Does CBD show up on a drug test?

policeman and dog

In the past few years, CBD (cannabidiol) has made an impressively quick transition into the mainstream. We’re saying goodbye to the days that people associated this natural supplement with illicit drugs, and instead are recognising and celebrating its natural wellness benefits. For many, taking CBD is just part of the daily routine - like taking vitamins in the morning. 

However, a question that is frequently asked - particularly by those working in professions that are subject to drug testing, like teachers, athletes, and police to name a few - does CBD show up on a drug test?

The rules and conditions for drug testing can vary massively between situations and locations. Consequently, it’s not entirely possible to give one blanket statement on whether or not CBD will show up on a drug test. So while this article cannot give medical or legal advice, we can explain how or why CBD could or could not show up on a drug test, which will hopefully help you make a more informed decision.

How or why CBD could or could not show up on a drug test?

In this article we’ll cover:

  • What is CBD?

  • What do drug tests look for?

  • The different types of CBD extract

  • Mislabelling

  • Lab Tests

  • How long does THC stay in the body?

  • Conclusion


What is CBD?

To give the best, and most thorough, explanation of why CBD could show up on a drug test it’s important to understand the origins of CBD.

Cannabidiol is a naturally occurring compound found in plants in the cannabis family. This type of compound is known as a cannabinoid, and there are over a hundred of them in cannabis plants. They interact with the human body via sets of receptors that make up a system known as the endocannabinoid system, which interacts to affect a range of physiological processes.

The different cannabinoids have different effects on the body. Although there are over a hundred, the two with the most well-studied effects are CBD and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). There are common associations between cannabis and the notion of ‘getting high’ - a psychoactive experience - which is a direct consequence of the ingestion of THC. Meanwhile, CBD has no mind-altering effects.

There are different strains of the cannabis plant which have varying levels of CBD and THC. The plants which are used to produce CBD are known as hemp plants and have an extremely low THC content.

What do drug tests look for?

Standard drug tests will search for the presence of THC in the bloodstream. This means that any amount of this compound that can be detected can cause a positive result. Seeing as drug tests tend to operate on a zero-tolerance policy, having any amount - no matter how minuscule - of THC in your bloodstream will not be tolerated.

The different types of CBD extract

Again, and this can and will differ from country to country, there is a legal limit on the THC content in a CBD product. In many countries, CBD products must contain less than 0.2% THC. But, for example, in the Netherlands and Switzerland, the limit is 1% so it’s important to be familiar with the rules of the country you’re in and check the label.

Up until 2015, it was thought that when CBD molecules were extracted in isolation from the other cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes found in the cannabis plant, that it would have a more concentrated and direct effect. This type of extract is called CBD isolate.

However, in a study carried out by The Lautenberg Center for General and Tumour Immunology, researchers found that CBD was actually most effective when it was kept with the other molecules, resembling the natural composition of the cannabis plant. When these molecules work and synergise together this has become known as the ‘entourage effect’.

The entourage effect is the reason why there are very small amounts of THC in CBD products. CBD extract which contains all compounds and molecules as found in the natural plant form is known as full spectrum extract. The amounts of THC in full spectrum products are always so minute that there will be no psychoactive effects from ingesting the CBD product, but enough invoke the entourage effect, and unfortunately, to sometimes mark positive on a drug test.

It might be sounding like this is a bit of a catch-22 situation; isolate isn’t as effective yet full-spectrum contains detectable traces of THC which will affect the results of a drug test. But luckily there is a third option, broad spectrum CBD extract.

Broad spectrum CBD extract contains all the cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes apart from THC. This means that you will get all the natural benefits without THC.

The products which you can find which are marketed as zero THC should contain a broad spectrum extract. Additionally, these are the kind of CBD products that athletes, who are subject to frequent drug testing, would use.

Mislabelling

If you are looking to take CBD but may be subjected to drug testing, reading the label carefully and thoroughly is imperative. And unfortunately this in itself can cause some issues.

The recent boom of the CBD industry, and the constant research and new discoveries which are being carried out, does mean that the market is largely unregulated. That is to say, the market is growing quicker than governing bodies can control it, and on top of that - there is no stand out regulatory body for the CBD industry.

Some companies have seen this as an opportunity to exploit a new and lucrative market, and they are producing low-quality or incorrectly marketed products. This means that not only are people being ripped off for low-quality CBD, but also there’s a risk that a company might label different products as full spectrum or zero THC, but in actuality, they have taken a short cut and used the same extract. For low-grade quick-turnover companies, the incentive for this is some people (who do not need to take drug tests) may not notice, and they will not have to spend money on the THC extraction process.

Lab Tests

So how do you avoid falling into this trap? The good news is that the answer is actually simpler than you might think! All legitimate and high-grade CBD producers will use an independent third-party laboratory to test their CBD extract and products for quality and consistency. 

If you are carrying out thorough research - which you should be if you are considering taking CBD when you are subject to drug testing - then you can find these documents online via the producer’s website. Remember, if there are no lab results available, think twice about whether you want to purchase CBD products from this company.

The certificates will show the purity of the CBD extract, which will hinge on whether there are any impurities in the product. And the part you will want to take particular attention to is the breakdown of the cannabinoids present - and if there is 0 THC.

laboratory

How long does THC stay in the body?

You might be reading this having already taken a CBD product that has traces of THC in it, and you’re wondering how long it’s going to stay in your body before you can take a negative drug test. Well, this will of course depend on the amount and regularity with which you took it, but here’s how your body deals with it.

When THC enters the bloodstream it is broken down to form molecules called metabolites, these metabolites will be stored in fat cells which will eventually be passed as urine or excreted. The rate of your body ‘cleaning itself out’ of THC will depend on how frequently you have ingested it, as this can cause a build-up, and also your metabolism rate which will vary depending on your weight, age, and lifestyle. In general, THC is eliminated within 30 hours, but it could take up to 21 days in some cases.

Conclusion

You’ve just been presented with quite a lot of information, so it might be a good idea to have a quick recap of what has been discussed! 

First of all, due to the presence of THC in cannabis plants, it is difficult to say 100% that a CBD product definitely won’t show up on a drug test. However, there are a number of things you can do to guarantee a strong chance that there is no THC in your product.

First of all, pick a CBD product that has broad spectrum extract, meaning that all the natural molecules (other cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids) are present so that the entourage effect takes place, but THC has been removed.

Make sure you check the labelling thoroughly and then verify this against the CBD manufacturers independent third party laboratory results which should be displayed on their website.

And last, but certainly not least, if you know when you are going to be taking a drug test, it might be a good idea to allow your body some time to metabolise and eliminate the potential presence of any THC.

26 March 2021