Cannabidiol (CBD) has recently surged into the therapeutic spotlight for its perceived anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, pain-relieving, and seizure-suppressing properties. CBD products can be found in health and wellness aisles across the world — perhaps even at your local Walgreens or CVS — in many forms, some of which include CBD oil, tinctures, edibles, elixirs, and more.
CBD is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid found in cannabis plants, and some say it provides the benefit of relaxation without THC's high.
Although hemp-derived CBD products are available in states where recreational cannabis isn't legal, some people might worry whether CBD will show up on a drug test. It's a valid concern considering that even CBD products derived from hemp are legally permitted to contain traces of THC, 0.3% or less to be exact. And even in states where it is legal to buy THC-heavy cannabis from a retail store, some employers still screen employees for cannabis use. This may leave some consumers wondering whether there's a small amount of THC in their CBD — and whether that will show up on a drug test.
How to consume CBD without THC
If drug testing is a concern but you still want to consume CBD for any of its reported health benefits, you absolutely can. Follow the instructions below based on your preferred consumption method and choose CBD products accordingly.
Topical CBD products like ointments, lotions, or balms don't enter the bloodstream in a way that would be picked up by a drug test. Even if it contains the federally legal amount of 0.3% THC, topicals are still safe as far as drug testing is concerned.
If you prefer CBD oil, tincture, gummies, or other ingestible forms, go with a product made from CBD isolate or crystalline CBD. These use 99% pure CBD so you don't have to worry about THC or anything else being in there.
If you're vaping or dabbing your CBD, it's the same advice as above — look for concentrates made with isolate or crystalline to avoid THC completely. (If you smoke or vape flower, you'll be consuming whatever level of THC is present in the bud, which is at least 0.3% even for hemp plants.)
When consuming pure CBD, there is evidence you'll be missing out on some health goodies conveyed by the entourage effect if you chose a full- or broad-spectrum CBD product instead. But it's the only way to be certain there's no THC in your CBD, and the only way to buy CBD in states with highly restrictive laws.
How to read a CBD label
Whichever method, or methods, you choose, be sure to buy from a reputable source and check the label carefully. Since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn't established guidelines for CBD products, it's buyer beware. Avoid any product making health claims like that it cures or treats anything specific. Most reputable CBD producers typically include the following information on their product labels:
- Amount of active CBD per serving
- Supplement Fact panel, including other ingredients
- Net weight
- Manufacturer or distributor name
- Suggested use
- Full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, or isolate
- Batch or date code
What drug tests look for
In most cases, it's highly unlikely that CBD will show up on a drug test. Usually employment drug tests look for the presence of THC or THC metabolites. Most employers abide by the guidelines set forth by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA), which includes detection for THC but not CBD. Tests generally look for THC but how much and how long THC sticks around depends on what's being tested.
Upon inhalation, active THC can be found in the bloodstream within a matter of seconds and can be detected in plasma for several hours, depending on the frequency of use and dosage. According to a 2004 review published in the journal Therapeutic Drug Monitoring, the plasma concentration of THC peaks just three to eight minutes after inhalation and then decreases quickly with a half-life of about 30 minutes. The study claims that THC is detectable in blood for about five hours, but the THC metabolite THC-COOH has a detection time of up to 25 days.
Recognized as the preferred method for cannabis drug testing, urine screenings are often used as a benchmark to detect for cannabis use. Most urine tests utilize a specific sensitivity for the cutoff concentration of THC-COOH. The most common cutoff concentration point is 50 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL), as suggested by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
A 2005 review published by the National Drug Court Institute states that THC detection times rarely exceeded 30 days. According to a May 2017 review published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, weed can be detected in urine for up to three days in occasional users, five to seven days in moderate users, 10 to 15 days in daily users, and more than 30 days for chronic users who consume multiple times a day.
Oral fluid tests
THC and its metabolites can also be detected in the saliva of occasional and chronic users. A 2014 study published in the journal Drug Testing and Analysis looked at cannabinoids in oral fluid and found that THC metabolites were detectable in the saliva of occasional users for one to three days and chronic users for up to 29 days.
There is mounting evidence that hair follicle drug testing methods are not able to accurately detect marijuana. Research published in the journal Scientific Reports suggests that the presence of THC and THC metabolites can be transferred to the hair follicles of non-consumers through contact with hands, sweat, or exhaled smoke.
For example, if someone smokes a joint and exhales near someone who doesn't consume cannabis, THC can be transferred to the non-smoker's head or body hair. The same study found that, after giving participants 50 milligrams of THCA every day for one month, no THC was found in the hair specimen samples, but THC-COOH was still detected. As for the detection period, the hair follicle drug test timeline is much broader than with urine and blood tests, sometimes detecting the presence of THC up to 90 days after use.
There is no such a thing as a CBD drug test
Some concerned consumers may wonder if a CBD-specific test exists. Technically, since CBD is a chemical that your body metabolizes, a specific test could be developed to detect it. But the average drug test is not designed to identify usage of CBD or CBD oil specifically.
To obtain a CBD drug test, an entity would have to pay a testing company to develop a CBD test and to change their testing regimen to include it. When you consider that this non-intoxicating compound won't get you high or impair your ability at work, there's really no need for a CBD drug test.
If you're still concerned that using CBD-infused products will cause you to fail a drug test, look for topicals or CBD isolate or crystalline products. Just remember to use trusted brands and read the label.
Major contributions from Dr. Adie Rae.