Can 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 oil ? 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.
How do drug tests for cannabis work
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 — not CBD. (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.
Full spectrum CBD vs. broad spectrum CBD vs. CBD isolates: 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 that could result in failing a drug test
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?
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.
Can You Take CBD and Pass a Drug Test?
Not always, even though it’s legal. Here’s how to protect yourself.
The 26-year-old video producer from Reno, Nev., was shocked when a drug test he took as part of a job application came back positive for marijuana. The problem? He hadn’t used marijuana, he says. Instead, J.C., who prefers not to use his name, had taken CBD, or cannabidiol, from hemp to help with sleep and anxiety. And unlike THC, a related compound in cannabis plants, CBD can’t get you high.
“I thought I was in the clear,” J.C. says. “From everything that I had heard, CBD oil wasn’t supposed to show up on drug tests.”
CBD is going mainstream. Late last year Congress made CBD from hemp legal at the federal level. And it’s increasingly found on store shelves, now even sold in some CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens stores. An estimated 64 million people have tried CBD in the past 24 months, according to a January 2019 nationally representative survey by Consumer Reports of more than 4,000 adult Americans, using it for pain, insomnia, anxiety, and other health problems.
But as more people try it, one unexpected “side effect” could be failing an employer’s drug test, and even losing a job as a result.
Consider Bianca Thurston of Pennsylvania and Coni Hass of California. They are jointly suing Koi CBD, alleging that they failed drug tests because of the company’s CBD product; Thurston lost her job. Or Douglas Horn, a truck driver in New York who alleges that he lost his job after taking a CBD product made by Dixie (aka Dixie Elixirs).
Koi CBD told Consumer Reports in a statement about the lawsuit: “Koi prides itself on providing the highest-quality products while being a leader in the industry. We take claims regarding our products very seriously. We are investigating this matter and the allegations, which at this time, are unproven and unverified. We remain focused on continuing to carefully craft and offer a full array of beneficial cannabinoid products.”
Dixie Elixirs did not respond to a request for a comment.
So how can you fail a drug test after taking CBD? The urine test most commonly used doesn’t even look for CBD but instead a compound created by the body when it metabolizes THC, says Barry Sample, senior director of science and technology at Quest Diagnostics, the largest administrator of drug tests in the U.S. “There isn’t going to be a laboratory analytical false positive confusing CBD with a THC metabolite.”
But Sample says that CBD products could have more THC than the label claims. CBD products from hemp sold in retail stores and online aren’t supposed contain more than 0.3 percent THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the compound in marijuana that can get you high.
It’s also possible that over time, the small amounts of THC allowed in CBD products could build up in the body to detectable levels.
And while New York City recently passed a law that, starting May 10, 2020, will bar many employers from testing prospective employees for marijuana, that is still the exception, even in states that allow marijuana for medical or adult recreational use. In fact, more than half of employers test job applicants for it, says Kate Kennedy, spokesperson for the Society for Human Resource Management, an industry group. That can help companies lower costs for disability insurance and workers’ compensation. Some people who work for the federal government or military or as pilots, bus drivers, train conductors, or truck drivers are also subject to drug testing.
So if you use CBD, especially if you are applying for a job or work in a sensitive field, you should be aware of the possible need to pass a drug test. Here’s more on how to do it, as well as advice on how to avoid that problem or deal with a positive drug test because of CBD.
CBD products often have more THC than claimed, research suggests. For example, a 2017 study in JAMA found that 18 of 84 CBD products, all purchased online, had THC levels possibly high enough to cause intoxication or impairment.
And those elevated levels might also be high enough to cause you not to pass a drug test.
That’s what Horn, the truck driver from New York, alleges happened to him after taking a product advertised to contain “zero THC.”
After losing his job because of the failed drug test, the lawsuit says Horn purchased a sample of the CBD product, had it tested, and found that, contrary to the claim, it did contain THC—enough, the lawsuit alleges, to cause a THC level in his urine of 29 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL). That’s double the amount that typically triggers a positive result, says Sample at Quest Diagnostics.
Mislabeled CBD products are a growing problem for American workers, Sample believes. “It’s buyer beware,” he says. “There’s not always truth in labeling on the products.”
And he believes those high levels could be due in part to how THC levels are measured in hemp plants. While those plants are supposed to contain no more than 0.3 percent THC, that’s based on the dry weight of the plant. “But dry weight doesn’t necessarily equate to what’s in the finished product,” Sample says.
Plus, he says, in some cases that percentage is based on the weight of the whole plant, or on the weight of the buds or flowers, which tend to have more THC.
