CBD & Drug Testing: Can You Test Positive?
Testing positive for using CBD is a worry that many people have. After all, it wasn’t until 2018 that the federal government recognized hemp as a separate plant from marijuana — so it makes sense that a lot of people still think CBD is the same thing as cannabis. But do you need to be worried that it might come back on a drug screen?
For most, it’s relatively unlikely, but understanding the truth about CBD and full-spectrum CBD oil drug test protocols will go a long way toward giving you the confidence you need when approaching a drug screening.
Testing for Full-Spectrum CBD Oil: What Goes Into A Drug Screening
When you’re taking a drug test that screens for “cannabis,” what it’s actually checking for is evidence that you’ve used products containing high concentrations of THC. THC is the psychoactive compound in marijuana, but it is found in all cannabis plants. Rather than checking for THC directly, however, the screening test responds to the presence of a metabolite found in the body after THC is ingested, usually THC-COOH. For cannabis tests, this threshold is usually 50ng/dl of THC-COOH. This amount, however, is consistent with fairly regular usage of a moderate amount of marijuana.
In theory, testing positive for using CBD shouldn’t be a concern. Legalized CBD is derived from industrial hemp. While hemp is a cannabis plant that contains THC, by law industrial hemp must contain 0.3% or less. Compare this to marijuana, which can have THC concentrations as high as 30% or more, and the disparity in their potential effects becomes apparent.
Like we said above, the industrial hemp plant is a close relative of marijuana. Both are cannabis plants, but the distinction between the two lies legally in the THC concentration of each plant. Under the 2018 Farm Bill (which recognized industrial hemp as a separate plant), hemp and hemp-derived products are federally legal since they contain only trace amounts of THC. Testing positive for using CBD, then, won’t be a concern for standard users under normal circumstances.
When Full-Spectrum CBD Oil Affects Drug Tests
There are circumstances, however, where a high-quality CBD product with a beneficial full-spectrum formula may impact a drug screening, but they require very specific circumstances.
- Your body metabolizes THC faster than normal – While it may only be in trace amounts if your body creates a large amount of THC-COOH or releases a large amount from storage as a response to the presence of THC, that may be caught on a screening.
- You’ve also been using high-THC products – If you’ve been using marijuana products, which are higher in THC, your body may already be over the limit. Even if you’ve stopped using marijuana, testing positive for using CBD may be possible as the trace amounts of THC could increase the amount of time needed for your body to process and eliminate enough metabolite to pass your screening.
- Your products are not hemp-derived – Some marijuana products also have high CBD concentrations. These products can, technically, be marketed as CBD (because marijuana does naturally contain it), but they will have high THC concentrations. These may not be legal at the federal level or under your state’s laws. While they may look like CBD products, they are not and they will cause a failed drug screening.
Passing Your Drug Screening
If you know you have a screening coming up or that you may be subject to testing, there are some steps you can take to keep from testing positive for using CBD.
- Avoid High-THC Products – The easiest way to not have a large amount of THC metabolites in your system is to limit your intake of THC-containing products. Avoiding marijuana and marijuana-derived capsules, oils, edibles, and topicals will help you keep your THC levels low, even while using CBD.
- Make Sure You’re Using High-Quality CBD – THC-free CBD products have only the barest traces of THC remaining. While, technically, not every bit of THC can be removed from a full-spectrum product, the levels present fall well below normal testable limits. In order to get the best from a full-spectrum CBD oil but still pass your drug test, opt for products from companies that will supply a certificate of analysis proving their low THC concentration.
- Detox, Don’t Mask – If you’re still worried about testing positive for using CBD, consider a detox that’s meant to help you clean your system and increase elimination. Be careful, though, not to try to mask your sample. While a detox is meant to support your natural elimination process, a masking agent is meant to hide the presence of full-spectrum CBD oil while drug testing by “fooling” the test. If it’s detected, however, it may flag your sample for increased scrutiny, or depending on the conditions of the screening, automatically count as a failed test.
- Know Before You Go – If you’re worried about your test results, you can always test yourself at home beforehand. From $20 kits at your local pharmacy to $1 test strips at many dollar stores, many of these kits are calibrated to the same 50ng/dl threshold as most screenings. Pick up a test and verify for yourself whether your care regimen will lead you to test positive for using CBD. If the results aren’t what you hoped, this will give you the advance warning you need to lower your intake or make other lifestyle adjustments.
