Can CBD Make you Fail a Drug Test, and Should you be Worried?

CBD, or cannabidiol, a phytocannabinoid discovered in 1940 wasn’t given much attention in the past, being largely overshadowed by its cousin, THC. However, relaxed regulations and new research into CBD has sparked an explosion in popularity, demand and use.

Research is now demonstrating that CBD has a broad range of potential medicinal uses that may help millions of individuals worldwide get relief from symptoms of a great many differing ailments.

Yet, despite the positives, some users are still a bit wary of what the “rules” are surrounding the use of CBD at, before or while on the job, and how that might impact their ability to get or stay hired in the event that they are drug tested.

This guide will cover what you need to know about CBD and whether or not you need to worry about getting drug tested while using it.

Drug Testing in the Workplace

Drug tests are legally mandated for some Federal employees and for both employees and some volunteers involved in certain aspects of transportation (such as long-haul truck drivers). Many other companies choose to make drug tests mandatory for their at least some of their employees, too.

Drug tests have always caused problems for cannabis users because they don’t work like a Breathalyzer does for alcohol, to determine whether someone is intoxicated, but rather whether someone has used any time in the last several days or, sometimes, weeks. So even if someone is never high at work, they can still fail the test and lose their job (or worse).

Impact of Cannabis Legalization in Certain States

And the legalization of medicinal cannabis in many states has not helped because cannabis is not legal for any purpose at the Federal level—and it is Federal law that requires drug testing.

But what about people who use CBD, not THC or the whole plant?

It depends on how much CBD you take and how sensitive the test is. The vast majority of employers that drug test use the same testing procedures, those suggested by the SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) guidelines. There is less chance of legal challenges that way. The test has two phases which we’ll cover below.

SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) Guidelines

Phase I Screening 

The first phase is an immunoassay that screens for antibodies reacting to either THC or its main metabolite, THC-COOH. Positive results at more than 50 ng/mL mean the second phase comes into play. 

Phase II Screening

The second phase is a Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS) test that screens for THC-COOH only. If the results are positive at 15 ng/mL or more, the person fails the drug test.

Are you at Risk with Phase I & II Screening?

So, if you are taking CBD and are given the standard, SAMHSA-recommended drug test, you will generally not fail because you will not have any THC-COOH in your body. 

Chemically Related, But not the Same

CBD is chemically related to THC, so it or its metabolites could trigger the same antibodies, but in much smaller numbers. Only if you are taking very large doses of CBD regularly might you have enough of the antibodies to meet the cut-off of 50 ng/mL—and even then, because the test screens for THC, not CBD, the results would be considered a false positive.

Screening out false positives is what the second phase is for, and you will pass the GC/MS test because you don’t have any THC-COOH in your blood. You’re fine.

There is “Some” Risk – especially if your CBD isn’t Third Party Tested

Except that you might have a little THC in your system, especially if you purchase CBD that is not THC filtered or third-party tested and guaranteed to be 100% free from THC.

CBD oil is made from hemp, a variety of cannabis that is rich in CBD but has very little THC—but it does have some. Commercially-prepared CBD oil can therefore contain minute quantities of THC, not enough to cause a high, and not enough to meet the 15 ng/mL cut-off of the second test, but not zero.

Variation Among Manufacturers and Plants

But CBD products vary. Hemp can contain anywhere from one-tenth to one three-hundredth of the THC concentration of cannabis varieties developed for recreational use. CBD products show a similar variety. So, if you take 1000 to 2000 mg of quality hemp oil per day, you could be getting as much as 6 mg of THC, which will give positive results in the first phase up to 23% of the time.

And since the quality of medical cannabis products is not regulated, it’s possible to find CBD oil that actually has even higher THC levels (or there may be other quality-control issues), in which case a positive test becomes even more likely. 

The final possibility is that your employer could be using something other than the SAMHSA guidelines for the testing protocol, and may have a lower cut-off for positive results.

If you are taking large doses of CBD oil, and your brand happens to have an unusually high THC component, and your employer uses an unusually sensitive testing protocol, then, yes, you could have a problem.

So What’s the Bottom Line Here? Should you Worry?

It comes down to doing your homework and choosing a brand that you:

  • Trust
  • Is third-party tested
  • Guarantees a specific minimum THC level (or none at all)

First, make sure to choose a high-quality brand from a company with its own rigorous quality-control procedures. That’s a good idea in general when using a product unprotected by quality-control regulation. Second, keep track of how much you’re actually using. If you’re taking a low dose only occasionally, you probably don’t have to worry.

If you are taking a high dose, find out what testing protocol your employer actually uses. If they follow the SAMHSA guidelines, and most will, you’re probably good, unless you’re taking an extremely high dose of a product that might have an unusually high THC concentration.

If, after you do all your research, you find out you could test positive, then you have some decisions to make. If your company is legally required to test you, then explaining that your use is medical and legal in your state won’t help. Otherwise, you could at least ask what your employer’s policy on CBD use is.

But, most likely, it won’t come to that. You’re probably fine.