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Detecting Cannabis Oil in drug tests

The Therapeutic Goods Administration’s announcement of over-the-counter access to cannabis oil without a prescription has led to questions from employers on how to detect the drug in their workers.

Though the supply won’t be available until mid to late 2021, employers need to be aware of this, as the estimated market is to exceed $200 million a year. Manufacturers are working at light speed to supply up to 150mg a day to pharmacies and chemists who will sell low doses of cannabis oil. To note, no cannabis oil products have been approved for sale until now and the Australian Medical Association is still opposed to the new legislation.

It’s been a hot topic over the years in the legalisation of cannabis medications. Most people do not understand the difference between cannabis oil and cannabis (marijuana), it’s an assumption both get you high. Let’s break it down.

  • Cannabis is the overall term for marijuana or hemp
  • Marijuana contains a high THC variety in the cannabis plant
  • Hemp contains a high CBD variety in the cannabis plant
  • Cannabidiol is known as CBD and Tetrahydrocannabinol is known as THC and these are two natural compounds found in the cannabis and hemp plants

The cannabis plant produces a higher concentrate of THC. The hemp plant has a higher concentration of CBD oil. The amount of THC in hemp plants used to produce CBD oil for medical use is stringently regulated e.g.in the US the amount of THC in the hemp plant must be under 0.3%.

Both CBD and THC have the same molecular structure: 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms. The arrangement of the atoms interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system delivering very different effects.

THC is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis that produces the high sensation. THC binds with the cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptors in the brain. It produces a high or sense of euphoria.

CBD is psychoactive, though not in the same style as THC. It doesn’t produce the high or euphoric effects that occur with THC. CBD binds very weakly, if at all, to CB1 receptors.

The same medical benefits come from CBD and THC, however, due to their slight differences; CBD doesn’t cause the same side effects or euphoric effects that occur with THC.

Cannabidiol (CBD) Oil & Workplace Drug Testing 

Now, we have a better understanding of the cannabis plant compounds and the soon-to-be availability of over-the-counter cannabis oil products in pharmacies and chemists, we need to understand how this will affect workplace drug testing.

Workplace drug testing CBD vs THC 

Will CDB products cause positive results for cannabis/marijuana in workplace drug testing?

No, workplace drug screening tests for THC not CBD. Both onsite and confirmatory tests in the laboratory test for the THC compound, as this is the psychoactive compound that causes the high.

Workplace drug testing in Australia does not test for the CBD compound. Although, CBD oil may have trace amounts of THC it would not likely be in volumes high enough to cause a result in a drug screen, particularly in a product that is approved and regulated for sale in Australian pharmacies and chemists. This is been confirmed by the manufacturer of our testing devices and the laboratories conducting the confirmatory testing. The same cannot be said, however, for CBD products that are not approved or regulated.

Managing CBD oil as medication 

Should CBD oil become available in Australia and is distributed for medical use either by a prescription from a doctor or over the counter at a pharmacy or chemist, then it should be managed no differently than any other prescription or over-the-counter medications.

If CBD Oil is approved and becomes available for over-the-counter purchases, of course, the use of that medication then becomes legal (provided the person uses it in accordance with how that medication has indeed been prescribed).

However, the purpose of workplace drug testing is not to identify legal or illegal consumption. The purpose of workplace drug testing is to ensure that workers are safely able to perform their work, free from the adverse effects of drugs or alcohol whether they are legally or illegally taken.

It is true, that some medications may impact a person’s ability to perform their role safely. This of course will be dependent on the role the worker performs and the tasks that they are required to complete.

Managing the use of CBD oil in the workplace, if it becomes available, should be no different from how your workplace manages medications. Here are some questions to ask in protecting the business from the risks of drug and alcohol in the workplace.

Does your Drug and Alcohol procedure:

  • recognise medication may impact on fitness to work?
  • detail the process for managing medications?
  • acknowledge its purpose to address a worker’s ability to safely perform their tasks rather than a focus on legal vs illegal consumption?

The introduction of cannabis oil into the main market can overwhelm businesses with questions on how to safely protect their business and workers from this soon-to-be accessible drug. Please contact us if you need guidance on this topic.

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