Even products labeled as THC-free may cause positive drug tests
The market for products containing cannabidiol (CBD) has exploded since the federal government legalized products made from hemp, a variety of the cannabis plant.
However, at least three truck drivers have failed drug tests and lost their commercial driver’s licenses after using CBD products they presumed were legal. Millions of other commercial drivers may be risking their licenses, too, as some product manufacturers do not disclose that their hemp derivatives may contain THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has repeatedly cautioned consumers that there is no documented scientific evidence proving benefits of over-the-counter CBD products.
Like hemp, marijuana is another type of cannabis, but it is consumed for its high concentration of THC—tetrahydrocannabinol. Hemp contains lower concentrations of THC and higher concentrations of CBD.
Hemp-derived CBD products may legally contain a trace of THC. There are more than 80 biologically active chemical compounds in cannabis plants, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“The U.S. government defines hemp as any crop of cannabis containing 0.3% THC or less in dry weight. THC is the substance in cannabis that confers a ‘high’ and produces the subjective and cognitive effects that are typically synonymous with cannabis,” reported researchers at Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore in the November Journal of Analytical Toxicology.
“The 2018 U.S. Farm Bill legalized the production and sale of hemp, and now as a result, consumer hemp products… can be legally purchased in specialty stores, general retail stores and through websites across the U.S,” they continued.
“Hemp is now increasingly finding use in medicine and wellness markets. According to New York-based investment bank Cowen & Co., the market for CBD last year ranged from $600 million and $2 billion in sales. Despite the size of this booming industry, it remains largely unregulated.”
Researchers across the country analyzed 84 CBD products and detected THC in 18 of them, according to the November issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. “The THC content observed may be sufficient to produce intoxication or impairment, especially among children.”
THC absorbed from CBD products can be stored in fat tissues.
“THC can potentially build up in a person’s system with repeated use, which could further increase the chance of a positive test for cannabis,” said Tory Spindle, Ph.D., a researcher in the behavioral pharmacology research unit at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore. “There is a need to understand whether the use of CBD products, with and without low levels of THC, can impact drug testing for cannabis given their growing availability and increased interest in CBD for therapeutic purposes.”
The scientists also administered pure CBD to some subjects before testing them for THC and reported, “No positive urine tests were observed.”
Truck driver Douglas Horn of New York filed a lawsuit in 2012 against the makers of Dixie X, a CBD oil he ingested for pain suffered after a motor vehicle crash. His suit alleged that the product was advertised as containing “0.00 THC.”
Nonetheless, his random DOT drug test in October 2012 detected a “high level of THC” and he was fired from the company that had employed him for 10 years. Horn purchased more Dixie X and sent it to a lab, which told him it contained an illegal level of THC.
Horn’s suit continues to work its way through the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York.
Trevor Darrow, an Illinois truck driver, filed a suit in November against Just Brands USA Inc., manufacturer of the JustCBD gummies he was taking to help him sleep. Two weeks after he began using the product, he failed a drug test and was fired.
Darrow’s suit alleges the gummies were labeled as “No THC.”
His lawyer, David Fish, told a newspaper, “He knew that, as a truck driver, he couldn’t have THC in his system. We think that companies that sell CBD products need to give warnings to people about the risk. With these new products exploding in popularity, we want people to be warned about what might happen if they eat or use them.”
In September an Ohio truck driver, Mike Harris, offered an interview to WLWT-TV in Cincinnati to warn other drivers of CBD products. He had been using CBD oil for pain following knee surgery. He then tested positive for THC and lost his job. He said the product’s label made no mention of THC content.
Lawsuits also have been filed against manufacturers because their products do not contain as much CBD as advertised. The Johns Hopkins article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association confirmed that possibility. “Of tested products, 26% contained less CBD than labeled, which could negate any potential clinical response.”
As for potential clinical response, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration repeatedly states that over-the-counter CBD products have not been proven to have therapeutic benefits.
“Unlike drugs approved by FDA, the manufacturing processes of these products have not been subject to FDA review as part of the drug approval process, and FDA has not evaluated whether these products are effective for their intended use, what the proper dosages are, how they could interact with FDA-approved drugs, or whether they have dangerous side effects or other safety concerns,” said Lowell Schiller, FDA principal associate commissioner for policy.
“These include CBD products that are marketed for serious diseases and conditions like cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, opioid use disorder and pain. These products are unapproved new drugs, and they are illegal,” Schiller said in a speech to the National Industrial Hemp Council in August.
“FDA has sent warning letters to companies marketing such unlawful products, and we will continue to monitor the marketplace and take action as needed when we encounter violations that deceive consumers and put them at risk. Unsubstantiated claims associated with CBD products may also lead consumers to put off getting important medical care, such as proper diagnosis, treatment and supportive care.”
Schiller added, “We also know that CBD is not a risk-free substance. As with many drugs, there are potential adverse effects—including, in the case of CBD, potential liver toxicity, drug interactions and drowsiness. And there may be other risks that emerge with further study.”
It is illegal to market CBD products as food, dietary supplements or “to treat diseases or for other therapeutic uses for humans and/or animals,” according to the FDA website.
One drug containing CBD—Epidiolex—has been approved by FDA for treatment of two rare forms of childhood epilepsy.
The clinical trials for that drug found “safety concerns,” including “potential liver injury, interactions with other drugs, drowsiness, diarrhea and changes in mood,” FDA reported. “In addition, studies in animals have shown that CBD can interfere with the development and function of testes and sperm, decrease testosterone levels and impair sexual behavior in males. Questions also remain about cumulative use of CBD.”
The FDA is open to studies of CBD and THC that may prove therapeutic benefits, according to a statement on its web site. “The FDA continues to believe the drug approval process represents the best way to help ensure that safe and effective new medicines, including any drugs derived from cannabis, are available to patients in need of appropriate medical therapy.”