The war on drugs seems to have caused many people to develop a negative stigma associated with any cannabis product. Unfortunately, this negative stigma can be especially prevalent in the professional world where stereotypes and misconceptions about cannabis can make employers believe that any cannabis use will make their employees lazy liabilities.
Because there are so many misconceptions about this plant, it is important to examine the facts. Here are four important facts for employers and human resources professionals to keep in mind when it comes to a company’s cannabis policy.
CBD does not cause intoxication
Cannabis sativa (L.) includes plants with a variety of attributes. Some of these plants have high levels of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-9 THC), the compound typically associated with cannabis intoxication. Federal documents refer to these plants as marijuana, and federal laws consider marijuana a controlled substance.
However, not all cannabis is a controlled substance. Cannabis sativa (L.) plants with 0.3% delta-9 THC or less are considered hemp, which was made legal by the 2018 Farm Bill. Hemp can be grown for its fiber or seeds, but cannabinoids, such as cannabidiol (CBD), are perhaps the most common products hemp is currently grown for.
People may take CBD for a variety of reasons. Some people find that it helps them relax, manage their anxiety or sleep better. Other people find that it helps reduce pain and inflammation. There are many additional reasons people choose to use CBD products, but intoxication is not one of them.
Some employers need to make sure that their employees are not intoxicated on the job because impaired judgment could be dangerous in the workplace. CBD is a cannabinoid that does not cause intoxication, and for that reason, it may be unlikely to cause increased risks in the workplace.
Some CBD products could trigger a positive drug test
Under federal rules, hemp-derived CBD products cannot contain more than 0.3% delta-9 THC. However, even these trace amounts of delta-9 THC could build up in an employee’s body and trigger a positive drug test.
The possibility of this occurring depends on multiple factors, including the employee’s body type, the dosage the employee takes and the frequency he or she takes it. The type of CBD product that the employee uses can also be a factor.
Full-spectrum CBD products contain CBD with trace amounts of other cannabinoids, flavonoids and terpenes that occur together naturally in the hemp plant. These products are thought to have the greatest medicinal value because of something called “the entourage effect”— a theory that the compounds can have magnified medicinal qualities when they are able to work together in the body.
However, full-spectrum CBD products could contain trace amounts of delta-9 THC. Broad-spectrum and CBD isolate products do not contain delta-9 THC. Broad-spectrum products contain cannabinoids, flavonoids and terpenes, with the exception of delta-9 THC. These products may offer some benefit from the entourage effect, but it may not be as noticeable as a full spectrum product. CBD isolate products contain only CBD and will not be able to offer the benefits of the entourage effect.
Common urine tests don’t distinguish one type of THC from another
Delta-8 THC products are currently some of the most in-demand hemp products on the market. Like CBD products, delta-8 THC products are derived from hemp, and as such, they were made federally legal by the 2018 Farm Bill.
The chemical structure of delta-8 THC is very similar to the chemical structure of delta-9 THC. Delta-8 THC products can produce intoxicating effects, though these effects are reportedly more mild than the effects of delta-9 THC.
Although some consumers may use delta-8 products recreationally, many others take these products for their medicinal qualities. For some consumers, delta-8 THC can stimulate appetite, reduce nausea, ease anxiety and lessen pain.
Unfortunately, legal delta-8 THC products can cause common urinalysis tests to show a false positive for delta-9 THC. This is because an Immunoassay (IA) Test, which is reportedly the most common style of test used for employee drug testing, is designed to identify the large molecules found in specific metabolites.
When a person consumes a compound, the body metabolizes it and leaves behind residual metabolites. In the case of delta-9 THC products, one of the most abundant metabolites left behind in the body is called 11-Nor-9-carboxy-THC (THC-COOH).
IA Tests aim to identify this metabolite as a sign that someone has consumed illegal delta-9 THC products. However, this is also one of the main metabolites left in the body after someone consumes legal delta-8 THC products. The cross-reactivity of this test can lead to false positives and therefore, unreliable test results.
Gas chromatography tests are reportedly more accurate. This analytical test uses both gas chromatography and mass spectrometry to identify only the delta-9 metabolites in a urine sample. This test typically takes more time, but it is reportedly less likely to show false positives triggered by legal delta-8 THC.
THC lingers in the body far longer than many other intoxicants
In addition to THC, common urine tests can identify alcohol, amphetamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, cocaine and opioids. However, many people don’t realize that each of these substances are detectable for a different amount of time after use.
Addiction Center reports the amounts of time that different substances would remain detectable in someone’s system, including:
Fentanyl – up to three days
Heroin – up to three days
Xanax – up to four days
Cocaine – up to three days
Meth – up to one week
Barbiturates – up to six weeks
Alcohol – up to two days
Frequent use of legal delta-8 THC products reportedly can leave detectable levels of metabolites in someone’s system for a month or even a month and a half in some instances.
The potentially unbalanced nature of this testing can put both employers and employees into a difficult position because an employee who uses legal delta-8 THC products when they are not at work could inadvertently trigger a false positive test result due to imprecise testing. This is made worse because the testing is not only imprecise when identifying the presence of delta-9 THC but also imprecise in its ability to identify when exactly someone consumed a product.
If an employee tests positive for THC, this only suggests that they used a THC product sometime in the last month or month and a half. Employers may have no way of knowing if they used it at work or if they are even still using the product.
In contrast, if an employee were to test positive for heroin, the employer would know that the use happened within the past three days — a much shorter window of time than the window for detecting THC.
There are many complicated factors to consider when developing or updating a company’s cannabis policy. However, it can be important that any company cannabis policy is not based on biases or misconceptions. It can be better to build a company’s policy around the facts. The four facts highlighted here can be a good start.