Choose CBD You Can Count On
Choosing a reputable, high-quality CBD brand not only helps limit your risk of a false positive, but it ensures you receive a better wellness product to support your endocannabinoid system. At EndoCoast, we use only non-GMO hemp grown without potentially harmful chemicals, so we have the best hemp possible to make our ultra-pure, high-quality CBD oil. Using a clean CO2 extraction process, we create a premium oil that is then formulated with organic and vegan ingredients to give you the best CBD products you can trust to be safe, pure, and potent.
Take charge of your wellness and find your #coast without testing positive for using CBD. Order your CBD from EndoCoast today.
What you need to know about Texas’ legalization of medical marijuana, CBD oil and its impact on employer drug testing.
During the 2019 Texas Legislative session, the House of Representatives drafted several bills relative to the legalization of medical marijuana, hemp, hemp production and CBD oil.
So, what laws passed? What are the changes ahead?
- Texas farmers can now grow hemp. Cannabidol, or CBD products with less than .03 percent of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive compound found in cannabis plants) are legal. On June 11 Governor Abbott signed into law the legalization of hemp production and CBD products. While Texans have found CBD oils, tinctures and goods in stores for a while now, they were technically illegal. As long as the CBD products are derived from hemp, contains less than .03 percent of THC and meet labeling standards, they are legal.
- Texas expands access to medical marijuana. Texas House of Representatives Bill 3703 expands the Compassionate Care Act of 2015 on the use of medical marijuana, which Governor Abbott signed into law on June 15.House Bill 3703 expands the Compassionate Care Act to allow specialty doctors to prescribe low-THC (.5 percent) medical marijuana for ailments including multiple sclerosis, spasticity, Parkinson’s disease, ALS, terminal cancer, autism and or incurable neurodegenerative disease.Until this law, only Texans diagnosed with intractable epilepsy were allowed to be prescribed cannabis.The law does not allow medical marijuana to be smoked, only consumed or used in the form of edibles, inhalers, oils, topical treatments or gel caps.It still requires the prescribing physician to register as the prescriber for a patient in the Compassionate Care Act registry.For make background on the Compassionate Care Act, go to https://www.texasmedclinic.com/medical-marijuana-in-the-texas-workplace/
- Recreational marijuana is still illegal in Texas. House Bill 63 attempted to lessen the penalties from Class B misdemeanor to Class C misdemeanor for people caught with small of amounts of marijuana. It did not pass.
How will the new laws impact employer drug testing?
Texas employers can keep their eyes on states where recreational cannabis use has been made lawful (such as Colorado, California, Washington, Oregon, and Nevada), and where employers already are reconciling the conflicting state and federal rules.
Employers are still allowed to test employees and applicants for THC and discipline them or refuse to hire them in the case of positive results, at least as long as the federal government continues to classify marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance. Employers have a right to rely upon the continued prohibition at the federal level to take adverse employment action against persons testing positive, even where state law has legalized cannabis use.
The bigger confusion lies in the popularity of CBD oil. CBD oil is not standardized or regulated, which means some CBD oil can have higher amounts of THC that can test positive in a standardized drug test.
According to a blog from Quest Diagnostics, a national leader in the drug testing arena, CBD itself would not report positive for marijuana or marijuana metabolite. If the CBD product contains THC at a sufficiently high concentration, it is possible, depending on usage patterns, that the use of these products could cause a positive urine drug test result for marijuana metabolites. For example, in some states, CBD may contain up to 5% THC.
It is important to remember that for federally-mandated drug tests, the use of CBD or “medical marijuana” would not be considered an alternative medical explanation for the positive test result. Moreover, as a Schedule I substance, CBD remains illegal at the Federal level. While there are some states that permit the sale of CBD, many of these states only permit relatively low levels of THC in the CBD product.
Employers need to stay informed about the ever-changing landscape of marijuana and its derivatives, ensuring their company’s substance abuse policy language clearly reflects their position on marijuana and the use of CBD products.
Variation in Cannabis Testing Challenges a Young Industry
The US lacks standardized methods to assess products for potency and safety. That’s a big problem for the labs tasked with doing the testing.
Following an internship with The Scientist in 2017, Katarina has been happily freelancing for a number of publications, covering everything from climate change to oncology.
