AVIATION AND CBD: DO THEY MIX? We hear and see a lot of advertisements touting the benefits of products containing CBD. But can pilots and others in the aviation industry use these products Will CBD show up on a drug test and lead to a positive result? The answer may surprise you. Click here for more. CBD Oil: FAA Zero Tolerance Policy If you are a user of cannabidiol (CBD) oil, the Federal Air Surgeon, Dr. Michael A. Berry, has a warning for you: “Use of CBD oil is not accepted as an
AVIATION AND CBD: DO THEY MIX?
We hear and see a lot of advertisements touting the benefits of products containing CBD. But can pilots and others in the aviation industry use these products without jeopardizing their hard-earned positions requiring FAA certificates or employer mandated drug tests?
The answer to that question needs some background, but first, as with any product obtainable without a physician’s prescription, using CBD products could have unanticipated side effects. Pilots should always need to keep in mind the IMSAFE checklist to determine if they are ready to fly ( Illness, Medications, Stress, Alcohol or Drugs, Fatigue, Emotion/Eating ). Others in the industry could use that same checklist before going to work, especially in the post-COVID world. Pilots specifically need to adhere to the admonition in §61.53  not to act as a required flight crewmember if they have a condition or are taking medications that would make them ineligible for the medical certificate they hold. But, now back to CBD.
What is CBD? Cannabidiol is one of dozens of chemicals found in the Cannabis sativa plant, known as cannabinoids. Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the psychoactive ingredient of marijuana, is another cannabinoid. Cannabidiol is also found in the hemp plant and that causes some of the marketing confusion around CBD products. Cannabidiol oil, extracted from either the marijuana plant or the hemp plant, serves as the basis for many CBD products. Depending on its source cannabidiol oil can contain varying amounts of THC.
Until recently, the Federal Government classified all cannabinoids as controlled substances, with all the restrictions and prohibitions attendant to that classification. In December of 2018, the Controlled Substances Act was amended by the 2018 Farm Bill to reclassify “hemp” as no longer prohibited. The term hemp or hemp oil was defined as any cannabinoid that contains less than 0.3% by weight of THC. So, oils and products derived from the extracts of hemp seeds, which contain no THC, can be marketed as CBD. But, so too can products derived from oils extracted from a marijuana plant so long as the resulting oil does not contain more than 0.3% THC. Hence the marketing confusion.
So where does that leave pilots and others who work in the aviation industry? The two questions with which arise when using CBD products are 1) can a CBD product be used for medicinal purposes, and 2) whether the product used contains some amount of THC even though it is marketed as CBD. The first question applies to all pilots, either those who apply for an airman medical certificate, or those who use BasicMed. As every pilot knows one of the questions on an application for a medical certificate asks what medications the pilot currently uses. The question covers both prescription and non-prescription medications. The FAA Medical Office uses that answer as a check on what medical conditions the pilot might have and how those conditions are being treated. Even though the FAA does not define the term “medication,” the Medical Office would certainly view the use of CBD to treat the symptoms of a medical condition, such as back pain, to fall within the scope of that question. Listing CBD on the application, however, gives the FAA cause to inquire about what condition the pilot is using CBD to treat. Some conditions for which CBD products are touted as being beneficial may be disqualifying conditions under Part 67  , such as depression. And, currently, the FAA does not view the use of CBD products as an accepted treatment for any condition. So, a pilot needs to use caution not to use CBD to self-medicate and then not report that use on an application for medical certificate. While listing CBD will cause the FAA to view the application with great scrutiny and possibly deny the application, not listing it could lead to a revocation of the pilot’s existing medical certificate and all pilot certificates for making a false statement.
What about Basic Med? The same is also true for those who use the Comprehensive Medical Examination Checklist or CMEC to have their primary care physician certify their fitness to fly. The same question about medications currently taken that appears on the application for medical certificate appears on the CMEC. Not indicating the use of CBD on the CMEC could also lead to an allegation of a false statement but disclosing the use of CBD may lead to the FAA Medical Office’s close scrutiny of the pilot’s medical fitness for flight.
