CBD is just about everywhere these days.
- You can easily purchase an enormous variety of CBD products online.
- CBD retail stores have opened all over the country, even in the smallest cities and towns.
- Upscale chains like Ulta Beauty and Neiman Marcus sell CBD products in many outlets, and most national supermarkets and pharmacy chains are planning to stock them. Some already do.
But CBD, like marijuana, comes from the cannabis plant. (Some are extracted from hemp, but hemp is a variety of cannabis with the THC bred out.) And despite increased legalization nationwide, many companies still test employees for marijuana use.
So what are the chances that simply using CBD can lead to a positive drug test – and cost you your job?
CBD and Drug Testing
You probably know that the cannabis plant produces a number of cannabinoids. They’re the compounds that, once “activated” by heat, are responsible for both the beneficial and psychoactive effects of the plant. There are dozens of cannabinoids in cannabis, but the best-known ones are THC (the intoxicant which gets you high when you smoke pot) and cannabidiol (better known as CBD).
Here’s the good news: companies don’t test for CBD use. Period. In fact, there’s no such thing as a commonly-available drug test for CBD.
Just as importantly, the chemical makeup of CBD is very different from that of THC, the cannabinoid that’s responsible for a positive result when you’re tested for marijuana use. What that means is that a commercial drug test won’t mistakenly identify CBD as THC. If you come up dirty on a pot test, it’s because there’s THC in your body.
But there’s bad news, too: you can test positive for weed, even if all you’ve ever used is CBD.
How is that possible? It involves several factors, including the type of CBD product you use, how it’s produced, and the drug test that’s administered.
SAMHSA Drug Testing Guidelines
Employers typically follow the guidelines set forth by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to determine the acceptable cutoff levels for the drug and drug metabolites detected during testing.
Understanding the THC Metabolite
THC causes the psychoactive effects and is illegal on a federal level in the USA where it is classified as a Schedule 1 drug. Employers regularly check for the substance using a urine drug screen. The urine test has antibodies that are tailored to detect the prominent metabolite 11-nor-delta9-caboxy-THC (THC-COOH) found in THC. The drug tests do not look for other cannabinoids.
Is Your CBD Pure?
When you purchase a CBD product – whether it’s oil, tincture, lotion, vape juice, capsules, edibles or some other form – there’s virtually no way to know exactly what’s in it.
The reason is simple. The government (either the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or state agencies) doesn’t test or even regulate most of the CBD that’s on the market. So a product that’s simply marketed as CBD usually hasn’t been independently analyzed to determine what’s really inside.
That matters for a very important reason. When CBD is extracted from cannabis plants, it’s likely to contain at least a trace of all of the cannabinoids that were in the plants – including THC. In other words, many CBD oils, vapes or capsules do have a small amount of THC in them. It’s unlikely to be enough to give you even a slight buzz, but it’s there.
There’s another issue as well. A lesser-known cannabinoid, cannabinol (CBN), is found in many cannabis plants, mostly aged ones. It’s known for producing mildly psychoactive effects, nowhere near as strong as the ones produced by THC, but strong enough to be used in some sleep aids. But what’s important to this discussion is that CBN is extremely similar to THC in its chemical makeup, and can produce a positive THC result on many commercial drug tests.
So THC and CBD from cannabis plants can be a problem. But what about CBD that comes from hemp plants, the species of cannabis which is grown for purposes other than harvesting marijuana?
There’s a possible issue there, too. Hemp plants must have less than a 0.3% THC concentration in order to be “legal.” But 0.3% is more than zero – and if you consume enough CBD, there’s a possibility that you might have enough THC in your system to trigger a sensitive drug test.
So even products sold as “pure” CBD derived from hemp can potentially cause problems if you’re facing a drug test. Is there any way to avoid all danger of a positive test?
Yes. Instead of buying “pure” CBD, purchase CBD isolate.
Types of CBD Extracts
When you shop online or at a CBD store, you’ll see the products labeled in one of three ways.
- Full-spectrum: This is the most commonly available type of CBD. It’s usually extracted from the marijuana plant, and it contains all of the compounds normally found in the plant. That means in addition to CBD, it will contain at least traces of all other cannabinoids produced by the plant, including THC. How much THC (or CBN, for that matter) will be in it? It’s impossible to say; extensive and expensive testing would have to be done to find out, and manufacturers generally don’t do it. You can also purchase full-spectrum hemp CBD, but as we’ve mentioned, it can contain as much as 0.3% THC (or more, if the producer is careless or dishonest).
