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The ABCs Of CBD For Employers

An increasingly common series of questions employers have been asking of late relate to their employees’ use of CBD. Will use of CBD products impair employees? If an employee or applicant tests positive on a drug test and blames seemingly innocuous use of CBD, what should we do? Should it be permissible to allow use of CBD products in a zero-tolerance workplace?

A Primer On CBD

Before diving into an analysis of these and similar questions, it’s important to get on the same page regarding the substance. Cannabidiol – or CBD – is a chemical found in marijuana and its close relative, hemp. Pure CBD does not contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient found in marijuana that produces a high.

The most common CBD formulation started as oil, but CBD is also sold as an extract, a vaporized liquid, and an oil-based capsule. CBD-infused beverages are probably the most common CBD product, but use of CBD-based cosmetic and skincare products is surging in both retail stores and online.

Currently, the only CBD product approved by the Food and Drug Administration is a prescription oil called Epidiolex, approved to treat two types of epilepsy. Aside from Epidiolex, state laws on the use of CBD vary. While CBD is being studied as a treatment for a wide range of conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and anxiety, research supporting the drug’s benefits is still limited. However, the FDA recently announced hearings on the potential lawful use of CBD in cosmetics, food and supplements.

What’s The Difference Between CBD And THC?

The technical explanation regarding the difference between CBD and THC centers around the fact that all cannabinoids – both CBD and THC – interact with specific targets on cells in the body, the CB1 and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors are found mainly in the brain and are important for learning, coordination, sleep, pain, brain development, and other functions; CB2 receptors are found mostly in the immune system.

CBD has very little effect on both CB1 and CB2 receptors. This is probably why it does not make people high and is not mind-altering; in fact it may even blunt some of THC’s psychotropic effects. Most marijuana grown for recreational use is very low in CBD content, and high in THC. As Medical News Today explained, “CBD is an entirely different compound from THC, and its effects are very complex. It is not psychoactive, meaning it does not produce a ‘high’ or change a person's state of mind.”

CBD And Impairment

While you should consult with your medical advisor on specific situations, you generally should not be concerned about your workers becoming impaired from CBD use. A 2015 NIH – National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) paper explained why CBD should not impair employees:

Different cannabinoids can have very different biological effects; CBD, for example, does not make people high and is not intoxicating. And, there is reason to believe it may have a range of uses in medicine, including in the treatment of seizures and other neurological disorders.

However, that’s not to say that CBD will never present a problem for you. Much about the substance is still unknown, as stated in a 2015 National Institute of Health analysis: “Marijuana has over 500 chemicals in total, including the 100 or so cannabinoids, so we will still be learning about this plant for years to come.”

A particular problem stems from the fact that your workers might not know exactly what else is in the CBD product they are using. Most CBD products are sold as supplements and are not regulated by the FDA, meaning they could also have various other substances mixed in. For example, is Delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the metabolite that makes one high, present? What else could be added to the mix?

A recent study of 84 CBD products bought online showed that more than a quarter of the products contained less CBD than labeled, but that THC was found in 18 products. Research published in The Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that 43 percent of CBD oils tested had more THC in them than labeled.

Positive Drug Tests

This means that one of your workers or applicants might think they are staying on the right side of the law when using a CBD product, but could inadvertently ingest substances that violate your valid drug policies. Barry Sample, the Director of Science and Technology for the drug testing laboratory Quest Diagnostics, recently observed that the government is not ensuring the level of THC remains low because CBD oil is not regulated in the United States. Therefore, he said, “if somebody is using a CBD oil that contains residual THC in it, they very likely could test positive on a urine drug test. Not because of the CBD itself – but because of a contaminant that is in that oil.”

While CBD itself would not report positive for marijuana or marijuana metabolite, if the CBD product used by your employee or applicant 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 percent THC.

So what should you do if an applicant or employee tests positive and claims they only used CBD? Unless an employee is using the sole FDA-approved medical product, Epidiolex, a confirmed positive for THC means that the employee has probably ingested THC – even though they may have assumed that a CDB product would not result in a positive test or lead to any sort of impairment. The burden would then be on the employee to prove that they did not ingest THC, and you would need to consider how to respond to such a positive test on a case-by-case basis.

