The last few years have been very successful for CBD. Due to the way this cannabinoid interacts with the body, an increasing number of users have been using it to treat different types of ailments, for example to relieve anxiety, chronic pain, insomnia or as an anti-inflammatory.
The public is becoming more and more aware of the benefits that CBD offers; but also many people are hesitant to use CBD products fear of failing a drug test.
CBD products are mostly made with cannabidiol that is extracted from the hemp plant, which also contains dozens of other compounds. So it is a valid concern considering that even hemp-derived CBD products are legally allowed to contain trace amounts of THC of 0.3%, which is the limit for this plant not to be subject to control under drug legislation.
To understand the influence that both cannabinoids, and their metabolites, have on a drug test one must first understand how they work. Researchers have identified more than 400 chemical compounds in the cannabis plant, of which about a hundred are biologically active. Among them, the most abundant are THC and CBD.
THC is the main psychoactive compound, but CBD does not have the same properties that affect consciousness or mental activity. Both bind to receptors in different parts of the body, mimicking endocannabinoids, which are natural compounds produced by the human body.
But CBD does not appear to bind to the same receptors as THC, so scientists are not yet sure how CBD exerts its effects, although they believe it may increase endocannabinoid levels or bind to receptors for serotonin, a hormone that regulates mood, happiness and anxiety.
It is important to note that CBD does not create a false positive for THC in drug tests. This is because drug tests check for the metabolites that your body makes out of THC. The human body does not make these same metabolites from consumption of CBD alone and so they will not be detected by a typical drug test. However, CBD users can still test positive on a drug test because CBD containing products can be contaminated with THC.
Drug tests generally can be of several types, although the most common tests test urine or saliva, with those that test hair or blood being less common.
Urine tests are not designed to detect the presence of THC, but rather its metabolite THC-COOH to be precise. As the blood circulates through the body, THC passes through the liver, where it is broken down into metabolites. These inactive THC metabolites, which are stored in fat and gradually eliminated through urine and feces, remain in the body much longer than active THC.
An estimate of how long these metabolites are detectable in urine is:
Saliva testing is an easier and cheaper method of detecting cannabis. Unlike urine tests, these do detect active THC, i.e. delta-9 THC, which can remain for up to three days in the mouth. In the case of chronic smokers, they can even stay much longer.
However, there is no point in testing anyone for CBD because this compound has no psychoactive properties and does not affect psychomotor functions. Although, it is absolutely possible to test for CBD and or its metabolites, however this sort of testing is expensive and rarely used.
Simply put, CBD does not show up on a drug test. However, there is the potential for a positive result for THC if CBD products with trace amounts of THC are used. And since the CBD market is very poorly regulated, there is no guarantee of this.
Because depending on the source of cannabis used to extract the CBD, whether it is CBD-rich marijuana or legal hemp with less than 0.3% THC, many products contain at least some THC that may be detectable.
It should also be noted that the source of CBD is not the only factor: harvesting and purification methods can also change the chemical composition of a CBD product since in an acid environment, cannabinoids like CBD can in fact convert into other cannabinoids – like Delta 8 THC or Delta 9 THC.
Thus, CBD extracts are generally divided into the following categories:
There are certain reasons why a CBD product may test positive in a drug test:
Urine drug tests have a specific sensitivity with respect to the concentration limit of the THC-COOH metabolite, which is the most common reference point used. While the concentration cut-off point can generally range from 15 nanograms per millilitre (ng/ml) to 100 ng/ml, the most commonly used concentration cut-off point for urine testing is 50 ng/ml.
Therefore, since some CBD products can contain up to 0.3% THC, if you ingest very high doses of CBD, in the thousands of milligrams per day (meaning for example drinking an entire bottle of CBD oil in one sitting), that means you may also be ingesting at least 1 mg of THC, so you could hypothetically test positive for THC.
If the test is saliva, there is currently no fixed amount of THC to show up and it depends on the authorities in each country (and even the labs where the tests are done).
For example, the saliva tests currently used by the traffic authorities in Spain penalize for the mere presence of THC in the organism, even if it is minimal and without the need to establish what effects it may have on driving; that is, the simple detection is penalized regardless of the concentration, without establishing limits, as happens with alcohol. And regardless of whether that THC was consumed one hour before the test, the day before or even several days before.
Because with this type of tests, even though they are (poorly) designed to determine a “recent consumption of the substance within up to 6 hours.” THC can be detected in saliva up to 72 hours of consumption (unless you have consumed a lot of THC for a very long period of time), therefore they do not offer sufficient guarantees, as lawyers and experts have already denounced.
So what does the research say? A 2018 review of existing studies found that the half-life of CBD in the human body is two to five days when the compound is taken orally. Other methods of administration have different half-lives.
On average, it’s safe to say that CBD can stay in the body for at least a week. Of course, its metabolites are more likely to stay much longer – just like other cannabinoid metabolites.
The best way to make sure a CBD product does not contain THC is to get informed. Checking for THC is easy if you know where to look:
There are also more prosaic methods to try to avoid a positive drug test, especially if it is a saliva test, although their effectiveness is only supported by anecdotal experience:
These are the best options for passing a mouth swab drug test (the famous ‘lollipop’) if the circumstances require it. However, times are changing and, as the narrative and laws around marijuana use evolve, it seems likely that cannabis-specific drug testing will become increasingly outdated.
Inevitably, there are numerous barriers to overcome before these tests are abandoned altogether. Hopefully, the day will come when we won’t have to hide the great plant that is cannabis from anyone.