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Can CBD Products Make You Fail a Drug Test?

cbd oil

A new study shows that even the trace amounts of THC in a full spectrum CBD product could trigger a positive drug test.


When hemp was legalized by the 2018 Farm Bill, the CBD industry exploded. That part is old news. At the time (and actually, to this day) one of the most widely touted benefits of taking CBD was the fact that it is non-psychoactive. Another salient selling point? That it wouldn’t make you fail a drug test.

But a new study published last month in the journal JAMA Psychiatry suggests that full spectrum CBD products can do just that. It proves, in fact, “that patients consistently using full-spectrum, hemp-derived products may have positive test results for THC-COOH (a major metabolite of THC) on a urinary drug screen.” 

If you pay attention to CBD-related news, you’ll know that this new study simply confirms what people have been finding out through hard experience for the last couple of years. That the small amounts of THC in full spectrum CBD products can show up in a urine analysis. Many people have discovered this to the cost of their jobs and even, for some, their freedom (if passing a drug test is a condition of parole).

The study, conducted at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass. included 15 participants who self-administered 1 mL of CBD oil sublingually three times per day, adding up to a daily dose of approximately 30 mg of CBD  – and less than one milligram of THC.

It’s important to note that, compared to many other studies involving CBD (some of which require participants to take upwards of 100 mg of the substance), 30 mg is a relatively low dose. Essentially, the researchers were setting out to discover how likely it might be for someone who consistently takes a small sublingual dose of full spectrum CBD to fail a drug test. 

The new study found that 50% of participants tested positive for THC in their urine, even though they were taking well under the legal limit of THC in a full spectrum CBD product.

Turns out it’s pretty likely.

Of the 14 participants that completed the study (one discontinued participation midway through the four-week study), seven participants (50%) tested positive for THC-COOH, while seven tested negative.

Significantly, researchers confirmed the results of the urine analysis using a method called “gas chromatography-mass spectrometry” and found that the urinary drug screen was actually more sensitive than its advertised lower limit of detection. 

Another important point is that, according to the authors of the study, the CBD product they used contained only 0.02% THC, which is far below the legal limit of 0.3% THC. Many people taking full spectrum products are being exposed to much higher amounts of THC than the people in the study.

So we’ve learned that not only are urine analysis tests more sensitive than we might think, but you really don’t need to take anywhere near the legal limit of THC to fail one.

According to study authors, this isn’t something that, so far, CBD researchers have paid much attention to: 

“Despite the growing popularity of cannabidiol (CBD) products, specifically those derived from legal industrial hemp sources,” the authors said, “few studies have directly assessed whether the use of high-CBD products could yield positive results on urinary drug tests assessing cannabis use through the detection of [THC] metabolites.”

This is a fairly significant omission since, as study authors  point out, there are some serious implications for people who start taking full spectrum CBD products without understanding that they are also taking small amounts of THC: 

“It is often assumed individuals using hemp-derived products will test negative for THC. Current results indicate this may not be true, especially if assays are more sensitive than advertised, underscoring the potential for adverse consequences, including loss of employment and legal or treatment ramifications, despite the legality of hemp-derived products.”

What the study does not indicate is to what degree variables like product use, body mass index, age, sex, race, or medication use might contribute to positive findings in only some individuals, particularly those with higher creatinine levels (the THC metabolite the urine screens look for).

Hopefully, this data will not be used to further demonize THC, which not only offers multiple benefits of its own but may even make CBD products more effective. The point of disseminating this information widely is so that people have the correct information at their fingertips (since most won’t do extensive research).

Whether or not to include THC in your wellness routine can have significant implications for people who need to be prepared to take drug tests. The study makes clear that the CBD industry needs to do more to ensure that all consumers are aware of the risks they are taking. 

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