David J. Fletcher, MD
It’s complicated. The reality is companies don’t test for CBD. They test for THC, and there are some CBD commercial products that contain trace amounts of THC.
As if the changing marijuana laws weren’t confusing enough, there are still a lot of questions around CBD. Especially when it comes to legally defensible positions for companies who have employees that have been involved in accidents.
CBD is safe, right?
There are approximately 400 compounds found in cannabis. Along with delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), there is also a second compound often being used these days for its medicinal effects: Cannabidiol (CBD). While CBD shares some structural similarities with THC, it does not produce a psychoactive “high.” Research around CBD is still in early phases, but some preliminary studies indicate that it may benefit medical and therapeutic issues such as seizures, neurological diseases, pain, cancer, inflammation, and mood disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In some medical marijuana states, CBD products are allowed to have residual levels of THC up to 5%, dependent on the state. Because of these low to non-existent levels of THC, more companies have started carrying CBD products, even in states where marijuana is not permitted for either medicinal or recreational use.
It is worth noting that CBD is not legal, at the state level, in all 50 states. The federal Drug Enforcement Administration considers CBD, like all cannabinoids, a Schedule I substance. The same as heroin.
Here’s where it gets confusing. Hemp, a variety of cannabis plant regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture – is legal, so long as its’ THC content is negligibly low. Since the agriculture only tests for THC, not CBD, many states where medicinal marijuana is legal allows the sale of CBD products with residual levels of THC up to 5%, varying from state to state. It is worth noting though, that CBD is not technically legal in all 50 states.
In addition, CBD may still cause adverse effects in some people, despite its more positive reputation. Human and/or animal studies have reported side effects including:
- Changes in appetite
- Decreased blood pressure
- Possible endocrine disruption
- Altered immune function
- Psychomotor slowing
Finally, it’s important to remember that federally-mandated drug tests do not consider the use of CBD or “medical marijuana” an alternative medical explanation for a positive test result. As a Schedule I substance, CBD still remains illegal federally, including interstate highways.
I don’t bring this up as an argument around the medicinal effects of CBD. The research is still out on that topic. I bring it up as a caution for your drug testing policy. Again, the policy varies from company to company, however, if you have an employee involved in an accident and they do test positive for even those negligible levels of THC, where does that leave you from a legally defensible standpoint?
The landscape of marijuana and its derivatives is ever-changing and employers will be required to stay informed for the health and safety of their employees. Make sure your corporate substance abuse policy language clearly reflects a strong and clear position on marijuana and the use of CBD products.