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Does CBD show up on a drug test?

Tens of millions of employees in all sorts of industries are encountering new questions when it comes to drug testing in the workplace

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? 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.

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. (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.

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

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? Unlikely

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.

Not exactly. Rather, buildup of trace THC can hurt job prospects. So can false positives. Pass a drug test with help from this FAQ.

CBD and Drug Testing 101

One of the biggest challenges facing companies pertaining to workplace safety and CBD use by employees revolves around drug testing. Many employers have a zero-tolerance policy on drug use and therefor institute drug testing policies to ensure those workplace safety standards are met. But with the legalization of hemp-based CBD products, there seems to be a lack of understanding when it comes to (the) THC specific drug test (or testing?) and CBD use. In this month’s article I want to cover some facts pertaining to drug testing and CBD use so employers and individuals can make educated decisions based off facts rather than false or inaccurate information. So, with that, let’s dive a little deeper into those tests to see exactly what they are looking for and how one can ensure a good outcome if tested.

First, let us look at what is used as the standard for drug testing. What is generally used as the norm for drug testing is a urine based 5 or 10 panel drug test. The number indicates the number of different drugs that are being tested for. When we are talking about CBD, the tests are looking for THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). THC is the specific chemical in Marijuana that creates a “high” or psychoactive effect within the brain. Under the 2018 Hemp Farm Bill Act, hemp can contain up to 0.3% of THC. Now understand that the legal amount of 0.3% in some products is not enough for anyone to feel those effects, but it is enough that some one could potentially test positive for THC on a drug test. Not all CBD products will contain THC as there are some out there that are refined/processed in a way that removes the THC from the product to where there is no detectable amount.

Another thing to be cognizant about when it comes to CBD is a by product which can be found in some CBD items and that is CBN (Cannabinol). CBN is a by product of hemp and is sometimes included with certain CBD products. CBN is a derivative of THC even though it will not get you “high”. There are a handful of studies that are suggesting that if the product has CBN included, then you could potentially get a false positive for THC. If for some reason that happened, then it is normal for a confirmatory test take place to distinguish CBD from other compounds. With more and more studies being done, we will be learning more about the hemp plant in general and how things like drug testing will need to evolve in order to facilitate the use of CBD since it is a legal product.

While researching and testing THC drug tests against CBD options that are on the market, here is an interesting fact that we ran across when it comes to THC specific tests. There are several medications and foods that can cause a false positive on a THC specific test other than CBD. Over the counter medications such as Advil, Motrin, Aleve and PPI’s (proton pump inhibitors) like Omeprazole, Osomeprazole, and Pantoprazole can result in a false positive for THC. If the test is not THC specific and is a Cannabinoid in general test, then additional things such as certain foods and items such as coconut oil, olive oil, and fruits have been known to test positive for cannabinoids. These are just a handful of things out there that can give a false positive so be aware. Again, if your CBD contains any THC, it could potentially result in a positive test. If it is THC and CBN free and you have 3 rd party lab results that back it up, then you should be good to go on a THC specific test.

Urine testing is by far the most widely used test due to accuracy and cost. But if someone wants to know if an employee is under the influence of a substance, then oral/saliva testing would be more accurate than urine or any other test. Oral saliva testing tests for drugs that are currently in the system whereas urine testing requires THC to be metabolized which can take up to 6-12 hours. Since THC is fat soluble, rather than water soluble, it does not directly cross into oral fluids. This means that via oral/swab testing THC can be detected immediately and for up to 24 hrs. As an employer, that is something to think about regarding testing. Do you really care what they do in their off time or is the concern more of not being under the influence when at work? If it is the second, then oral saliva testing makes more sense.

Another benefit of oral testing is that risk of someone altering a urine test is significantly reduced. When a subject must take a urine test, they are unsupervised during the collection process which allows for potential tampering of the test. But with oral saliva testing, subjects can be supervised for the entire test to ensure that the collection is legitimate and untampered with. Another interesting fact pertaining to CBD use is that to date, there is not any test readily available that just tests for CBD. And honestly CBD is just one compound within many of the cannabinoid family that has benefits for individuals and there is not any testing for those either other than THC.

