Read on to learn more about how drug tests for cannabis work and what research says about CBD use potentially leading to a positive result. Leafly tested dozens of CBD products to see how the results stack up to what’s on the label. Warning Letters and Test Results for Cannabidiol-Related Products
Does CBD Show Up On A Drug Test?
Dr. Jessica Cho practiced medicine with a single mission: Help patients attain wellness and create a life full of joy, vitality and balance.
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Table of Contents
- How Drug Tests for Cannabis Work
- Can CBD Use Lead to a Positive Result on a Drug Test?
- How to Make Sure a CBD Product Doesn’t Contain THC
Despite the widespread popularity of cannabidiol (CBD), a lot of confusion about the plant compound remains, including whether it shows up on a drug test.
CBD and delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are both cannabinoids, or active constituents, of the cannabis sativa plant. However, while the intoxicatingly psychoactive properties of THC lead to a “high,” CBD doesn’t produce the same intoxicating effects.
Since the two cannabinoids are sourced from the same plant, it’s fair to wonder whether both THC and CBD would show up on a drug test. Read on to learn more about how drug tests for cannabis work and what research says about CBD use potentially leading to a positive result.
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How Drug Tests for Cannabis Work
Drug tests for cannabis aim to detect THC, not CBD. According to Kelly Johnson-Arbor, M.D., a triple-board certified medical toxicologist and co-medical director of National Capital Poison Center in Washington, D.C., there are a few types of drug tests that can detect the presence of cannabis in the human body.
One of the most common tests is the immunoassay. “In this test, a sample of a patient’s urine (or other bodily fluid like blood) is analyzed to look for chemicals that resemble the active metabolite, or breakdown product, of THC,” explains Dr. Johnson-Arbor. “The immunoassay does not test for the presence of THC itself, and the test does not provide information about the degree of impairment or amount of THC to which an individual was exposed.”
Immunoassays are inexpensive and accessible, and they provide fast results. However, because false positives and false negatives can occur, they’re considered presumptive screening tests. Dr. Johnson-Arbor says many organizations use confirmation drug testing as a next step.
“Confirmatory testing using mass spectrometry is often used for forensic or workplace drug testing and is considered the ‘gold standard’ for drug testing because it’s the most accurate way to detect the presence of a drug in a person’s urine or blood,” says Dr. Johnson-Arbor. Mass spectrometry is an advanced method of testing that detects compounds based on their unique chemical structures and, for confirmatory testing, is typically combined with other advanced testing methods. Mass spectrometry, however, is more expensive and time consuming than immunoassays, it requires highly trained staff, and results may not be available for days or even weeks.
Drug tests can detect THC for three days after a single use and more than 30 days after heavy use. “THC is fat soluble and can be stored in body fat for a long time,” says Dr. Johnson-Arbor. “Chronic THC use can lead to accumulation of THC in fatty tissues, and the THC can then slowly release into the bloodstream over time.”
What Level of THC Leads to a Positive Result on a Drug Test?
There’s no standard level of THC evaluated across all drug tests. “Different laboratory test manufacturers may have different cutoff levels for positive THC test results,” says Dr. Johnson-Arbor.
With that said, the cutoff level for THC on an initial immunoassay test is 50 nanograms per milliliter of urine. “This amount represents the concentration of THC metabolites in the urine but doesn’t reflect the actual amount of THC used by the patient being tested,” says Dr. Johnson-Arbor.
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Can CBD Use Lead to a Positive Result on a Drug Test?
CBD use can lead to a positive drug test result if the CBD product consumed contains higher levels of THC than the label indicates—a discrepancy that’s not as uncommon as you might think.
“CBD products are largely unregulated and may contain unwanted contaminants, including THC or other illicit drugs,” says Dr. Johnson-Arbor. “In one study from 2017, an analysis of 48 CBD products revealed that less than one-third of the products had accurate labeling about their CBD concentration, and 21% contained THC  Bonn-Miller M, Loflin M, Thomas B, et al. Labeling Accuracy of Cannabidiol Extracts Sold Online. JAMA. 2017;318(17):1708-1709. .”
Another analysis in F100 Research of 67 CBD-containing food products in Germany found 25% of the samples contained THC above the lowest observable adverse effect level (LOAEL) of 2.5 milligrams per day.
If you use CBD products regularly, it’s important to keep in mind that they might contain potentially problematic ingredients. CBD itself may not get you high or yield a positive drug test result, but products containing higher amounts of THC than the manufacturer claims might.
Does the Type of CBD Matter?
CBD is derived either from hemp, a specific strain of the cannabis sativa plant, or from THC-containing cannabis. Hemp-derived CBD should contain no more than 0.3% THC, per the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), but product testing reveals it can sometimes exceed this federally legal limit.
