While drug testing in the workplace is common in the United States, it’s used less frequently in the UK. However, if you work in a position where working under the influence of drugs or alcohol could pose a risk to the health and safety of workers or members of the public, you might find yourself subject to random screening.
Most drug tests don’t actually test for the presence of drugs, as most drugs break down quickly in the body. Instead, common tests look for the chemicals that remain in the system after a drug breaks down. These are known as metabolites. The metabolites of drugs can be detected in blood, urine, hair, sweat or saliva. Most commonly, drug testing is done via urine.
Is CBD legal in the UK?
While CBD and many other cannabinoids remain legal in the UK, CBD products are derived from hemp which contains small amounts of THC. To grow hemp legally in the UK and Europe, you must use a pre approved strain of hemp which, when grown, contains less than 0.2% THC. THC is a substance that is illegal in the UK, but trace amounts are permitted in products made from hemp, as defined in the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001. The MDR states that a CBD product will be exempt from being illegal where it satisfies all three elements of the exempt product definition:
1) it is not designed for the administration of the controlled substance, ie THC
2) any THC elements of the product are packaged in such a way that it cannot be recovered by readily applicable means, or at a level which would constitute a risk to health;
3) it contains no more than one milligram per component part of the product.
Because products like CBD oils meet all of these criteria, they are exempt, and can legally contain up to 1mg of THC per container.
How do drug tests work?
Common drug tests are designed to test for the metabolites of THC, which in some circumstances detected in urine for several weeks after consumption. While the amount of THC in many commonly available CBD is so low it won’t produce any of the psychoactive effects that get people ‘high’ it does still exist in trace elements. Hemp extracts are cropping up in more and more products, from oils to vapes, edible products like gummies and cakes, and even cosmetics.
As a result, scientific studies have begun to examine whether exposure to products derived from legal hemp could result in false positives for THC rich cannabis.
What the studies show
In a study published in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology, researchers found that when subject to a urine drug test, two out of six study participants tested positive after vaping hemp flower that contained 0.39% THC. This is higher than the 0.2% level that is considered legal by UK standards, and using a different method of consumption, but as Tory Spindle, a researcher in the Behavioural Pharmacology Research Unit at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Centre, said: “People who use legal hemp products for medical intent rarely just use them once as we did in this study, and prior studies show that THC and its metabolites may accumulate with repeated use.”
“What this means is that people need to be wary of single-dose or cumulative THC exposure and be aware that these now legal products may cause an unexpected positive result on a drug test.”
So while the limit of THC in this study was higher than the UK legal limit, there is a potential risk that products containing CBD could create a positive for cannabis in common workplace drug testing, especially if used on a regular basis.
What if I fail a drug test because of CBD?
Sadly there is no simple answer to this question, as people are drug tested in the UK for various reasons, and employers or governing bodies will have different policies. If you are likely to be subjected to a drug test, consider being honest about your CBD use in advance. Explain the reason you are using CBD and be prepared to present the product along with its lab report showing that THC is only present in trace amounts. By being honest and open upfront, you will be able to prepare for the possible but rare outcome that a positive for THC may occur. Many employers and bodies are well aware of CBD’s rising popularity, and are adjusting policies to accommodate.
Should I stop using CBD?
While this study shows that it is possible to test positive for cannabis after using products containing CBD, it is still highly unlikely. The situation in which this could occur would be if you purchased a product from a supplier that has higher traces of THC in its products than advertised.
This can be avoided by only purchasing a product from a supplier that publishes independent lab analysis reports. Check the company’s website for evidence of a recent, lab-verified analysis. Alternatively, you can find companies that sell CBD products that contain 0% THC. Products designed for professional athletes tend to contain CBD isolate, which is lab extracted CBD from raw hemp material. While this removes the risk of THC consumption, it also removes many of the complementary elements such as terpenes, which are thought to improve the benefits of CBD.
Ultimately, the decision to use products containing CBD needs to be a personal one. If you are subject to drug tests you may wish to consider consulting with your employer in advance or forego any CBD products with traces of THC for peace of mind.