Can CBD test positive for drugs? We clarify your doubts

Results of CBD flowers in drug tests

The use of CBD products to address various everyday problems has gained popularity in recent times. From regulating sleep patterns to decreasing stress and contributing to pain management, the information available on the properties of CBD is becoming more and more prevalent.

Given the boom of buying CBD online, a recurring question arises: Can CBD be detected in drug tests? This question is especially relevant in contexts such as competitive examinations, security professionals or anti-doping controls.

What is CBD and how does it show up in drug tests?

The cannabidiol (CBD) is a natural compound present in the cannabis plant(Cannabis sativa). Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the cannabinoid with psychoactive effects present in marijuana, CBD does not produce a high. In addition, both compounds have chemical differences between them.

In short, CBD does not test positive in drug tests for cannabis, as these tests specifically look for THC metabolites. But in reality things are a bit more complex than a positive or negative result. There are specific considerations and details that need to be addressed in depth, such as the THC content of some CBD products, the characteristics of the tests used, and pharmacology concepts such as “cut-off point” or “false positives”.

In addition, the particularities of a routine saliva traffic control are different from those of anti-doping tests. In this post, we will address common doubts about drug tests related to cannabis and CBD, to provide you with clear and accurate information on the subject.

What is a drug test?

A drug test is a tool used to identify the presence of psychoactive substances in the body. In general, the tests do not detect the drugs themselves, but their metabolites.

Metabolites of a drug (or of a drug in general) are the chemical compounds into which substances are broken down when they are eliminated by the body. Thus, tests are available for different drugs (cocaine, cannabis, amphetamines, MDMA…).

Under what circumstances are drug tests used?

In principle and from a theoretical point of view, drug testing is practically unnecessary. There are tests for diabetes, for pregnancy or for infectious diseases, because the subject/patient does not know if he/she is diabetic, pregnant or infected with HIV. However, the simplest and most effective way to find out whether or not a person has consumed a particular substance is to ask him or her.

On some occasions, the person is unable to provide us with this information because he or she is unconscious or very upset. Thus, the indication for drug testing is in emergency medical care.

In other circumstances, the person does not want to acknowledge drug use because of the potential negative consequences it may entail: sanction or loss of employment, traffic fines, prohibition to participate in professional sports activities… This aspect, which is sometimes debatable at the ethical level, is the one that generates the most problems and conflicts around drug testing.

Drug tests are used in a wide variety of contexts: medical care, road safety management (traffic controls), sports (anti-doping controls), judicial assessment…

The techniques and procedures are highly variable depending on the purpose of the test and its scope of application.

Routine blood and urine tests, such as health and preoperative checks, do not routinely include this type of test.

What types of tests are used to detect cannabis use?

There are many analytical procedures for detecting drugs in body fluids. Some are quick, inexpensive and simple to use, such as enzyme immunoassay tests (similar to the pregnancy tests available in pharmacies). Others, such as gas chromatography, involve the use of large apparatus and the need for specialized personnel.

In general, the most common types of tests are:

  1. Urine: Detection of cannabinoids in urine is the common method to assess recent or past drug use (usually THC metabolites).
  2. Saliva: Cannabis saliva tests are rapid and non-invasive. They are common in traffic controls and rapid tests. They seek to detect recent cannabis use, although in practice they cannot yet be widely used due to problems in the interpretation of results (1).
  3. Sweat: As a person sweats, cannabis metabolites may be released through the sweat glands. These patches or samples are analyzed for the presence of substance metabolites.

Others, more infrequent:

  • Hair and nails: Technically, it is possible to detect drug residues that accumulate in the hair or nails, making it possible to determine very precisely the consumption of substances in the weeks or months prior to consumption. However, these processes are extraordinarily expensive and complex and are reserved for judicial or forensic procedures.
  • Blood: Blood tests can detect many drugs in the bloodstream but, in practice, are only used in the clinical trial setting.

Detection of cannabis in drug tests

How do cannabis drug tests work?

All tests designed to detect the presence of cannabis look for metabolites of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, responsible for the psychoactive effects of the substance. Specifically, THC-COOH (11-nor-9-carboxy-Δ9-Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol acid) and 11-OH-THC (11-hydroxy-Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol) are two of the most commonly used in both rapid saliva and urine tests (2).

The first devices to detect recent cannabis use through exhaled air are being tested (3). These instruments are similar to the breathalyzers used in routine traffic controls to detect drivers driving under the influence of alcohol.

One of the drawbacks of cannabis tests is that they provide a qualitative result (positive or negative). This does not provide information about the user’s context, consumption pattern, motivations, beliefs, experiences and problems.

What is the sensitivity of drug tests?