Adding to the confusion is that each state can determine how it samples and tests hemp plants for THC content, says Aline DeLucia, senior policy analyst for the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture. When sampling the hemp plant, “the closer you get to the flower, the higher the THC content. So some states collect the top 6 inches of the plant, while others do it differently,” DeLucia says. But “everybody is onboard that we need some kind of uniformity.”
And once CBD is turned into a “finished” product, such as an oil, a lotion, a tincture, a pill, or a vape liquid, few states dictate how those should be tested for THC, save for Oregon and soon Vermont. State agriculture departments, DeLucia says, don’t have jurisdiction over testing these products for safety.
Last, some states allow medical CBD products obtained through permitted channels to contain more than 0.3 percent THC. For example, the cutoff in Georgia and Virginia is 5 percent, Sample says, a level that is definitely high enough to cause impairment and a failed drug test.
Best bet: To increase the likelihood that a product doesn’t have more THC than claimed, look for a manufacturer that can provide a Certificate of Analysis, or COA, for its product. That document shows the results of a company’s testing for THC, CBD, and various contaminants. Though that testing is voluntary (except in Indiana and Utah) and the results aren’t confirmed by independent experts, for now it’s the best information available. If a store or website can’t provide you with a COA, look for another product. Read more about how CBD products are tested.
Small Amounts of THC Can Build Up
Many legitimate CBD products contain small amounts of THC. And when taken regularly over as little as four to six days, that THC can accumulate in the body, according to several studies.
That’s because THC is fat-soluble, says Norbert E. Kaminski, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University in East Lansing. So THC that isn’t immediately metabolized by the body will be stored in fat tissue. And “over time, THC and THC metabolites will be slowly released,” Kaminski says. As a result, it’s possible to test positive for THC and not pass a drug test, even after you’ve stopped taking the product.
Sample, at Quest Diagnostics, says that chronic, heavy users of marijuana could test positive even a month after they stop using it.
Best bet: Consider products that are claimed to be “CBD only” and have COAs showing that they contain zero THC. Also, you can try tracking your own THC levels with an at-home drug test, says Mitch Earleywine, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University at Albany, State University of New York, who has studied the medicinal use of CBD. If you test positive but need to be THC-free, consider taking a two- to three-week break from the product to clear THC from your system, he says.
What to Do If You Failed a Drug Test
Talk with your employer. That’s what worked for J.C., in Nevada, after he tested positive for marijuana use. Armed with documentation from his doctor that he was taking CBD to treat anxiety and insomnia, he met with company co-founder Matt Ross, chief operating officer of the Slumber Yard—a website that tracks user experiences with buying and using mattresses—and explained why he was taking it. He even took the bottle in for his employer to see.
“I wasn’t familiar with CBD at the time,” Ross says. But he and his partner appreciated that J.C. addressed the situation. “He was really talented as a video editor, and we felt comfortable enough to get past it.”
If that doesn’t work, try your company’s HR department. If your employer resists, you may be able to seek protection through the Americans with Disabilities Act and state disability laws. Those laws allows people with documented needs to get exceptions, or “reasonable accommodations,” to account for their medical situation. While the ADA does not apply to marijuana—because it remains illegal on the federal level, even for medical use—it’s still worth asking your company’s HR department, says James Reidy, an attorney at Sheehan Phinney Bass & Green who focuses on drug policy issues with employers. That’s because CBD from hemp is now legal on a federal level.
If you have any documentation from a medical provider, that can help, too. And you may have more luck if you live in Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, or West Virginia. Those states have passed laws providing some protection for people who use medical marijuana, potentially including CBD, Reidy says.
Other states, such as likeCalifornia, Montana, Oregon, and Washington have laws to assure that companies located in those states do not have to provide “reasonable accommodations” for people who use medical marijuana, and leave it up to each employer to decide, Reidy says. In those states, though, it’s still worth asking your company’s HR department about it if you’ve failed a drug test for marijuana after taking CBD.
Ask for a retest. If you’ve stopped taking CBD for a few weeks or longer, or took CBD infrequently, and still test positive for marijuana, consider asking for a retest. Though there are safeguards in place to prevent errors, Sample says, in rare cases they do happen.
In addition, some companies might set the threshold for THC very low to catch as many people as possible, Earleywine says. But doing so means the test can generate “some false positives, people who look as if they’ve used THC when they haven’t.”
Stop or skip using CBD products if faced with an upcoming drug test. That’s the only way to ensure that your CBD won’t trigger a positive test result for marijuana. And that includes stopping use of topical CBD lotions, oils, and cosmetic products, says Kaminski at Michigan State University. And it’s best to stop two to three weeks before the test, he adds. That should allow for enough time for any THC and THC metabolites to clear out of your system.
If you have to pass a drug test, you might want to skip taking CBD. Here’s why and how to protect yourself, with details from Consumer Reports on whether you can take CBD and pass a drug test.