legal?
There is a lot of confusion and misinformation surrounding the legality of CBD. It becomes even more confusing when you discuss its allowance in the workplace and while working in certain careers. For example, CBD oil might be legal in your state, but it may be different if you are employed by a government agency that does not allow it.
The good news is that CBD oil is legal on a federal level as long as it comes from a hemp plant with less than 0.3 percent THC. This follows the 2018 Farm Bill, which made legal the growth and sale of hemp plants and hemp-based extracts. The only obstacle being the tight regulation of the amount of THC allowed in the plant.
Some states have introduced laws that more closely regulate CBD production and consumption. Idaho, for example, controls which part of the hemp plant can be used for making the extracts. South Dakota has taken a very strong stance against CBD. They are both considered illegal in the state and it looks as though it may stay that way for a while.
Some states have progressed even further and allow for the sale of CBD products derived from marijuana. CBD oil extracted from marijuana would not contain less than 0.3 percent THC. Marijuana-derived CBD oil would most likely produce a psychoactive effect or a “high” feeling.
Is CBD Allowed in the Military?
If you are in the military or considering joining, then it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with their rules and guidelines on the subject.
CBD may be legal, but there are some indirect risks that come from using CBD oil. The biggest one being that you might test positive for THC on a drug test. Because of this, the United States military believes that CBD-based products should be avoided at all costs.
The military also believes other risks may be present because CBD products are not closely regulated by the FDA. This is true in some regards, but the risks can be mitigated by only purchasing CBD from reputable suppliers. At Tanasi, there are strict standards regarding the growth and the extraction process. Testing is performed at every stage along the way.
For the past year, the military relied on technical wording of the law to ban the substance among its service members. They claimed that CBD was not allowed because the Controlled Substance Act prohibited the use of resin collected from any part of the cannabis plant. This, of course, stood in contrast to the new guidelines released in 2018 as part of the Farm Bill.
A Move for Change
In July of 2020, the House of Representatives passed an amendment that would allow service members to purchase, possess, and consume hemp-derived products . It seems that this amendment may continue to succeed through its stages of development and may eventually allow some relief for service members who want to benefit from CBD oil.
Until then, the Department of Defense maintains its standing that CBD products are off-limit for service members. And even when the bill does pass, it will take some time for reforms to be implemented.
Some members of Congress are suggesting we invest more in the research of CBD so that military departments can better understand potential risks and benefits. Any additional research will likely improve the appreciation of CBD and help to eliminate any negative stigma.
Does the Military Drug Test for CBD?
The military does not utilize any specialized testing procedures designed specifically for CBD. However, they do test regularly for THC. If you are using a low-quality CBD product or purchased a CBD oil from a sub-par provider, then it may contain enough THC to trigger a positive on the drug test.
Marijuana drug tests used by the military are designed to detect either THC or THC-COOH, which is a metabolite of THC. A negative on one of these tests does not necessarily mean that there is 0 percent in the body. The tests were designed with higher cut-off percentages to prevent positive tests from only trace amounts of THC.
The exact cut-off percentage is going to vary according to the type of drug testing used. In a urine test, the THC metabolite must exist in a concentration above 50 ng/mL . Blood testing can vary from 1 to 5 ng/mL. Hair-based drug tests in the private industry have a cut-off percentage of 1pc/mg .
Is It Possible to Fail a Drug Test With CBD?
Secondhand Exposure to THC
There are ways that you might fail a drug test even if you’ve only been taking legal CBD products. The most obvious yet overlooked way is by secondhand exposure to THC.
Luckily, secondhand exposure is easy to avoid. It’s also not likely to be a serious problem because such small amounts of THC should leave the body fairly quickly. But it’s best to avoid this situation altogether if you are a service member or plan to be.
Another very common cause is cross-contamination. This takes place during the extraction or manufacturing of the product. It’s a risk you face if you purchase your hemp-derived products from a company that also sells marijuana-derived products. A similar risk might also be possible if you purchase your CBD oil in a store that also sells marijuana or oils containing THC.
You can avoid this potential setback by using a supplier who only sells hemp-derived products. A tightly-controlled inventory combined with strict handling procedures will eliminate this risk altogether.
CBD and THC
One study suggests that CBD has the potential to be converted to THC in highly-acidic conditions. The study has shown that it could take place in-vitro with simulated gastric fluid . There is some speculation that this might occur in the human body. However, these in-vitro conditions do not accurately depict the average human stomach, and the chances of CBD becoming THC after consumption are practically nonexistent.
One final cause is mislabeling. It sounds like a simple problem but it affects a large percentage of unregulated health products. Companies can easily list their products as “THC free” without enforcing any real testing. This problem is as serious with CBD as it is with any unregulated supplement or product. It’s possible for a company to sell CBD that has more THC than is allowed, which could trigger a positive on a military drug test. Which further enforces the importance of purchasing CBD from a high-quality and reputable manufacturer. If you’re looking to purchase CBD without any other cannabinoids, be sure to look for a CBD isolate from a source you can trust, as this is the purest form of CBD.
If you are an active service member or looking to join, it’s important to know the regulations around CBD in the military. Although the military does not test for CBD specifically, they do test for THC regularly. While CBD is still not allowed in the military, the passing of a recent amendment shows that there may be promise in the future.
Whether you are considering joining the military or are an active member, this may have you wondering: "Does the military test for CBD?"