The sensitivity of a drug test refers to its ability to detect true positives. In other words, it measures the proportion of people who have actually used a substance and are correctly identified as positive by the test. A high sensitivity means that the test is less likely to give false negatives, i.e. to miss people who have actually used the substance in question.

Drug tests detect the presence of these compounds above a certain concentration, called a cut-off point. Samples with concentrations equal to or greater than this point will be considered positive, while those with lower concentrations will give a negative result. Therefore, the probability of testing positive for cannabis depends not only on its sensitivity, but also on the cut-off point established in the test.

However, it is important to note that as the cut-off point decreases (i.e., tests that detect the presence of drugs at lower concentrations), the number of false positives is more likely to increase. This means that some people may test positive for cannabis without having used the substance. This may be due to the presence of other factors, such as the influence of drugs, dietary supplements, drug interactions or even errors in the sample collection and processing procedure, which may contribute to false positive results.

Frequently Asked Questions about cannabis, THC, CBD and drug test results

Can CBD give a false positive?

CBD is eliminated through the body producing its own metabolites, different from those of THC. Thus, in principle, it would be impossible for the use of CBD to give a positive result in a cannabis test. There are studies in humans that corroborate this (4) taking into account, of course, that pure CBD is administered.

Can CBD be converted into THC?

Some controversy arose in 2007 with the publication of a study in experimental animals demonstrating the conversion of CBD to THC in an artificial gastric juice solution and its psychoactive effects in mice (5). These animal research data have not been confirmed in humans, even using ultra-sensitive methods that detect very low amounts of THC ( 6,7).

Can Full Spectrum CBD products test positive for THC?

The real problem arises because many CBD products contain varying amounts of THC. This raises questions about whether CBD consumption could result in a positive drug test result. In this sense, we can differentiate between two situations:

CBD products elaborated according to the European Standard, such as those from
Cannactiva
These CBD products can have a residual THC content, a maximum of 0.2% THC in most European countries. These products are subject to control processes to ensure compliance with legal regulations. In this situation, a positive result for cannabis is theoretically possible, but extremely unlikely in practice. It would take vaporizing several hundred CBD Vape Pen or e-Liquid with full-spectrum CBD at a time to achieve detectable levels. Ingesting a whole bottle of 10% Full Spectrum CBD oil of 10 ml, would imply the introduction of a maximum of 2 mg of THC, an amount that would hardly produce psychoactive effects and that would also not be detectable through most of the available tests.

Non-regulated products: Those homemade products or products that have not undergone the quality controls indicated in the regulations may contain an undetermined amount of THC. The results of analyses of such samples from the Internet have found quantities of up to 6 mg/ml of THC in some products (8). THC intoxications have also been reported in children using CBD oil of undetermined origin with therapeutic intent (9).

Can CBD flowers test positive for drugs?

CBD-rich cannabis flowers could test positive in a drug test, depending on the presence and concentration of THC in the flower. Although grown for the purpose of having high CBD and low THC levels, they can still contain THC, in varying concentrations depending on the type of crop and the genetics of the seed. In legal CBD flower products, THC concentrations are kept to very low limits (e.g., 0.3% THC), but even so, regular and/or heavy use, coupled with factors such as prior history of cannabis use and individual particularities, it is technically possible to test positive in a drug test. We must remind you that Cannactiva products are not intended for consumption.

Can CBD cosmetics and CBD creams test positive?

As noted above, the use of CBD products, even with traces of THC, is highly unlikely to result in a false positive. The likelihood of detecting significant amounts of THC in saliva or urine from skin contact with cosmetics or creams is even more remote. This would require the assumption that THC is absorbed in sufficient quantity through the skin, reaches the blood and is eliminated through saliva or urine. In real circumstances this seems impossible (10).

Nor do tests on hair seem to be affected by contact with cannabinoids: one study found that a French shampoo marketed as CBD contained 10% THC. Three people washed their hair daily with this shampoo for two weeks and their hair was subsequently analyzed without finding traces of THC, CBD or cannabinol (CBN) (11).

Is it possible to test positive for cannabis without having smoked, but having been in an environment laden with cannabis smoke?

A systematic review of scientific studies conducted on this topic published in 2019 (12) concluded that this possibility exists. It is possible that by breathing the same air as cannabis smokers, a non-smoker may inhale enough of the suspended cannabis metabolites to subsequently give a false positive result.

It is important to note that this risk would only be significant in extreme conditions (closed and poorly ventilated spaces, high exposure to highly concentrated smoke for a long time) and is not extrapolable to the most common situations in the real world.

How long does THC remain in the body?

