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We Looked Into Whether CBD Would Show Up in a Drug Test

Despite the wellness glow surrounding CBD products, could they make you fail a pre-employment pee test?
pee cup on a blue background
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These days, cannabidiol, or CBD, which is the non-inebriating compound in marijuana, is being used for pain, anxiety, and as a sleep aid. Also, the FDA recently approved its use for seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome and Dravet Syndrome, which are severe forms of epilepsy. CBD oil and extract is everywhere—you can find it in a host of forms, including sublingual drops, vape oil, and even colorful gummies, available online and in stores all over the country. Despite the golden wellness glow around these products, can they get you in trouble by popping up in a drug test?


Will CBD show up in a drug test?

It's unlikely that CBD will show up in a drug test. If you have to take one for employment, chances are they will be screening for cannabis. But that actually means they're looking for the presence of THC or THC metabolites—not CBD. Technically, CBD is a chemical, and if you ingest it, your body will metabolize it, so it can be detected. But the average drug test is not designed to pick up CBD, or any other compounds found in cannabis other than THC, says Brenda Gannon, a toxicologist and laboratory director at Steep Hill Arkansas. She says that “because CBD is chemically distinct from THC, it is unlikely that pure CBD would be detected in these types of drug tests. However, hemp-based CBD products often contain trace amounts of THC." (This is because some researchers believe that a tiny bit of THC enhances the effects of CBD.)

If there’s a little THC in my CBD oil, will I fail my drug test?

Different types of drug tests have different detection thresholds. A hair test, for example, is designed to catch chronic substance use. So if your CBD oil only has trace amounts of THC in it (.3 percent is the standard amount if there's any in it at all), and you're not chugging it by the bottle, it still probably won't show up in a hair test. It's worth noting that because CBD isn't regulated, you don't ever really know what's in a product that contains it.

If you're taking a urine or oral fluid test, the detection thresholds are even lower. Gannon says that "depending on a number of parameters—including amount consumed, how often one uses CBD products, and body composition—it is possible that these trace amounts of THC could accumulate and then be detected in a drug test." "It’s possible, but it's highly unlikely," concurs Jamie Corroon, a postdoctoral fellow at the National University of Natural Medicine and the founder of the Center for Medical Cannabis Education.


Is there a drug test that could detect CBD?

Since it's not standard to test for CBD, it would take a very specific test to detect it—your employer would have to commission it (and pay for it). Gannon says this would involve “notifying the testing company that the employer would like to test for an additional analyte” and “paying the testing company an additional charge to cover expenses associated with CBD—such as having to purchase additional standards for detection and [slightly] modifying their existing standard operating procedures to include CBD.” And that's really unlikely, since CBD doesn’t get you high—and therefore won’t impair your ability to perform your job functions—and most companies don’t like to spend extra money for no reason.

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At Quest Diagnostics, one of the biggest drug testing companies in the United States, they don’t offer testing for CBD and it’s not part of any employer drug testing program, says Barry Sample, director of science and technology for employer solutions at the company. Even people who are being drug tested for the DEA are not tested for CBD; in fact, federal employees can only be drug tested for certain predetermined compounds, and CBD isn’t one of them.

If your test comes up positive for THC but the only cannabis product you've used is a CBD tincture, you might be able to explain that to your employer. It's going to be up to her or him whether or not to believe you, and what she wants to do about it. According to Sample, there really isn’t a way to tell whether THC that shows up in your test came from a CBD product or a joint. “No workforce drug test commonly used will be able to tell how much was used, a pattern of use, or whether or not someone was impaired.”


Is it legal, in general, to use CBD?

Unfortunately, CBD itself has an unusually complicated regulatory status. It's classified as a Schedule I substance—meaning, legally speaking, it has no medical use and a "high potential for abuse.” This is, currently, a huge area of debate for medical professions and advocates since since CBD has been shown, in clinical trials, to help with an array of issues, and experts are looking at it as a potential treatment for addiction. These are preliminary findings though, and a lot more research is needed.

Hemp—the form of cannabis with virtually no THC present (it’s bred out)—is legal under the 2014 Farm Bill, which allows universities and state departments of agriculture to grow it. So the DEA isn't really going after hemp-derived CBD, which is why you can find its oil in vape stores, in skin products, and in stores that don't require a medical marijuana license.

"According to the federal government," Corroon says, "what makes it hemp is if you send a flower to a lab and it came back and it had less than .3 percent THC in it by dry weight." If the THC levels are higher than that cutoff, it's what we consider cannabis (a.k.a. marijuana), which is still illegal in the United States, according to federal law. So if you want to be able to go to your employer and say your test popped positive because of a legal product (or at least a sort of legal product), make sure you're using one with that .3 percent THC or no THC at all in it.

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