- Broad-spectrum: This type of CBD is less common but still widely available in oil form. Broad-spectrum CBD is full-spectrum oil that has had the THC “removed.” Theoretically, that means you won’t have a problem if you have to take a test for weed. In reality, you won’t have a problem if the lab that did the extraction did a perfect job and if the CBN (which remains in broad-spectrum CBD after THC is extracted) doesn’t trigger a positive result.
- CBD Isolate: Now we’re talking. Isolate truly is pure CBD, unlike the products labeled “pure” that are often sold in stores and online. It almost always comes from hemp plants, so there’s very little residual THC in it. It also goes through additional processing after extraction, including purification and filtration. That’s followed by a chilling process called “winterization,” during which all remaining plant particles, waxes, and other contaminants are removed. What remains is pure CBD, which is sold as a crystallized powder, like a crystallized slab which can be used as an edible, or as an oil or tincture – and may be difficult to find. But if you want to be completely sure that your CBD use won’t lead to a positive drug test, you should be using CBD isolate produced by a reputable manufacturer.
Types of Drug Test
Some drug tests are more sensitive than others to the presence of THC, which means there’s a greater possibility that they’ll be triggered by the use of CBD with trace amounts of THC.
The test most commonly administered by employers is a urine test, which can detect past weed use within three to 30 days. It’s also the test that’s most likely to detect any THC that might have been in the CBD product you’ve used.
Hair and saliva tests are more sensitive than urine tests but rarely used by employers. You’ll be luckiest if you’re asked to take a blood test, because THC only stays in the bloodstream for a period of hours, not days; it’s unlikely that trace levels of THC will ever show up.
As mentioned above, there’s no commercial test that will specifically detect CBD, so the presence of THC (or possibly CBN) is all you’ll have to worry about.
Protecting Yourself When Buying CBD
Using only CBD isolate is the best way to make sure you won’t come up dirty by accident. That’s not always possible, however. Here’s what else you can do to minimize the risk.
You can’t necessarily rely on labels since there’s no federal or state requirement governing CBD labeling. Even worse, studies have shown that as many as 70% of labeled CBD products claimed to contain an inaccurate level of cannabidiol, and 20% contained measurable amounts of THC.
However, unless you’re sticking to CBD isolate, the label is the best place to start. You should avoid any CBD that’s been extracted from marijuana strains of cannabis plants or full-spectrum CBD of any sort. If this basic information isn’t on the label, you might want to find a different CBD manufacturer or supplier.
Another smart move is to find out (if possible) where the hemp was grown. Since some states like California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington require more rigorous testing than others, and CBD from any state with a well-established hemp industry is likely to be more trustworthy. If the label doesn’t specify the CBD’s state of origin, ask the vendor.
If you can, stick with manufacturers who only produce CBD, preferably hemp-based CBD. If they produce marijuana products as well, or even CBD extracted from marijuana plants, there’s the possibility that their hemp-based CBD could be cross-contaminated by other products containing THC. Inadvertent or not, the accidental inclusion of THC in your CBD products can still put you at risk when taking a drug test.
Finally, know your providers. The more you trust the source of the CBD products you obtain, the more you can trust them for reliable information on what you’re buying.
The Bottom Line: Don’t Get All Worked Up Over It
All of the information we’ve considered is viewed from the perspective of the worst-case scenario. Is it possible you’ll get nailed unfairly after using CBD? Yes. Is it likely? Absolutely not.
In most cases, the tests administered by employers are what are known as five-panel or ten-panel drug screens, which search for signs of a wide range of substances. One of them is THC (or more accurately THC-COOH, which is what’s left in the body after THC is metabolized). The others, however, are cocaine, opiates, and other widely-abused drugs – and in most cases, those are what employers are really looking for when administering tests; the majority don’t really care if you smoke up every once in a while. There’s also a growing inclination to ignore positive weed results in states where marijuana has been legalized or decriminalized.
Of course, some employers do want (for some reason) to know if you’re a regular smoker and get high during your off-time. If you know that you’re dealing with one of those companies, and fear that you could be rejected or fired, you may want to be proactive and tell them in advance that you don’t use pot but do use CBD for (fill in medical condition here). They may take that into consideration if you do happen to come up positive.
One final note: there’s a persistent rumor that the body can turn CBD into THC all by itself, leaving you to suffer the consequences if you’re hit with a drug test. The rumor is based on a study that found CBD can be converted into THC in an extremely acidic environment like the stomach. However, there is no evidence that this has ever happened in real life, just in the laboratory. Experts say this simply doesn’t happen and isn’t something to worry about.
In short, the chance you’ll get nailed is extremely small and can be non-existent if you stick to CBD isolate – at least while you’re hunting for a job.