By Staff Sgt. Nicole Leidholm, Armed Forces Medical Examiner System
/ Published January 23, 2020
DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- Water, tea, coffee, chocolates, gummies, oils, honey, and vaping oils are just some of the seemingly innocent products that could ruin a service member’s career.
These products are being seen more on the market since CBD oil use has become more widespread across America.
The Department of Defense has a zero tolerance policy for the illegal or improper use of drugs by service members, which includes CBD oil.
“It is common to see advertisements where CBD is listed as a treatment for many conditions, when in fact, there are very limited human studies,” said Dr. Erin Karschner, Armed Forces Medical Examiner System forensic toxicologist. “Researchers are also unsure of how CBD interacts with other medications that people may be taking and if adverse effects may occur after using CBD, particularly when CBD products are used for long periods of time.”
CBD, which stands for cannabidiol, is a non-intoxicating chemical in the cannabis plant.
Another component of the cannabis plant is THC, or delta-nine-tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the chemical responsible for giving the high sensation cannabis users experience.
On December 20, 2018, the President signed into law the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, known as the 2018 Farm Bill, which defined hemp as cannabis containing no more than 0.3 percent THC by dry weight and legalized the production of hemp and the sale of its products. Cannabis containing more than 0.3 percent THC is still considered a Schedule I controlled substance.
Prior to December 2018, hemp was a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.
“Even if CBD extract contains 0.3 percent or less of THC, service members put themselves at risk if they consume these products without being prescribed an [Food and Drug Administraion]-approved product by a medical professional,” said Air Force Capt. Marcus Walker, 436th Airlift Wing Assistant Staff Judge Advocate. “There are very few products that have been approved by the FDA, so the vast majority of CBD products we see on the market on a day to day basis remain federally illegal.”
The Division of Forensic Toxicology at the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System is responsible for the laboratory testing of blood, urine, and tissue specimens submitted as part of military investigations.
“In our laboratory, we test for drugs of abuse, novel psychoactive substances and therapeutic pharmaceuticals,” said Karschner. “We perform an extraction where we are able to pull the cannabinoids out of the blood and urine, concentrate those compounds, and analyze them on a sensitive instrument where we can determine exactly which cannabinoids are present in the specimen.”
There are no FDA regulations in place for CBD products and there is no mandated oversight or quality control for these products.
“This means products may contain CBD in lower or higher amounts than what is on the product label or they may contain additional unexpected active ingredients, heavy metals, or pesticides,” said Karschner. “Products may contain more THC than expected and have the potential to cause a positive urine drug test and intoxication, which may affect military readiness. These products may also be adulterated with other active components, like synthetic cannabinoids, which may lead to intoxication and accidents.”
Even while hemp has been legalized in the U.S., the use of hemp and CBD products are still prohibited for use by service members.
“The fact remains that CBD products remain heavily unregulated throughout the United States,” said Walker. “This means we don’t actually know what is and isn’t in these products.”
Each of the services have implemented their own guidance with regard to hemp product use. It is important that service members are familiar with and follow service-specific regulations. Regulations can be found at: AR600-85 section 4-2 (Army); AFMAN 44-197, section 220.127.116.11 (Air Force); ALNAV 057/19 (Navy and Marine Corps); and COMDTINST M1000.10, Chapter 5, section D.1 (Coast Guard).
“Bottom line, even if legal on the state level, and even if the label of the CBD product states there is no THC content, CBD use remains prohibited for military members,” said Walker. “Current Air Force policy prohibits all marijuana derivatives, including hemp. If they use it, they risk a positive result for THC on a drug test, and as a result, they could ultimately face administrative or criminal action.”