A small 2021 study in JAMA Psychiatry evaluated urine samples of 15 participants who used full-spectrum, hemp-derived CBD and found detectable levels of THC in seven study participants four weeks after discontinuing use. The researchers concluded that using hemp-derived products specifically doesn’t always mean you’re in the clear when it comes to drug testing  Lachenmeier D, Habel St, Fischer B, Herbi F, et al. Are Adverse Effects of Cannabidiol (CBD) Products Caused by Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) Contamination?. F1000Res. 2019;8:1394. .
“Since the possession, growth and sale of cannabis remains illegal on a federal level, any positive drug test for THC can have serious legal consequences, regardless of whether it was caused by use of contaminated CBD products,” says Dr. Johnson-Arbor. warns. With that said, broad-spectrum CBD and CBD isolate products are less likely than full-spectrum CBD to be contaminated with detectable levels of THC due to the extraction methods used specifically to remove THC from the formulations, as well as other terpenes and cannabinoids in the case of CBD isolate.
How to Make Sure a CBD Product Doesn’t Contain THC
Unfortunately, it isn’t easy for the consumer to be sure how much THC is in a particular CBD product.
“Since the CBD industry is largely unregulated, there is no definitive way to know whether a particular CBD product does or does not contain THC,” says Dr. Johnson-Arbor. “While manufacturers may provide test results for their CBD products that claim that the product does not contain THC, the test results are often representative of only a sample batch of CBD manufactured or sold by the company at a single time. These results do not reflect the composition of every available CBD product sold by the company.”
That said, you should always look for a Certificate of Analysis (COA), which details the compounds found in a CBD product. You can usually find it on the company’s website, or you can request one from the company. If they don’t provide a COA, it should be considered a red flag as it may mean the company isn’t testing their products—or they are and don’t want to reveal the results of those tests to consumers.
Long story short, yes, CBD may yield a positive result on a drug test. There are certain actions you can take to determine whether the product you’re buying contains the lowest amount of THC possible, but there’s no guarantee that the labeling is accurate due to the lack of regulation of CBD products.
Are you getting the CBD you paid for? We put 47 products to the test
Our national love affair with CBD has hit a rough spot. America, we have trust issues.
After a flurry of excitement about the wellness benefits of the newly legal cannabinoid, consumers are finding that all products are not created equal.
Some have too little CBD. Some have too much. Some have none at all.
CBD companies are thriving. But so are scammers and fraudsters. So we put 47 products to the test.
Congress’ decision to end federal CBD prohibition in late 2018 opened the door to hundreds of new companies marketing thousands of products. CBD soda, lip balm, gummies, vape pens, and capsules can now be found in supermarkets, gas stations, and drugstores across the United States.
CBD companies are thriving. But so are scammers and fraudsters.
“People have started to see the market grow and there are some fly-by-night companies trying to make a quick buck,” Marielle Weintraub, president of the US Hemp Authority, told the Associated Press recently.
So how can you sort the legit products from the junk?
The CBD industry is so new that most people don’t know which brands to trust. There’s no Apple, Coke, Gillette, or State Farm. Planet CBD is flat: All brands hold equal value in the minds of most consumers.
At Leafly, we were puzzled too. So we did something about it.
Take it to the lab
Over the past three months we worked with Confidence Analytics, a Washington state-licensed cannabis lab and founding partner of our Leafly Certified Labs Program, to test an array of CBD products. We wanted to see which brands delivered what they promised—and which did not.
Our three-part series starts here with a look at the test results from those 47 products. In part two, we examine why CBD is so challenging to deliver in exact doses, and in part three we offer seven tips for getting the CBD you paid for.
Test results: From zero CBD to way too much
Products delivering within 20% of advertised CBD are highlighted below:
Of 47 products tested, 24 delivered a reasonable amount of their promised dosage. Testing conducted by Confidence Analytics. (Leafly)
Is the label accurate?
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is preparing to regulate CBD products, but until those rules are in place, CBD manufacturers are free to put whatever they want in their products.
The FDA is preparing CBD regulations, but until the rules are in place CBD makers can put whatever they want in their products.
A few sketchy operators have added synthetics like K2 or spice to CBD products, while others don’t bother to screen out pesticides or heavy metals.
In this unregulated era, label accuracy stands out as a first sign of quality. Industry experts we talked to were clear: If a company promises 300 mg of CBD and actually delivers 300 mg, it’s probably not cutting corners in other areas. Consumers, too, told us their first question is this: Am I actually getting CBD in this bottle?
So that’s where we started.
What we tested, and why
To find out who’s actually delivering the CBD promised on the label, we purchased 47 products from a variety of sources.
We noted the products that popped up in Google searches for terms like “best CBD products” and “cheap CBD,” and purchased many of them online. We picked up other products at national drugstore chains like Rite Aid and Walgreens.
