The difference between many medicinal hemp products and recreational cannabis is that the former can contain little to no THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis. A common concern among many who use hemp extracts is the possibility of testing positive for cannabis use in the workplace or at a roadside drug test. This could mean facing legal action, unemployment or both.
Are these fears unfounded or must we wait for clear legalisation before starting any form of medicinal hemp / CBD oil?
Medicinal hemp such as Elixinol are rich in cannabidiol (CBD), which gives no “high” (psychoactive) effect and has in fact been found to negate effects of THC. Anecdotal reports suggest that CBD and other medicinal cannabis have dramatically improved many patients’ quality of life; in many cases allowing them to return to work, driving or engaging in other activities. This is commonly after years of issues such as pain and disability which prevented them from doing so.
It would be a cruel twist of irony if the very medicine that gave these people their life back, triggered a positive result in a drug test that would take away their liberty, job or driver’s licence.
This is why differentiation between recreational cannabis (THC) and non-psychoactive hemp extracts (CBD) is of great importance.
Do drug tests target the whole plant, or just a specific component?
Cannabis use is generally tested for by measuring levels of the “active” component, which in this case is psychoactive THC and not CBD. Many constituents of hemp1, such as limonene and beta-caryophyllene, are found in other species of plants that do not carry social stigma from any intoxicating abilities. For example, roadside drug tests conducted in Victoria, Australia2, are designed to detect drugs that contain THC, methamphetamines and ecstasy.
Urine testing, which is commonly used for workplace drug testing in the United States, tests the THC metabolite known as THC-COOH3. This is THC with a carboxylic acid group attached so the kidneys are able to excrete it. The most common cut-off level for a positive drug test is 50ng/ml, but other levels such as 20 or 100ng/ml are also in use. Most users are expected to be safely under the 50ng/ml threshold after 4-10 days, but it is possible for some to test positive after over one month since the last use.
Recently in Australia4, a man who tested positive for cannabis use nine days after he last used the drug, was acquitted because he was informed by a police officer that he would not test positive. David Shoebridge, New South Wales Greens MLC, stated that this judgement (along with thousands of court cases against positive test results) provides more evidence to support models based on laws in the UK where level of impairment is tested.
- CBD is not only a non-priority of cannabis drug testing, but has a different molecular structure to THC, so a false positive is unlikely5.
- It is not expected that taking the recommended dose of a hemp extract containing less than 1% THC will give a positive result.
- Update: (10/17): The World Anti-Doping Agency has removed CBD from its list of prohibited substances.
- You can visit the World Anti-Doping Agency directly for a full list.
Athletic doping tests will show cannabinoids including CBD in a test. They are prohibited by international sport and a doping ban can be applied to those who fail.
Food Standards Australia notes that the negligible amounts of THC that may be present in hemp products are unable to get consumers “high” or cause a positive drug test result6.
Overall, evidence points to a conclusion that non-psychoactive hemp oils, extracts and foods are safe to consume – even in circumstances where a drug test may be requested.