What is CBD?

Because so many folks are still new to this topic, it’s never a bad idea to cover a few basics any time we’re discussing it. What’s old news to some of us is still a light bulb moment to others who may be researching or exploring for the first time.

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a chemical substance found in cannabis plants of various sorts. We tend to informally label cannabis plants that contain more than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) as “marijuana.” These are the plants generally grown for medicinal or recreational use. Those varieties with less than 0.3% THC we call “hemp.” These are the plants typically grown to make clothing, construction materials, rope, insulation, etc.

CBD oil is typically drawn from “hemp” varieties, although it’s present in all cannabis plants. Processed properly, it doesn’t contain THC, or only contains insignificant trace amounts. It’s not intended to get anyone “high,” although it does have a variety of other medicinal and personal uses.

At the moment, CBD isn’t federally regulated. That means that almost anyone can slap “CBD” on a label and make all sorts of wild promises about what you are or aren’t getting and what it will or won’t do. In the same way, you probably shouldn’t buy sushi at the gas station deli; you’re going to want to stick to legitimate, professional sources for CBD and related products.

Does CBD Show Up In A Drug Test?

No. Well, it shouldn’t. Probably not. Maybe.

I know – comforting, isn’t it?

The short answer is genuinely that it shouldn’t. CBD isn’t illegal. It’s not THC. But we’re talking about our bodies and the chemical interactions within them, meaning there’s always the possibility of unexpected outcomes. Some cold and flu medications trigger false positives for amphetamines, and we all know about poppy seeds and opiates.

Plus, while the use of CBD dates back thousands of years, western culture has only recently “discovered” it and begun taking it seriously as a subject worth studying. Based on what we’ve seen so far, there are two possible sources of the difficulty. First, some CBD products contain trace amounts of THC – enough to trigger an especially sensitive screening. Second, the human body may be capable of converting CBD into THC in sufficient quantities to show up on a drug test.

Neither of these are common occurrences, but they do make it impossible to say with absolute certainty that under no circumstances will CBD use show up on a drug test. The second one we’ll address in a moment. The first one, however, you can control. If you choose to use CBD, deal exclusively with legitimate providers who know the field. As convenient as it may seem to grab a few items during your trip to the video store or as tempting as the sale prices look on that flashy website, check out your sources before you buy.

It will be worth it in the long run, I assure you – and probably in the short run as well.

What Are Drug Tests Looking For?

The purpose of most drug tests is to figure out if you’re using anything that might impair your ability to make good decisions or which might make it a bad idea for you to drive or otherwise operate heavy equipment.

Employers want employees who are “clean,” not because they care that much about how you spend your personal time, but because they want you to be productive and reliable during work hours. Parents or agents of the courts may have less capitalistic concerns, but the overall goal is your safety, health, and happiness. (The whole argument over marijuana generally comes down to whether or not it’s “bad for you” or leads to other behavior which is.)

CBD doesn’t get you “high” or impair your ability to make good decisions or to drive or anything else you’d normally do during your day, and in fact, often helps alleviate conditions which do. As a result, it’s not something currently on the list of things most drug tests are looking for. While it’s certainly possible that could change, it’s unlikely unless things go seriously off the tracks in the near future.

Which, of course, sometimes happens. But there’s no reason at the moment to think CBD is in anyone’s crosshairs.

The most comprehensive tests look for a relatively wide range of substances, including:

  • Amphetamines – These are stimulants that affect the central nervous system. They’re often used to treat hyperactivity or attention deficit disorder, but can also be abused recreationally.
  • Barbiturates – These are depressants that used to be used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and even seizures. They tend to be highly addictive and have thus fallen out of favor for most legitimate medical uses.
  • Benzodiazepines – These are sometimes prescribed to assist with alcohol withdrawal, panic disorders, anxiety, or seizures. (Ativan, Valium, Xanax, etc.)
  • Cocaine (and its variations) – One of the uglier “street drugs” out there. Limited (if any) legitimate medicinal usage.
  • Marijuana (as in “THC” – the chemical which produces the “high” associated with marijuana use) – Most of us are familiar with the ongoing debates related to marijuana and its various uses.
  • Methadone – Opioids (narcotics) used to help users undergoing withdrawal from other narcotics, such as heroin. While they don’t provide a “high,” they do substantially relieve pain and are thus potentially addictive in and of themselves.
  • Methaqualone (Quaaludes) – A synthetic depressant that acts on the central nervous system. Quaaludes were a popular recreational drug in the 1960s and 1970s, but are fairly rare in the United States today. They have no known legitimate medical applications.
  • Opiates – The common name for narcotic analgesics. These provide serious pain relief but have been so freely prescribed in recent years that abuse and addiction have become a problem.
  • Phencyclidine (PCP) – Originally developed as an anesthetic, but quickly rejected when it was discovered to produce delirium and hallucinations in patients.
  • Propoxyphene – Lesser-known pain relievers of the narcotics family. They can be addictive and have been reported to increase existing depression or thoughts of suicide. Particularly nasty reactions when combined with adult beverages.