All cannabinoids are very fat-loving (lipophilic) and are largely stored in the fatty tissues of the body. We are not only referring to “abdominal fat” but also to the brain and the Central Nervous System, which is composed, to a large extent, of lipids. The regular use of cannabis results in the accumulation of cannabinoids in these tissues and a slow elimination of their metabolites. This does not mean that cannabinoids exert their psychoactive effects for such a long time.

How long must it take after using marijuana not to test positive for drugs? Cannabis detection and elimination period

With regular cannabis users, it is possible to test positive for more than 30 days after cessation of use, whereas a single cannabis exposure in non-users can be detected in urine only up to 72 hours after use.

In any case, the characteristics of cannabinoids mean that there is great variability in detection times (which in exceptional cases can last up to three months). Some important factors are:

  • Body mass and fat ratio
  • Frequency of administration and amount or dose used
  • Route of administration
  • Individual metabolic differences

Products to test negative in drug tests: Do they work?

Through the Internet, it is easy to locate various types of products that supposedly allow you to obtain a negative result in drug tests. From liquids and “detox” pills to more or less original gadgets with synthetic urine.

Generally speaking, we can distinguish between saliva cleansers (sprays) and urine cleansers (diuretics). Each of these products has a method of action, often involving dilution or masking. But do they really work? In short, none of these options are effective.

Products for negative saliva test

As for sprays or saliva cleansers, there are simply no scientific references to support their efficacy. In any case, for physiological reasons, its supposed efficacy would be maintained for a few seconds after administration. Saliva tests are mostly used in traffic drug controls, so they are unlikely to be useful in practice, since the agent is present during the process.

Negative urine test products

More problematic may be the use of “urine cleansers”. They are products to be ingested orally and that ensure to accelerate the speed of drug elimination. This idea is unfounded, since under normal conditions, the speed with which a drug is eliminated from the body depends on a series of pharmacological parameters that cannot be influenced.

First, the use of diuretics (especially of undetermined origin, composition and quantity) can have serious health consequences. Secondly, urine drug screening tests are always accompanied by a basic urinalysis, which would be clearly altered by the use of diuretics (15).

Other types of “urine cleaners” are products to be added to the sample that alter the cannabis metabolites to make them undetectable. They are effective, but have the same disadvantages as those just mentioned: alterations in parameters such as pH, density or protein in the urine would make fraudulent intent evident (15, 16).

In any case, we insist again on the absence of the need to resort to cheating when consuming CBD products such as CBD oils, in the recommended doses. A positive test result for cannabis is unlikely.

I tested positive for cannabis after using CBD. What can I do?

As we have explained throughout this article, the likelihood of testing positive for cannabis using CBD products is unlikely. But in biology there are few things impossible and we have also pointed out that false positives are an intrinsic problem with any diagnostic test.

So, in this circumstance, the first recommendation would be to try to remember all the consumptions in the previous weeks to remember if there has been any exposure to cannabis. Am I sure I have not consumed any quantity? Am I sure that that joint I was offered last week had only CBD in it as its owner claimed?

If you are sure that you have not consumed THC and if the positive result has significant negative repercussions (disqualification from work, drug tests, legal repercussions, etc.), it is important to know that there are analytical procedures that allow precise quantification of the amounts of THC, CBD and their metabolites (16, 17). Thus, it is possible to distinguish whether the positive result can be attributed to the use of THC or CBD products. These are complex and costly procedures that are likely to involve a lengthy legal process, although the effort may be worthwhile in certain circumstances. In these cases, it is advisable to seek expert legal advice.

This article is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, prevent or cure any disease or symptom. Its content can complement, but never replace, the diagnosis or treatment of any disease or symptom. Cannactiva products are intended for external use. We recommend a responsible use of CBD products. Consult a professional if you have any doubts about its use.

