Warning Letters and Test Results for Cannabidiol-Related Products Leafly tested dozens of CBD products to see how the results stack up to what’s on the label. Cases of CBD oil users failing drug tests are on the rise. Learn more about why this happens and how to avoid it.
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.
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.
Does CBD Show Up On a Drug Test?
Sherry Christiansen is a medical writer with a healthcare background. She has worked in the hospital setting and collaborated on Alzheimer’s research.
Verywell Health articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and healthcare professionals. These medical reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.
Femi Aremu, PharmD, is a professional pharmacist with experience in clinical and community pharmacy. He currently practices in Chicago, Illinois.
Despite the fact that cannabidiol (CBD) is derived from cannabis—the same type of plant that marijuana comes from—CBD should not show up on a drug test. That said, it is possible.
Drug tests check for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) because that is the cannabis compound that makes people feel high. CBD products are typically THC-free.
However, CBD products can contain 0.3% of THC by law. In some people, that may be enough to yield a positive drug test result.
This article explains why CBD products may show up on a drug test as THC. It also details what to look for in CBD products so you can prevent a positive drug test.
Does CBD Oil Contain THC?
The active chemical in marijuana that gets detected in a positive drug test screening is THC. Most people are under the impression that CBD oil is THC-free, which is generally true. But not always.
As it turns out, depending on the source of the cannabis that is used to produce the CBD oil, some products do contain traces of THC. This includes low-quality isolates and many full-spectrum tinctures. A full spectrum oil contains other active plant compounds in addition to CBD.
Cannabis is the umbrella term describing hemp and marijuana plants—two different varieties of the Cannabis genus. Both marijuana and hemp can be described as cannabis, but they are two different plants.
CBD is one of many active chemical compounds in cannabis plants. One reason it’s becoming more popular is that it’s said to lack THC.
The primary difference between hemp and marijuana is that hemp is nearly void of THC. In fact, a cannabis strain must contain less than 0.3% THC to be classified as hemp. This is why hemp can be legally sold in various products.
Most CBD products are made from hemp, not marijuana.
There are many distinctions between marijuana and hemp that relate to CBD oil. Marijuana contains both THC (the “high”-inducing element) and CBD. Hemp contains CBD and only trace amounts of THC.
Hemp also contains many cannabinoids, which is a name for the compounds found in cannabis. CBD is only one example.
There are several techniques for extracting CBD oil from the cannabis plant. The extraction method determines whether the CBD oil is an “isolate” or a “full-spectrum oil.”
A CBD isolate is a pure compound with no other active compounds or cannabinoids. The full-spectrum compounds may include other active chemicals, such as cannabinol and cannabis terpenes (the part of the plant that gives the plant its aroma).
Study of CBD Oil
While some CBD oils claim to be isolates, they may be full-spectrum oils and actually contain more cannabinoids (such as THC) than they claim.
A study conducted at the internationally known Lautenberg Center For Immunology and Cancer found that CBD was more effective at treating inflammation and pain when used with other cannabis plant compounds.
These compounds were derived from a full-spectrum product rather than a CBD isolate product alone. This is one reason that full-spectrum products (those containing THC) are popular.
However, the distinction between full-spectrum oils and isolates makes all the difference if you are being tested for drug use.
Reasons for Failing a CBD Drug Test
There are several common reasons a person can test positive for THC after taking CBD.
Using Product With THC
The most common reason for a failed CBD drug test is that a person is using a CBD oil product that contains THC. This may be a full-spectrum product. Sometimes, though, it could be a low-quality isolate product that contains a small amount of THC.
Although most manufacturers claim their products do not contain THC, this is not always the case.
Cross-Contamination of THC
Very small amounts of THC present in the material that CBD is extracted from can get into the CBD oil in high enough amounts to result in a positive drug test. This scenario may be more likely to occur when CBD oil is purchased from cannabis dispensaries in places where cannabis is legal.