Not every test screens for every one of these substances, but these are the most common. The list can, of course, change at any time, depending on circumstances.

How Long Does CBD Stay in Your System?

This isn’t something which has merited a great deal of research, so it’s difficult to say with any certainty. Given that CBD isn’t an illicit substance and most drug tests aren’t looking for it, concern over whether or not it might still be present in trace amounts is somewhat theoretical, like trying to figure out whether or not chewing gum actually breaks down in your stomach or not.

The studies which have been done suggest CBD can stick around for as long as a week. This isn’t something you should bet the farm on, however.

Not surprisingly, far more research has been done on how long THC shows up in the system. The answer to that largely depends on how often one uses THC. Periodic users are usually “clean” after a few days, while those who regularly partake will register positive for up to a month or more after stopping. It also matters what sort of test is used. Hair follicles will sometimes register positive months after even casual usage.

Could CBD Make Me Fail A Drug Test?

I’m afraid we’re back to the same not-quite-fully-committed answer: It shouldn’t. It probably won’t. But no one can say with absolute certainty that it simply can’t happen that way.

Most retail CBD products are not legally allowed to contain more than 0.3% THC, but there may be trace amounts of TCH in CBD nevertheless. It won’t be enough to get anyone “high” – that’s not the purpose of CBD – but there could theoretically be enough to trigger a positive for THC. You should also look into your state’s specific laws regarding CBD. In Virginia and Georgia, for example, products can still be labeled CBD while containing substantially higher levels of THC – enough that users might feel the effects. Obviously, this dramatically increases the chances of THC showing up on a drug test.

Once again, look for reputable dealers who aren’t afraid of answering your questions and who are willing to provide research and documentation for everything they claim. There are good companies out there doing good work, but as long as CBD remains unregulated by the FDA, there will also be those who mean well but don’t know what they’re talking about, as well as those who may not mean well to begin with. Once you’ve found your reputable dealer, ask them about “CBD Isolate” or “Broad Spectrum CBD” from a reputable dealer. These have 0% THC and should eliminate that concern. They should be able to help you find something that fits your needs.

What About My Body Converting CBD Into THC?

Like so many things regarding CBD, this one is still way under-researched. A few studies attempting to duplicate conditions inside the human body have discovered that in some circumstances, CBD can be converted into trace amounts of THC. It has NOT been shown that this actually happens inside real human bodies, however. Even if theoretically possible, it would be highly unusual for the event to produce enough THC to register on a drug test.

You may remember those studies that pop up from time to time claiming that your shampoo can give you cancer or that coffee can make you sterile or any number of other things. Upon closer reading, it turns out that laboratory rates, subjective to insanely high quantities of certain substances, did, in fact, develop one or more problems that are then reported in the media. As often as not, however, you’d have to drink gallons of shampoo or bathe daily in hot coffee to duplicate those results. Still, it could theoretically happen.

This in no way diminishes the value of legitimate research or justifies ignoring reasonable warnings. But the devil, as they say, is in the details. Always read the rest of the story, not just the headlines. Maybe the concern is legitimate, and you should respond; maybe it’s just a flashy headline.

So, as to your body converting CBD into THC, essentially this shouldn’t happen. It’s very unlikely to happen. It probably doesn’t happen. But we can’t say with absolute scientific authority that it can’t happen. Not without further research.

What Happens If I Fail A Drug Test?

That depends on the purpose of the test and where you live.

One of the most common reasons for a drug test is that you’re applying for employment. The problem here is that in the unlikely event something triggers a positive or false-positive result, you may not be asked to explain those results or given the opportunity to try again. Employers are given considerable leeway in what they consider when making hiring decisions, and as long as they’re not overtly rejecting you based on sexuality, religion, or race, they can pretty much do what they want.

So far, only Nevada has passed a state law specifically prohibiting employers from rejecting an employee solely based on the results of a drug test. Our national conversation about drugs and drug usage is evolving, in many ways for the better – but it’s not yet fully evolved. If you’re aware you may be asked to take a drug test in the near future and wish to err on the side of caution, that’s not paranoid; it’s just being careful.


It’s highly unlikely that CBD will create problems for you on a drug test, but not inconceivable. Pay attention to both the suppliers you choose and the specific products you use, and never be afraid to ask questions.