Mar 1, 2020
ABOVE: An employee at California-based testing company CannaSafe preps a cannabis sample for testing. © CANNASAFE
W hen voters in Massachusetts approved a 2012 ballot measure to legalize the sale and use of medical marijuana, it came as a relief for many patients: they now had legal access to a drug known to relieve chronic pain and muscle spasticity associat-ed with a range of conditions, including HIV and multiple sclerosis. But the new law worried Christopher Hudalla, then a chemist at Waters Corporation, a Massachusetts-based company that manufactures analytical laboratory instruments. Like other states, Massachusetts had legalized cannabis without mandating that the herb, or products derived from it, be tested for safety before being sold, which struck Hudalla as odd.
Why would marijuana, especially as it’s being considered medical—why would that not be tested?
“Anything we put on or in our body is tested, whether it’s cosmetics, or lotions, or bread, or nutritional supplements,” he tells The Scientist. “So why would marijuana, especially as it’s being considered medical—why would that not be tested?”
Some time after the law went into effect in early 2013, Hudalla visited a university library in Boston to find out about safety issues associated with cannabis. He didn’t expect acute adverse effects from the plant’s main active ingredients, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or cannabidiol (CBD), or the hundreds of other compounds contained cannabis. Humans have been smoking the herb for thousands of years, he adds.
He was, however, concerned about the risks of contamination. Sure enough, he found dozens of case reports documenting people who had fallen ill—and sometimes died—after smoking cannabis products that had been contaminated with harmful substances, from pesticides, lead, and other heavy metals to molds and other microbes.
Hudalla printed out the studies and took them to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, where officials told him they’d look into the issue. A few weeks later, in May 2013, he spotted an article in The Boston Globe reporting that Massachusetts had become the first state to mandate analytical testing of medical marijuana. Companies wanting to sell medicinal cannabis in the state would have to hire an independent lab to test their products for contaminants and for potency—the latter to ensure the accuracy of product label claims. Other states were quick to follow, typically mandating testing for both safety and potency. By 2019, 26 states had introduced mandatory testing for medical and/or recreational markets, according to Cannabis Industry Journal.
These steps have led to an explosive growth of companies specialized in cannabis testing. While some states, such as Kentucky and North Carolina, only got their first accredited cannabis testing labs last year, well-established cannabis markets such as California have dozens. In principle, these labs should act as a US-wide filter that prevents unsafe or in-accurately labeled marijuana products from reaching consumers. However, the fledgling testing industry is facing considerable challenges that compromise its important role.
Because cannabis is still considered illegal at the federal level, the responsibility of regulating cannabis and cannabis-derived products falls to states, creating a patchwork of different testing requirements across the country. In addition, state governments issue little to no guidance about protocols for testing products for either potency or safety. Instead, labs have had to trailblaze the development of their own methods.
Now, in a cannabis testing industry that is only a few years old, it’s evident that reports on potency can vary from lab to lab, and recalls of contaminated products happen across the country, threatening consumer trust. “It’s not really at all like any other industry I’ve worked in, in that they’re still trying to work out proficiency and certification standards,” notes Frank Conrad, an analytical chemist formerly in the biofuels industry who now runs Colorado Green Lab, a consultancy firm for the cannabis industry.
Measuring the potency of cannabis-derived products
Knowing the concentration of active ingredients is crucial throughout the cannabis supply chain. Cultivators and retailers want to know a product’s strength because higher concentrations of CBD or THC (the more psychoactive compound of the two) usually mean higher prices. Potency information is also important for doctors who prescribe cannabis to their patients and for recreational users who wish to control the intensity of their high. Labs are tasked with testing samples at every stage of production—from the whole plant to the manufactured product, and often its final packaged form.
In the absence of federal guidance, labs have had to develop and validate their own methods of measuring the concentrations of THC and CBD, and distinguishing between them—a particular challenge due to the molecular similarity of these two compounds to each other and to other cannabis compounds. Many labs have converged on a few analytical techniques, although the precise details of each company’s procedure are often proprietary. Hudalla, who runs the Massachusetts-based cannabis testing lab ProVerde Laboratories, says he reckons that most use high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) to measure concentrations of THC and CBD, plus their acidic precursors, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid and cannabidiolic acid, which degrade to THC and CBD upon being heated through smoking or preparation for oil and edible products.