The second question applies to pilots, mechanics, and anyone else who must take DOT required drug tests because they perform safety sensitive functions for an air carrier, and anyone else in the industry who undergoes employer mandated drug tests of a similar nature. One of the chemicals the DOT authorized drug tests look for in pilots is THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana that results in a euphoric feeling. Obviously, no one who performs safety sensitive functions should do so while under the influence of marijuana. But there is currently no direct test for THC levels in a person, like a blood test for alcohol. Therefore, the DOT test does not report the level of THC, but rather the level of cannabinoid metabolites, the chemicals in the blood left after the body has metabolized THC. As for CBD products, the body metabolizes CBD, which is also a cannabinoid, in the same way so it leaves the same metabolites. Therefore, persons using CBD products with no THC will have the same chemical markers in their blood as persons using marijuana. In addition, CBD products may now legitimately contain up to 0.3% THC by weight. While the DOT drug test allows for some THC metabolites to be present to account for accidental or inadvertent use, using CBD products, whether they contain THC or not, could result in a positive DOT drug test. Every DOT test result is reviewed by a Medical Review Officer (MRO). Even if the MRO accepts the explanation that the positive test was the result of using CBD products and not using marijuana, the MRO may not change that positive result to a negative. DOT rules limit MRO’s authority to change positive results to negative results based on the pilot’s explanation to only authorized uses of the substance causing the positive result. As I mentioned, DOT and the FAA do not view the use of CBD to treat a medical condition as an authorized use of CBD products. And the MRO will report that positive result to the FAA’s Medical Office leading to the same questions a person who holds a FAA medical certificate would face if that person reported CBD use on the application for a medical certificate. As for others performing safety sensitive functions, the positive drug test will result in a requirement for a DOT approved rehabilitation and a confirmed negative return to duty test before that person can go back to work.
To summarize, pilots face serious risk to their careers by using CBD products and not reporting that use on their applications for an airmen medical certificate, but also face close FAA scrutiny when reporting that use. In addition, for anyone performing safety sensitive functions for an air carrier or commercial operator the use of CBD products could result in a positive DOT drug test, which also could then result in adverse certificate action, including revocation, or adverse employment action. The best course of action is to avoid using CBD products if employed in the aviation industry, the two do not mix.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
Currently, Of Counsel to the firm of Paul A. Lange, LLC, Mr. Christopher Poreda served as the FAA’s New England Regional Counsel from 2002 to 2015. A graduate of the US Air Force Academy in 1974, he flew F-4 Phantom’s for the U.S. Air Force in Europe and at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas, NV before serving as a Flight Instructor for the Air Force. After leaving the Air Force, he earned a law degree from Northeastern University and clerked for the Massachusetts Appeals Court before working as an associate for Bingham, Dana & Gould in Boston until joining the FAA’s legal office in 1990. Attorney Poreda served as a staff attorney for the FAA and as the counsel to the Engine and Propeller Directorate at the FAA’s New England Region before assuming a management role for the FAA’s legal office in 2002. He retired from Federal service in 2015 after 37 years with the US Air Force and the FAA. He has taught Aviation Law at New England Law, Boston and, remains an active Flight Instructor in the Boston area. He currently teaches the Aviation Law course at Southern New Hampshire University’s aviation program in the College of Engineering, Technology and Aeronautics.
Can You Fail a Drug Test Due to CBD?
As the medical marijuana industry continues to leave its footprint on the field of medicine, science — and the general population — are exploring new ways of experiencing it. Cannabidiol, or CBD, has stepped into the spotlight as a highly-regarded form of alternative medicine and has gained much traction in the medical marijuana industry. Furthermore, its list of benefits is no longer purely hypothetical. A growing body of research is finding that CBD could be highly beneficial to treat certain medical conditions. That doesn’t mean it’s workplace-friendly, though, which leads to the question: Can you fail a drug test due to CBD?
What is CBD?
CBD is a cannabis compound that many claim has medical benefits but without the feeling of being high — something that happens as a result of the THC in marijuana. However, in typical CBD products, there is no THC.
In fact, CBD can actually counteract the psychoactivity of THC. This makes it an appealing alternative for treating issues such as:
It’s a suitable option for people who want to take advantage of its healing properties without getting “stoned” or resorting to traditional pain medication. It’s a welcome alternative, considering our country’s current opioid epidemic.
It’s even being explored for its anti-cancer properties — although to be clear, this research is still very much in progress.
Further adding to its trustworthiness is the fact that science has suggested CBD can safely be consumed even at high doses. People are giving it to their dogs and taking it for common needs like hair, skin, and nail health. More and more, CBD is becoming as common in people’s pantries as their daily multivitamin.
The Popular Consumption of CBD
CBD can be sourced from marijuana or hemp. In many cases, the oil is extracted to be consumed as a liquid, made into pills, or mixed directly into food. Some people prefer to consume it through vaporizer pens, which — because you’re inhaling it — offers a more or less immediate reaction. (Important to note, though, is that vaporizer pens can carry their own downsides.)