Use At The Workplace

Because the FDA does not regulate CBD products other than Epidiolex, an employee has no guarantee that their supposedly pure CBD product does not contain THC. You should educate employees about this problem and explain that even if they advise you in advance that they are using a CBD product that is not supposed to impair them or create a safety threat, you will have to take action if they later test positive for THC.

Generally, it takes more of a food or drink containing THC to impair an employee or to result in a positive test, but there are no guarantees. Similarly, CBD creams, oils, and cosmetics containing THC would be less likely to result in a positive test result; the research on these products may be too sparse for an employee to risk their employment. 

5 Important Takeaways

The five most important things you should keep in mind regarding CBD use and the workplace:  

CBD: What it is, how it’s used and what we still don’t know

Cannabidiol (CBD) has exploded onto the market, leaving a lot of confused consumers in its wake. Get up to speed with this beginner’s guide.

Danielle Kosecki is an award-winning journalist who has covered health and fitness for 15 years. She’s written for Glamour, More, Prevention and Bicycling magazines, among others, and is the editor of The Bicycling Big Book of Training. A New York native, Danielle now lives in Oakland where she doesn’t miss winter at all.

CBD products are now widely available after the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 legalized hemp-derived products in the United States.

Once a fringe health trend, CBD has become so mainstream that you can buy products with it at pharmacies, grocery stores and countless online retailers. You can largely thank the US Farm Bill for that, which legalized industrial hemp in 2018, allowing CBD products to be sold over the counter across the US.

CBD has also gained popularity as more states have legalized medical and recreational cannabis products that contain THC, the chemical compound in cannabis responsible for the “high” feeling.

This story discusses substances that are legal in some places but not in others and is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You shouldn’t do things that are illegal — this story does not endorse or encourage illegal drug use.

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Depending on where you live , you can find CBD at CVS, your local gas station, pet stores — even Carl’s Jr . The only thing spreading faster than CBD appears to be confusion over what exactly it is and who it’s for. Whether you’re already a user or are just CBD curious, this primer will help you cut through the misinformation and get up to speed.

What is CBD?

CBD, or cannabidiol, is a chemical compound from the cannabinoid family that naturally occurs in the cannabis plant. Scientists have isolated 108 different types of cannabinoids in cannabis.

Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is probably the best-known cannabis chemical compound thanks to its psychoactive properties — but CBD is quickly gaining ground due to its potential therapeutic benefits.

How does CBD work?

CBD (and THC) work by interacting with our body’s endocannabinoid system, a regulatory system made up of naturally occurring cannabis-like molecules. These endocannabinoids, as they’re called, work like neurotransmitters, shuttling messages through the body to help maintain homeostasis. Cannabinoids like CBD and THC interact with the endocannabinoid system at two known receptors: CB1 and CB2.

CB1 receptors are mainly present in the brain — where they’re involved with cognition, memory, motor skills and pain — but also in the peripheral nervous system, liver, thyroid, uterus and more. THC attaches itself to these receptors, inhibiting the release of neurotransmitters and possibly increasing the release of others, altering normal functioning.

CBD oil is one popular way people ingest CBD

Researchers once thought that CBD did the same thing, but with CB2 receptors — which are abundant in the immune and gastrointestinal systems, as well as the brain and nervous system. However, they no longer believe that to be true.

Although the exact way CBD affects our bodies is still unknown, scientists think CBD encourages the body to produce more of its own endocannabinoids, which may help reduce anxiety, pain and inflammation.

Is CBD legal?

Technically yes , but the answer isn’t quite so cut and dried.

The cannabis plant comes in many different varieties. For decades though, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) treated them all the same, classifying cannabis as a Schedule I substance. Schedule I drugs are considered to have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse” and are thus illegal to produce or possess.

However, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (aka the Farm Bill) changed all that. The Farm Bill legalized “hemp,” which the legislation defined as cannabis that contains no more than 0.3% THC, nationwide.

Cannabis that contains higher levels of THC is now listed as “marijuana” and remains a Schedule I drug.

CBD products are sold online, or at dispensaries in states where cannabis is legalized.

In other words, if a CBD product comes from a hemp plant, it’s legal; if it comes from a marijuana plant, it’s federally illegal, despite local laws. And even if it does come from a hemp plant, there’s often no guarantee it won’t contain THC, thanks to things like cross-pollination and the absence of industry regulation (see “What are the risks of taking CBD?” below).