After the dried plant has been ground up and doused in a solvent to extract cannabinoids, the residual fluid is fed into a HPLC system which separates different compounds by using pressure to force the mixture through a granular material. The technique is based on the principle that molecules with different structures take different amounts of time to pass through this material. If done correctly, the method allows chemists to separate THC or CBD from terpenes, flavonoids, and other cannabinoids and to detect each compound’s concentration.
However, there are many accounts of labs producing starkly different potency measurements for the same products—some results varying by as much as 40 percent, according to a 2018 report by Marijuana Business Daily. Retailer Jerred Kiloh, who owns a marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles, has himself received very different estimates from different labs testing the same products. “That’s what we deal with constantly,” he says.
Many experts blame this variability on the lack of standardized methods for determining marijuana potency. Lab protocols can differ in the specific solvents or reagents used during extraction and analysis. Then there are the instruments themselves, which may come from different manufacturers and have different calibration standards, potentially contributing additional variation.
Complicating matters further is the variety of cannabis products on the market, some of which are easier to analyze than others. From CBD-containing tinctures, lotions, and dog treats to THC-infused chocolate bars and turkey pot pie, each product needs to undergo a custom cannabinoid extraction method before its ingredients can be tested. Data from California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control suggest that the more complex the product, the more likely it is to be inaccurately labeled. In 2018, regulators found that 10.6 percent of cannabis flower samples, 20.4 percent of inhalable oils and waxes, and 32.9 percent of edibles, tinctures, and lotions carried labels with potency estimates that were more than 10 percent different from the true value.
Antonio Frazier, vice president of operations at California-based testing company CannaSafe, worries that these inaccuracies—and the recalls that often follow—make consumers wary of the industry. “People have a hard time trusting us,” he says.
Detection of pesticides and other contaminants
The stakes are higher for contaminant testing than for potency testing, as weed contaminated during cultivation, processing, or packaging could be dangerous, especially for frail or immunocompromised patients. For growers, this sort of safety testing can be “make or break,” says Frazier. A finding of contamination could force them to discard entire batches worth hundreds of thousands of dollars or more.
Luckily for testing companies and consumers alike, safety testing is in principle more straightforward than potency evaluation because labs can turn to methods prescribed by federal agencies for testing other botanical products. Labs often isolate pesticides using liquid chromatography and then assess their concentrations using mass spectrometry, a technique suited to detecting the often tiny traces of contaminants. Techniques such as PCR and DNA sequencing are used to look for biological contaminants such as fungi and bacteria.
A more significant obstacle in cannabis safety testing is uncertainty about what concentrations of contaminants are safe. Most research on pesticide toxicity, for example, assumes ingestion of products, but cannabis is often smoked—a mode of consumption that poses different risks, Hudalla explains. “There’s been very little study that’s focused on the thermal combustion or degradation of pesticides prior to inhalations.”
While government and academic research is lacking, some labs have conducted their own studies on the risks of certain pesticides in cannabis cultivation. In 2015, Conrad’s firm was asked by a local Colorado consumer advocacy group if myclobutanil, a fungicide that prevents mildew on plants, posed risks to people smoking cannabis. During a routine inspection of cannabis farms a few weeks earlier, state officials had noticed workers applying the pesticide, which is considered safe at very low concentrations in agricultural crops, but is prohibited for use in tobacco cultivation.
Conrad’s chemical analysis found that, once heated past the boiling point, myclo-butanil generates hydrogen cyanide. Though unlikely to be lethal at the levels used in cannabis cultivation, the compound should not be inhaled by people with weakened health, Conrad says. After he shared his findings with the state’s department of health, Colorado and several other states banned the use of the fungicide in cannabis cultivation. Similar cases have played out for other pesticides. “As a general rule, the labs [are] advocating mainly on the behalf of consumers that we should be doing more testing,” says Conrad.
Some data suggest that increases in this sort of testing have made cannabis products safer over time. When California first mandated pesticide testing for cannabis in 2018, more than 24 percent of products tested by CannaSafe, Frazier’s company, failed the state’s pesticide standards. By the start of 2019, that rate had dropped to 1.5 percent—to Frazier a sign that the testing system encourages growers to be more careful about the products they use.
