Does Using CBD Oil Result in a Positive Drug Test?

Ruth Lemon
Ruth Lemon - VP of Operations

Jun 28 2019 - 7 min read

When sporting season arrives, sports pages are filled with stories on drug testing and athletes who have failed.  Now, the question arrives what makes athletes consume drugs? Well, there are several reasons. The pressure to perform at peak physical performance regularly, perhaps some psychological issues stemming from childhood and, of course, the aches and pains accrued through training.

Nowadays every athlete wishes to excel in their respective game so that they can earn more fame and name. Consuming drugs increases their stamina, energy, etc so that they can compete at the highest level.  Yet, excessive drug use can destroy their career, long-term performance, and even lives and families as well.

What goes for superstar athletes goes for people who work normal, everyday jobs as well. Many jobs require drug testing and, with both cannabis and non-FDA approved cannabidiol (CBD) products being Schedule I substances, even those who use CBD-only products run the risk of losing their jobs. The only way a person can potentially escape the punishment of a drug test that proves positive for cannabinoid metabolites is if they have a prescription from a doctor for any CBD product that is FDA-approved, which makes CBD a Schedule V substance. So far, only GW Pharmaceuticals’ Epidiolex is FDA-approved.

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Yet, this raises a few questions …

Author: CacycleSource. CC BY-SA 3.0.

Can drug tests detect CBD?

Most standard drug tests do not test for CBD. Most drug tests test for the following:

  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and its metabolites, in particular, 11-nor-delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol-9-carboxylic acid
  • Cocaine
  • Opiates and opioids
  • Barbiturates
  • Steroids (most often for athletes)
  • Propoxyphene
  • Phencyclidine (PCP)
  • Amphetamines

Of course, it is possible for a person to have a prescription for drugs in some of the above drug classes, in which case it is likely that a positive test will be assessed by a medical review officer (MRO).

THC metabolism. Author: Vinnisaft. From Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0.

So why can CBD products produce a positive result?

If a CBD product contains over 0.3% THC in it, it is possible for THC metabolites to become detectable. In a market that is as unregulated as the hemp and cannabis one, this is entirely possible to happen. Those who take full-spectrum CBD oils regularly, even if they have minimal amounts of THC in them, could possibly test positive for THC. Some reduce this risk by using CBD isolates and oils that test nil for THC, but sadly this can also reduce the efficacy of CBD to some extent.

However, if a CBD product contains 0.3% or less of THC, even regular consumption of high levels of CBD (say 1,000 mg or over) rarely meets the threshold for a positive THC result, which is >50ng/ml in the urine. To quote from the CDC:

“The urine test is based on detection of 11-nor-delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol-9-carboxylic acid (9-carboxy-THC), a metabolite of delta-9-THC, which is the primary pharmacologically active component of marijuana. Studies involving humans indicate that 80%-90% of the total dose of delta-9-THC is excreted within 5 days–approximately 20% in urine and 65% in faeces. Plasma concentrations of delta-9-THC peak by the time a smoked dose is completed and usually fall to approximately 2 ng/ml within 4-6 hours. 9-carboxy-THC is detectable in plasma within minutes after a dose is smoked and remains in plasma considerably longer than THC itself. Urine from marijuana users contains quantities of 9-carboxy-THC in both free and conjugated form, as well as other cannabinoids (THC and its metabolites) detectable by the test.

When the manufacturer’s instructions are followed, urine samples containing at least the stated detection level of 9-carboxy-THC will test positive at least 95% of the time. In a CDC field-test survey of 64 laboratories, those using the SYVA system for urine screening for cannabinoids had an incidence of 4% false-positive results; whether these errors were analytical or clerical in nature was not determined. The manufacturer states that any positive test result should be confirmed by an alternative method.

Only blood-sample measurements are likely to correlate with a person’s degree of exposure; attempts to correlate urine concentration with impairment or time of dose are complicated by variations in individual metabolism, metabolite accumulation in the chronic user, and urine volume changes due to diet, exercise, and age. Therefore, a positive result by the urine cannabinoid test indicates only the likelihood of prior use. Smoking a single marijuana cigarette produces THC metabolites that are detectable for several days with the cannabinoid assay. THC can accumulate in body fat, creating higher excretion concentrations and longer detectability. If an effect on performance is the main reason for screening, the urine cannabinoid test result alone cannot indicate performance impairment or assess the degree of risk associated with the person’s continuing to perform tasks. If a history of marijuana use is the major reason for screening, the urine test for cannabinoids should be able to detect prior use for up to 2 weeks in the casual user and possibly longer in the chronic user.”

To simplify the above:

  • Most tests do not test for CBD, and so far the procedure would be too costly and complex to carry out in most cases.
    CBD products that contain 0.3% or less of THC are unlikely to produce a positive drug result but may do on occasion depending upon the regularity of consumption, whether or not extremely high doses of CBD were ingested, and the person’s own individual metabolism.
  • THC metabolites can be detected in the urine for up to 2 weeks in the casual user, and several weeks for the more regular user (usually 30-40 days,  but sometimes longer due to cannabinoids’ lipophilic nature).
  • Around 4% of tests result in a false positive.
  • A urine screening alone is usually not enough to say for definite that an individual’s cannabis use is a cause of impaired performance, or that the person is under the influence of cannabis whilst at work. Blood tests also need to be taken in order to assess performance.