The Food and Drug Administration has been exploring ways to study and regulate CBD for several years now. At this time, no over the counter CBD products are FDA approved or cleared, and there’s no nationwide standard for CBD products. However, some states, including Indiana and Utah, require cannabis products to be tested for potency and purity.

What are the health benefits of CBD?

CBD is being marketing as a bit of a cure-all, with manufacturers claiming it can do everything from relieving anxiety to stopping the spread of cancer. However, cannabis’s classification as a Schedule 1 drug has severely hampered American scientists’ ability to study CBD, making it hard to support or refute these claims. The studies that are available tend to be small or are done on animals or in laboratories.

That said, CBD is showing promise. Early experiments suggest that it may help fight anxiety, ease schizophrenia symptoms and reduce pain (though the latter is often done in conjunction with THC).

The strongest evidence of CBD’s effectiveness, though, is in relation to epilepsy. In 2018, the FDA approved Epidiolex, a medication used to treat Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndromes, two rare and severe forms of epilepsy. In 2020, it approved Epidiolex to treat seizures related to tuberous sclerosis complex. Epidiolex was the agency’s first approval of a cannabis-derived drug, and has paved the way for the development of more CBD-based drugs to treat medical conditions.

How is CBD used?

CBD is available in a variety of forms. Some of the most common CBD delivery methods are listed below, but how it’s ultimately used depends on personal needs and preferences. The delivery method of CBD affects how quickly it works and what kinds of effects it has on the body.

CBD is available in many different forms, including oils and tinctures seen here.

  • Edibles are broad range of products to eat or drink, like gummies or chocolates. Edibles can take anywhere from 20 minutes to four hours to take effect.
  • Oils and tinctures are processed and concentrated forms of CBD that are often placed under the tongue using a dropper and absorbed into the bloodstream.
  • Pills and capsules are ingested orally and look similar to the vitamins and/or drugs you’d find in a drugstore. They typically contain CBD oil or CBD isolate.
  • Topicals are CBD-infused oils, creams and lotions that are intended to be used directly on skin, hair or nails. They’re a popular way to treat localized pain, but are also used as skincare, haircare and massage oil as well.
  • Vaping, like e-cigarettes, involves inhaling a vaporized liquid that contains CBD oil. Nicotine is not usually present if CBD is, though it is possible to mix them.

What are the risks of taking CBD?

A 2017 World Health Organization report found that CBD, in its pure state, is safe, well-tolerated by humans and animals and not likely to cause physical dependence or abuse. And according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 1,500 mg of CBD has been safely taken by mouth daily for up to four weeks.

CBD oil is likely safe for anxious pets, but research has yet to prove it helps.

That said, there are still a few risks associated with taking CBD that you should be aware of:

  • Side effects. Dry mouth, low blood pressure, lightheadedness and drowsiness have been reported, according to the NIH, as has signs of liver injury, though the latter is less common.
  • Limited research. CBD’s classification as a Schedule I drug severely limits the amount of studies researchers can conduct on the compound. What does exist is promising, but there are still a lot of unknowns around what conditions CBD could help treat and how much people would need to take for it to be effective. That means if you’re taking CBD to treat a particular ailment, you could be taking too much, too little or wasting your money altogether.
  • Inadequate regulation. There are no standards in place for producing, testing or labeling CBD products, which makes any type of federal oversight or quality control impossible. In fact, Penn Medicine researchers found that nearly 70 percent of CBD products purchased from the internet contained either more CBD than the label indicated — which could be dangerous — or less CBD than was indicated, which could negate any potential benefits. Many products also contained significant amounts of THC.
  • Drug interactions. Not much is known about how CBD could interfere with other medications, but experts say it may interfere with how quickly the body breaks down a variety of prescription medications, which can increase side effects. It can also enhance the sedative properties of herbs and supplements that are known to cause sleepiness or drowsiness. Talk to your doctor or a pharmacist to confirm whether anything you take regularly could be affected by CBD.
  • Pre- and post-natal unknowns. There’s not yet sufficient evidence about whether it’s safe to take CBD while you’re pregnant or nursing. Experts advise avoiding it.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.