However, safety lapses do happen. Last year, Colorado officials randomly sampled cannabis products sold around Denver and discovered yeast and mold on products from batches that testing labs had declared contamination-free. The findings triggered a major recall that affected 144 dispensaries around the city. It’s not clear who in the supply chain was at fault. While some experts suggest that such situations could be caused by microbes growing after products are packaged, some similar situations in the past have involved error or manipulation from labs or growers. (See below, “Bad Behavior.”)
A standardized approach to cannabis testing?
While a certain degree of variation in product testing is inevitable, particularly for agricultural products that themselves show natural variation, efforts are afoot to tackle variability in potency and safety testing in a systematic way. In addition to conducting random testing of products that end up on shelves, a number of state regulators have raised the bar for becoming a licensed lab. Of the 26 states with mandatory testing, 18 require some form of accreditation, usually ISO 17025, a rigorous and expensive certification issued by the International Organization for Standardization for which labs have to provide extensive data to convince auditors that their methods are accurate. However, even accredited labs appear to have difficulties replicating one another’s results—something that puzzles Holly Johnson, chief science officer at the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), which represents more than 350 companies doing business in herbal products.
One solution could be nationwide, compulsory proficiency testing, whereby an independent third party sends lab researchers an unknown sample to see whether they can accurately analyze its ingredients. This sort of oversight is standard for US companies testing water, biofuels, agricultural goods, and many other products, Conrad notes. However, a national proficiency program for cannabis labs is infeasible because federal law prohibits the transportation of high-THC cannabis across state lines, he explains.
Still, some states have managed to set up their own proficiency programs. In 2016, Nevada began to send cannabis samples to certified labs across the state and to evaluate the consistency of the results. And in 2014, California-based Emerald Scientific launched a proficiency test involving various products spiked with low but traceable concentrations of THC. Nearly a hundred US labs participate, Kirsten Blake, the company’s vice president, tells The Scientist in an email, either voluntarily or as a part of the ISO 17025 certification.
In addition to improved proficiency testing, Johnson would like to see the cannabis industry adopt standardized testing procedures. Another organization she works for, a Maryland-based nonprofit called AOAC that develops standardized methods for agricultural testing, recently published two methods of analysis for evaluating THC and CBD potency in cannabis, from extraction to interpretation of results. Some labs have already adopted the standards. Doing the same for safety testing, however, will be more challenging, Johnson says, because states differ widely in how (or whether) they regulate pesticide use in cannabis cultivation.
Agreeing on what testing standards should be is also difficult, Kiloh notes. As some companies have argued, the more stringent the standards, the more expensive they’ll be to adopt, which raises the bar for newcomers and less established companies, potentially stifling industry growth. On the other hand, Kiloh says he worries that looser standards could allow companies to try to undercut competition by running tests as cheaply and as quickly as possible—a situation that could cripple the business of established, reputable labs and compromise the safety and integrity of cannabis products, not to mention consumer trust.
“We started a billion-dollar industry not more than a couple of years ago,” Kiloh says. Finding standards that keep consumers safe and informed while also allowing the young cannabis-testing industry to thrive will take time, he says. “We still have some work to do to get to very clear standards for testing in labs.”
While most issues with potency and safety measurements in the cannabis industry stem from a lack of standardized methods, there have also been reports of bad behavior.
Sometimes, it could be the cultivators who are being dishonest. In many areas, cannabis growers themselves typically choose the samples they send in for testing, which may allow them to influence testing results by cherry-picking samples known to have higher THC concentrations or to be free of contaminants.
Other times, the testing labs are to blame. In one high-profile 2018 case, for example, California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control caught the director of Sequoia Analytical Labs in Sacramento fabricating pesticide testing results for hundreds of batches of cannabis.
Even without direct data manipulation, labs can enhance results—for example, by using testing protocols likely to inflate potency measurements.
James MacRae, a data scientist and founder of the cannabis consultancy firm Straight Line Analytics, began investigating Washington State’s cannabis testing several years ago and found that the labs most likely to approve batches for safety also produced high scores for THC concentrations. Some results were so inflated they were virtually impossible, statistically speaking, and eventually led to regulators shutting down one of the state’s largest testing labs in 2017.
Growers can take advantage of this system to try out different labs until they find one that gives them desirable results, a practice MacRae calls “lab shopping,” which in turn benefits labs that produce inflated results.
Katarina Zimmer is a New York–based freelance journalist. Find her on Twitter @katarinazimmer.