We shopped independent grocery stores, convenience stores, and gas stations. We even found one product at a surf shop.
What we found
Here’s the good news: Most of our tested products actually delivered CBD. The bad news: Most products didn’t deliver the exact dosage promised. Some came close. Many were in the ballpark. A few straight-up cheated their customers.
Here’s how the data broke down:
- 51% of products (24 of 47) delivered the promised CBD within 20% of the labeled dosage.
- 23% of products (11 of 47) delivered some CBD, but less than 80% of the dosage promised on the label.
- 15% of products (7 of 47) delivered more than 120% of the promised CBD.
- 11% of products (5 of 47) delivered no CBD whatsoever.
State of the industry: Room for improvement
When it comes to today’s CBD products, very few manufacturers can precisely deliver the dosage promised on the label. CBD companies don’t advertise that, but it’s a fact.
This is also a fact: These products are getting better. Full federal legalization is only 11 months old and manufacturers are improving their processes every day.
In 2015, the FDA tested 18 CBD products. None contained CBD. In 2016, the FDA repeated the test with 22 products and found 77% contained little to no CBD whatsoever. Only four products even came close to delivering the labeled dose.
Today, more than half the products we tested delivered their labeled dose. It’s worth noting that “delivered” is a term of art. Almost no brand can produce absolutely perfect CBD dosage in every batch.
A fair benchmark
To be fair to the manufacturers, we adapted the FDA’s guidelines for label accuracy regarding small amounts of nutrients in dietary supplements, which is the category CBD products most clearly resemble.
The FDA considers a supplement misbranded if it delivers a nutrient at a dose at least 20% below or 20% above the value declared on its label.
A 20% label variance is a fair benchmark for CBD in 2019. But that’s not saying much.
We think that’s a fair standard for CBD in 2019. So for our purposes, a product that promises 300 mg of CBD but delivers 241 mg will be considered accurately labeled. A 300 mg product that delivers 239 mg will be considered mislabeled.
Is that an uncomfortably wide variance? Yes. If we paid for 300 mg and only got 241, we’d feel shortchanged. But right now, a 20% label variance is the best you’re going to get in the CBD space.
As the CBD industry matures, consumers should demand to an ever-closing gap between CBD promised and CBD delivered. And know this: A 20% label variance is not likely to fly with the feds. When FDA regulation of CBD arrives in 2020, federal rules will likely force these companies to deliver 100% of what they’re promising or go out of business.
The trends we discovered
As we sorted through the data, a number of trends stood out.
CBD tinctures and solid edibles are among the most reliable formats for delivering CBD, according to our test results. (Leafly)
Tinctures and gummies were the most reliable forms
All seven tinctures we tested delivered at least 85% of the label dosage. Five of the seven came within 10% of the promised dosage. With gummies, five of the six tested brands delivered at least 84% of the promised dosage. One brand only delivered 62%, while another brand delivered the promised 25 mg per gummy exactly.
Water was the least reliable form factor
Three of the four water brands we tested delivered no CBD at all. The fourth brand delivered only 70% of the CBD promised. Based on our tests, most “CBD water” should be more accurately labeled “water.”
Capsules delivered way more CBD than promised
All four CBD capsule products we tested contained more than 100% of the potency on the label. Three of the four tested at or above 140% of the label potency. That’s generous but not necessarily good. Patients using CBD for medical conditions need reliable dosages, not bonus CBD.
Vape pens and topicals were all over the board
The ten vape products we tested ranged from no CBD at all to 95% of the promised dosage. Two vape brands delivered less than 10% of their promised dosage. Six of the ten delivered less than 80% of the promised CBD. Topicals delivered a range of 37% to 152% of their promised CBD dosage. Three topicals delivered more CBD than promised, while three others delivered almost the exact dosage specified on the label.
“Hemp extract” doesn’t always mean CBD
CBD is no longer federally illegal, but it still exists in a murky legal space. Some brands are playing it safe by promising “hemp extract,” not CBD. Yet their labels use the same dosage metric as CBD (mg, or milligrams). That confuses consumers into believing they’re getting CBD when they may not be.
Further questions (and answers)
Now that you know the promise and perils of the CBD marketplace, you have questions. Like, why can’t more companies deliver consistent doses? How do I find the ones that do? In part two of our series, we take a look at why it’s so hard to deliver label-accurate CBD, while in part three we offer tips on how to make sure you get what you pay for.
Warning Letters and Test Results for Cannabidiol-Related Products
Over the past several years, FDA has issued several warning letters to firms that market unapproved new drugs that allegedly contain cannabidiol (CBD). As part of these actions, FDA has tested the chemical content of cannabinoid compounds in some of the products, and many were found to not contain the levels of CBD they claimed to contain. It is important to note that these products are not approved by FDA for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of any disease. Consumers should beware purchasing and using any such products.