Referencias
  1. Dobri SCD, Moslehi AH, Davies TC. Are oral fluid testing devices effective for the roadside detection of recent cannabis use? A systematic review. Public Health. 2019 Jun;171:57-65. doi: 10.1016/j.puhe.2019.03.006. Epub 2019 May 15. PMID: 31102828.
  2. Raouf M, Bettinger JJ, Fudin J. A Practical Guide to Urine Drug Monitoring. Fed Pract. 2018 Apr;35(4):38-44. PMID: 30766353; PMCID: PMC6368048.
  3. Ramzy V, Priefer R. THC detection in the breath. Talanta. 2021 Jan 15;222:121528. doi: 10.1016/j.talanta.2020.121528. Epub 2020 Aug 11. PMID: 33167238.
  4. McCartney D, Kevin RC, Suraev AS, Irwin C, Grunstein RR, Hoyos CM, McGregor IS. Orally administered cannabidiol does not produce false-positive tests for Δ9 -tetrahydrocannabinol on the Securetec DrugWipe® 5S or Dräger DrugTest® 5000. Drug Test Anal. 2022 Jan;14(1):137-143. doi: 10.1002/dta.3153. Epub 2021 Aug 30. PMID: 34412166; PMCID: PMC9292716.
  5. Hart ED, Mullen L, Vikingsson S, Cone EJ, Winecker RE, Hayes ED, Flegel RR. Conversion of water-soluble CBD to ∆9-THC in synthetic gastric fluid-An unlikely cause of positive drug tests. J Anal Toxicol. 2023 Sep 15;47(7):632-635. doi: 10.1093/jat/bkad043. PMID: 37440360.
  6. Golombek P, Müller M, Barthlott I, Sproll C, Lachenmeier DW. Conversion of Cannabidiol (CBD) into Psychotropic Cannabinoids Including Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC): A Controversy in the Scientific Literature. Toxics. 2020 Jun 3;8(2):41. doi: 10.3390/toxics8020041. PMID: 32503116; PMCID: PMC7357058.
  7. Crippa JAS, Zuardi AW, Hallak JEC, Miyazawa B, Bernardo SA, Donaduzzi CM, Guzzi S, Favreto WAJ, Campos A, Queiroz MEC, Guimarães FS, da Rosa Zimmermann PM, Rechia LM, Jose Tondo Filho V, Brum Junior L. Oral Cannabidiol Does Not Convert to Δ8-THC or Δ9-THC in Humans: A Pharmacokinetic Study in Healthy Subjects. Cannabis Cannabinoid Res. 2020 Feb 27;5(1):89-98. doi: 10.1089/can.2019.0024. PMID: 32322680; PMCID: PMC7173681.
  8. Bonn-Miller MO, Loflin MJE, Thomas BF, Marcu JP, Hyke T, Vandrey R. Labeling Accuracy of Cannabidiol Extracts Sold Online. JAMA. 2017 Nov 7;318(17):1708-1709. doi: 10.1001/jama.2017.11909. PMID: 29114823; PMCID: PMC5818782.
  9. Crippa JA, Crippa AC, Hallak JE, Martin-Santos R, Zuardi AW. Δ9-THC Intoxication by Cannabidiol-Enriched Cannabis Extract in Two Children with Refractory Epilepsy: Full Remission after Switching to Purified Cannabidiol. Front Pharmacol. 2016 Sep 30;7:359. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2016.00359. PMID: 27746737; PMCID: PMC5043219.
  10. Hess C, Krämer M, Madea B. Topical application of THC containing products is not able to cause positive cannabinoid finding in blood urine. Forensic Sci Int. 2017 Mar;272:68-71. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2017.01.008. Epub 2017 Jan 16. PMID: 28122323.
  11. Cirimele V, Kintz P, Jamey C, Ludes B. Are cannabinoids detected in hair after washing with Cannabio shampoo? J Anal Toxicol. 1999 Sep;23(5):349-51. doi: 10.1093/jat/23.5.349. PMID: 10488922.
  12. Berthet A, De Cesare M, Favrat B, Sporkert F, Augsburger M, Thomas A, Giroud C. A systematic review of passive exposure to cannabis. Forensic Sci Int. 2016 Dec;269:97-112. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2016.11.017. Epub 2016 Nov 16. PMID: 27883985.
  13. Goggin MM, Janis GC. Using measured cannabidiol and tetrahydrocannabinol metabolites in urine to differentiate marijuana use from consumption of commercial cannabidiol products. Clin Toxicol (Phila). 2021 Jun;59(6):506-514. doi: 10.1080/15563650.2020.1827148. Epub 2020 Oct 29. PMID: 33118434.
  14. Goggin MM, Janis GC. Using measured cannabidiol and tetrahydrocannabinol metabolites in urine to differentiate marijuana use from consumption of commercial cannabidiol products. Clin Toxicol (Phila). 2021 Jun;59(6):506-514. doi: 10.1080/15563650.2020.1827148. Epub 2020 Oct 29. PMID: 33118434.
  15. Raouf M, Bettinger JJ, Fudin J. A Practical Guide to Urine Drug Monitoring. Fed Pract. 2018 Apr;35(4):38-44. PMID: 30766353; PMCID: PMC6368048.
  16. Jaffee WB, Trucco E, Levy S, Weiss RD. Is this urine really negative? A systematic review of tampering methods in urine drug screening and testing.. J Subst Abuse Treat. 2007 Jul;33(1):33-42. doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2006.11.008. Epub 2007 Jan 16. PMID: 17588487.

Dr. Fernando Caudevilla
Family Physician | Expert in Drug Addictions. He works in different assistance, research and training projects related to drugs, including therapeutic cannabis.

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