Mislabeling of Products
CBD oil extracted from hemp is not supposed to contain more than 0.3% THC. However, it’s not uncommon for sellers to mislabel their products as THC-free hemp when, in reality, it’s a low-quality oil extracted from marijuana. And marijuana does contain THC.
In fact, one study discovered that almost 70% of the CBD products sold online were mislabeled. This caused “potential serious harm to its consumers.” The reason for this widespread mislabeling is that CBD products are not strictly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Secondhand Exposure to THC
Inadvertent exposure to marijuana (via secondhand smoke) is unlikely to be enough for a person to get a positive drug test result. But it is possible. Being in a room with heavy pot smokers for several hours may cause the inhalation of enough THC-containing smoke to result in a positive test result.
A more likely secondhand exposure scenario is a positive marijuana hair test. This results from direct contact with marijuana paraphernalia or from another person having THC on their hands.
For instance, say that someone who had direct contact with marijuana then touched your hair. You could feasibly receive a false positive on a drug screening that tests your hair.
CBD Oil Breakdown in the Digestive System
Some sources report that in rare cases, false positive test results have come from CBD oil that breaks down into very small amounts of THC in the stomach. Other studies, however, have refuted this finding.
The conclusion is that it’s still theoretically possible for traces of THC to be present in stomach acid when “less-purified CBD productions” are ingested.
How to Avoid a Positive CBD Drug Test
If you take CBD oil, you can take steps to try to prevent failing a drug test:
- Do thorough research to ensure the CBD product you’re using is pure and that the company is legitimate.
- Look for manufacturers that have been accredited by the Better Business Bureau.
- Ensure that the CBD oil is an isolate product extracted from a viable industrial hemp supply. It should not be a low-quality tincture.
- Ask questions about product processing techniques and the possibility of cross-contamination.
- Avoid secondhand exposure to marijuana use via pot smoking or hair contact from THC users.
CBD oil is usually marketed as THC-free, but that’s not always the case. Full-spectrum CBD oils contain other cannabinoids, which may include THC. Isolate products may be contaminated with THC, as well.
You have to be proactive to avoid failing a drug test if you’re taking CBD oil. Most important: Ensure that you’re using a pure product made by a reputable company.
A Word From Verywell
In theory, getting a false positive on a drug test from CBD oil should be relatively impossible from pure CBD oil containing less than 0.3% THC. However, because CBD oil is not well regulated, there is no guarantee that a product contains pure CBD oil or that its concentration is safe or effective.
Use the utmost caution and do your research when purchasing a quality CBD oil product to ensure its purity, especially if you need to undergo a drug screening.
Frequently Asked Questions
Drug tests look for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the element in marijuana that causes a high. CBD oils can have trace amounts of THC even if they’re labeled “THC-free.”
Yes. If the products contain THC, you could test positive. If you know you’ll need to take a drug test, avoid full-spectrum CBD products that may contain small amounts of THC. Be sure you purchase products from a reliable source. And be wary of online retailers; researchers have found that 21% of online CBD and hemp products were mislabeled.
Drug tests do not typically measure CBD. Most tests check for THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana. Depending on the frequency of use, THC can be picked up on a test anywhere from a few days for a single use or over a month for heavy daily pot smokers.
CBD edibles take about 30 to 60 minutes to start to take effect. They last five to six hours, depending on your metabolism and dose. A CBD edible may show up on a drug test as THC metabolites for three days. However, if you frequently take CBD edibles, it can take up to 15 days to have a clean urine test.
The FDA strongly advises against taking CBD or THC products while nursing. Cannabis products can be excreted through breastmilk and are not safe for the baby. Cannabinoids can stay in your milk for up to six days, so “pumping and dumping” may not be a good option.
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Sherry Christiansen
Sherry Christiansen is a medical writer with a healthcare background. She has worked in the hospital setting and collaborated on Alzheimer’s research.