Next on the list of tests is hair follicle testing. This is where they take hair, primarily from the head but can be taken from anywhere and is tested for THC and other drugs. Hair follicle tests can be drug specific or test for a variety of illicit drugs. With hair testing, the test is specifically looking for chronic substance use rather than occasional use. The hair follicle test is a twostep process but is not 100% accurate. Some things that affect the accuracy of hair follicle testing are quantity of drugs consumed, the amount a person sweats, bleaching/coloring of hair, the amount of melanin in a person’s hair, and the drug compound structures themselves. Another downside to hair follicle testing is that it takes 5-7 days for a substance to show up in hair whereas urine, oral, and blood testing will show consumption within just a few hours. Another interesting fact regarding hair testing which is found in a 2017 study is that researches agreed that due to the inaccuracies of false positive AND false negatives, that hair follicle testing is too unreliable when compared to other testing options.

Last on the list is blood testing. Blood testing is the most expensive and invasive testing currently available. It is the most accurate when it comes to drug testing, but the detection window is relatively short. Blood testing is typically done to detect the concentration levels of drugs or alcohol in the body. It does take longer to develop than urine, but it does measure how intoxicated an individual may be. This would be a key component when testing is being done for a workplace accident or injury on the job. When it comes to THC, it will detect amounts in the body for up to 30 days potentially. Due to the expense and invasiveness, this is simply not a test that is normally used.

What does all this mean for the normal person who takes CBD and is worried about drug testing? Knowing how and what your being tested on is half the battle. I am amazed at how many employers may institute drug testing, but then have no idea as to the type of actual test their employees are subjected to. Same goes for employees themselves. Ask and understand the type of testing that you may be subjected to. It’s important to know if your drug test is THC SPECIFIC or cannabinoid in general. Remember, there are lots of things that can result in a positive if the test is cannabinoid and not THC specific.

Second, educate yourself on the CBD products you choose to take. Look for transparency within the CBD manufacturer when it comes to the ingredient list of the product, is it THC free or do they specify that there may be up to the legal limit of 0.3%. If it is THC free, look for third party independent lab results or for COA on the products you consume.

Third, look for additional testing results or take a test yourself. The one thing we have done with our product line of First Responder Fuel products is independent drug testing to verify that our products would not test positive on a THC specific test. Something that you as an individual can do as well if you are truly worried about a product you are taking. There are various inexpensive over the counter THC specific drug tests available through places like Amazon. Within about 2-5 minutes you can have piece of mind on whether you will test positive or not. We also took the liberty of not only doing over the counter drug testing, but we as a company and manufacturer went to the extent of taking a standard Department of Transportation 10 panel drug test to back up and solidify our drug test results while on First Responder Fuel hemp infused products. Those tests are typically about $40-$50 dollars and it is readily available at lab testing facilities or through your regular physician.

To sum it up, if your CBD is THC free, then the odds of you testing positive for THC are pretty much nonexistent. This is where vetting what you take can go along ways in preventing a potential negative outcome with testing. If you take a product that has up to the legal limit of 0.3% THC, then over time that accumulation could potentially cause a positive THC test result. Not guaranteed and the likelihood is low, but it could still happen. So, if you are subjected to drug testing, it is better to be safe than sorry and go with a THC free CBD product. We are in a new and fast paced era when it comes to CBD and cannabis use. Employers, labs, and policies are having to play catch up with the new laws as well as overcome a stigma associated with CBD and cannabis use. This will all take time, but I believe we are headed in the right direction. Until then, it is up to you to do your homework and make the best decision that fits your needs as an employer and employee. Until next time, be safe and take care of yourself and your employees as we are all in this together.

About the Author

Lee Vernon
CEO/Owner, First Responder Fuel CBD [email protected]

Lee Vernon is a 26+ year (retired) first responder who started First Responder Fuel CBD in order to provide medical grade quality THC free CBD products to first responders and the general public. Lee spent a year traveling the United States to find the highest quality hemp production and extraction processes in order to bring the highest quality medical grade CBD products to individuals that are looking for a natural option to improve their overall mental and physical health. First Responder Fuel CBD believes in offering the highest quality products with integrity, honesty, and compassion. Lee is also the founder and board member for the Brotherhood of Heroes Foundation, a non-profit 501c3 charity for first responders. A portion of every sale of First Responder Fuel CBD products is donated back to the Brotherhood of Heroes Foundation to continue helping those that sacrifice their lives daily.

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