Is CBD detectable in the body?

At the moment, most standard and even more advanced drug tests do not test for CBD. However, this is not to say that CBD isn’t detectable if one is looking for it. Levels of CBD in the bloodstream usually peak within 3-5 minutes after ingestion if smoked or vaped, and between 30 minutes and 2 hours if taken sublingually or eaten. The effects usually last between 4 and 12 hours, depending on the method of ingestion, the amountt taken and the individual’s metabolism.

In the saliva, CBD is detectable for up to 24 hours after ingestion, and up to 3 days for heavy CBD users (in particular smokers & vapers). In the urine, CBD is detectable for between 5 and 10 days after last ingestion. However, as it would be the metabolites of CBD (7-OH-CBD and 6-OH-CBD) that are tested for and cannabinoid metabolites bind to the fats in the body, CBD can be detectable in the urine for 2-5 weeks after ingestion, depending upon the regularity of use and dosage.

As the metabolites of cannabinoids go from the bloodstream and even into one’s hair follicles, it is possible to test positively for CBD up to 3 months after last ingestion, if the person was more than a casual user. Whilst hair tests can be one indicator of cannabis use and can detect for metabolites several months afterwards, they are not as accurate or reliable (or invasive) as blood tests.

You can test for cannabis & thc yourself. Photo by ProjectManhattan. From Wikipedia. CC BY-SA 4.0.

I take CBD regularly and am afraid of an upcoming drug test. How do I pass it?

Whilst CBD is not usually looked for in most drug tests, it is still possible that you may test positive for THC, even if you do not consume it or only use small amounts. The best way to prevent a false positive is by doing the following:

  • Not using any CBD product for at least two weeks prior to any test. Ideally, one month or 2-3 months to be sure.
  • Getting plenty of exercise and keeping hydrated may help “flush” your system of any cannabinoids. Burning away fat cells that contain cannabinoids via exercise may prove particularly effective. Going to the sauna a day or two prior to the test may help as well.
  • Some say that drinking plenty of green, white and herbal teas can help as well. Whether this is true or not we cannot say for sure, but it is interesting to note that tea catechins have a weak affinity for cannabinoid receptors. Such teas also tend to contain plenty of antioxidants, so this could also help “flush” cannabinoids out of one’s body.
  • As hair samples can detect cannabis use for up to 3 months after last ingestion, some may decide to opt for a close shave a month or two prior to a drug test.
From Pexels.

I have a valid medical marijuana card. Will that save me?

As cannabis and CBD are Schedule I substances, federally illegal and cannot be prescribed outside of the Schedule V, FDA-approved Epidiolex, sadly not, although some states are starting to add employment protections for those who need to use cannabinoid-based medications. However, if you are not working with heavy machinery or driving, not working with those considered vulnerable, or not working within law enforcement or any other form of federal employment, then there may be some leeway. This, however, depends very much on the employer’s discretion. Also, having a valid medical marijuana card will likely give you access to a greater number of high-quality, cannabis-based (rather than hemp-based) CBD. There may be slightly higher levels of THC (though not necessarily psychoactive amounts) in some of the CBD-based cannabis products when compared to hemp products, but having a valid MMIC may lend credence to the fact that you may need to use cannabis for a defined and diagnosed medical problem.

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We know that CBD and other cannabinoids have many potential uses, as well as not being anywhere near as psychoactive as many drugs and medications, even prescription ones. CBD and cannabis oils may help to fight against cancer. Many use CBD for anxiety and depression, especially if they have been prescribed a cycle of antidepressants and benzodiazepines. CBD may be used to help treat epilepsy, and there even exists an FDA-approved CBD-containing product as proof of this. Athletes, especially ones in high-impact sports such as boxing, mixed martial arts, American football and rugby, often use CBD as an alternative to the high-spectrum NSAIDs, analgesics and opioids they are usually prescribed for their pain.

Unfortunately, the science is not always reflected by the law and the government. Until that happens, even those who use CBD exclusively are potentially in danger of falling foul of drug tests, even if that risk is very low. And who knows? Governments may start instituting tests for CBD metabolites as well, but hopefully they don’t take this as an idea!

Article by Holly Klamer. Edited by Leafwell.

Featured image Source. Creative Commons Licence CC BY-SA 1.0

Written by
Ruth Lemon
Ruth Lemon

Ruth Lemon has worked in Cambodia and Australia, gaining experience in the non-profit sector, education and international development, and digital marketing. Ruth is helping Leafwell to scale without compromising the customer experience and seeks to create a frictionless customer journey. She now lives in the UK with her rescued Cambodian cat and believes Leafwell is improving access to and understanding of a valuable medical alternative.

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