Others prefer to use it topically — for example, with CBD salves or creams that are applied directly to the body. This is a particularly interesting approach because since dermal absorption can’t produce psychoactive side effects, even if there is any THC present in the CBD, you still won’t feel high.
Can You Fail a Drug Test Due to CBD?
What does all of this mean for drug testing in the age of legal marijuana? Managing a drug-free workplace is becoming increasingly challenging for employers. Individual states are legalizing the use of marijuana for medicinal and sometimes even recreational purposes. However, it’s still up to employers what they will and will not tolerate in the workplace. It can understandably be confusing trying to understand your rights as an employer along with your employees’ rights.
Where does CBD fit into all of this? As it turns out, it’s a much more simple and straightforward answer than marijuana.
Again, it points back to the fact that CBD doesn’t get you high. According to Quest Diagnostics Director of Science and Technology, Barry Sample, CBD likely won’t show up on a drug test: “If the product contains only CBD and has had the THC removed, then an individual being tested would not be expected to test positive for marijuana or marijuana metabolite.” In other words, marijuana drug tests screen for THC, not CBD.
This is an important point, because CBD is still widely taboo, as people assume it’s the same as marijuana. However, because it doesn’t bring that kind of high, people who use it aren’t actually impaired. Thus, the risks that drug use brings simply aren’t there.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the recommended cutoff level of THC is 50 ng/mL to pass a drug test. Most employers and legal services prefer to use SAMHSA-certified labs as the standard since it’s more likely to hold up in court.
Most hemp oil or CBD products are usually sold with much lower levels of THC (compared to marijuana), so most CBD consumers won’t have trouble passing a drug test. For those using extremely high levels of CBD or hemp oil (over 2,000 mg per day), it’s possible, though unlikely, that this could produce a “false positive” result on a drug test. Even then, a follow-up test can provide more conclusive results.
While research has shown that it’s unlikely that CBD products alone would lead to a positive result on a drug test, it’s important to note that CBD was found to interact with the body’s metabolism of certain compounds. What this means is that CBD users who also use marijuana may actually show higher levels of THC for a longer period of time than when using marijuana alone.
So, it would seem that CBD alone is not enough to raise any red flags on a drug test; although, if you’d prefer to err on the safe side, refraining from taking even CBD if you’re expecting a drug test is likeliest the best approach.
Understanding federal and local laws and trying to protect your workplace without infringing on your employees’ rights can be a big undertaking. We can help. Maintaining a drug-free workplace all starts with having a bulletproof drug-free workplace policy. Whether you don’t have one at all or have one that could be improved upon, working with US Drug Test Centers can help protect you and your team.
We’ll help you address tricky questions such as:
- If someone was prescribed marijuana by their doctor, can they come to work with it in their system?
- Similarly, can they carry it on them on the business’s property?
- If recreational marijuana is legal in your state, what does this mean for employees who fail a drug test?
- If you allow a minimal amount of THC in employees’ systems, how much?
We can also help you manage all aspects of your drug-free workplace using our cloud-based software. Plus, with more than 20,000 locations nationwide, you’ll never have to drive more than a few miles before you find us. Drug testing has never been this convenient.
US Drug Test Centers is an industry leader in providing nationwide drug testing solutions for individuals and employers alike. To learn more about drug testing services, specialty drug testing, or to find a drug testing center near you, contact us at 866-566-0261 or order a test online.
CBD Oil: FAA Zero Tolerance Policy
If you are a user of cannabidiol (CBD) oil, the Federal Air Surgeon, Dr. Michael A. Berry, has a warning for you: “Use of CBD oil is not accepted as an affirmative defense against a positive drug test.”
Despite its legalization in some states, only one CBD product been approved for medicinal use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat rare forms of epilepsy, and it require a prescription. No commercially available CBD oil has been approved for use by the FDA; therefore, commercially available CBD oil is not subject to the same quality control standards as other FDA approved substances. Since it is not subject to FDA quality control, commercially available CBD oil may contain other substances inconsistent with its labeling, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the compound responsible for marijuana’s euphoric and mind-altering effects. Pilots should be aware that FAA required drug tests routinely test for the presence of THC. Therefore, pilots utilizing commercially available CBD oil are at risk of testing positive for THC (or other prohibited substances) and may be putting their medical and airmen certificates at risk.
As noted above, the Federal Air Surgeon clarified that the FAA will not consider the use of commercially available CBD oil as a defense against a positive drug test. If you have tested positive on an FAA drug test, call the AOPA Legal Services Plan at 1-800-872-2672.
Ian Arendt is an in-house attorney with AOPA’s Legal Services Plan. The AOPA Legal Services plan is offered as part of AOPA’s Pilot Protection Services.