The Department of Defense is warning servicemembers about the risk of being exposed to illegal drugs when using products containing cannabidiol, popularly known as CBD.
The warning follows passage of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, which removed hemp from the government’s list of controlled substances. The crop is now treated as an agricultural commodity if it has extremely low concentrations of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC.
In a command message on the American Forces Network, DOD officials are letting troops know that they could potentially get a dose of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, when using supplements containing CBD.
The hemp extract is found in many widely available products ranging from vape oil to gummies and marketed as a treatment for ailments such as chronic pain, anxiety, inflammation and cancer.
CBD products are legal under federal law as long as they contain less than 0.3 percent THC, which is present in hemp at much lower concentrations than in marijuana.
However, it’s uncertain whether THC levels in all CBD products comply with the law, said Patricia Deuster, a professor in the Department of Military and Emergency Medicine at Uniformed Services University, said in a telephone interview April 11.
There have also been cases of CBD products that contain synthetic cannabinoids, said Deuster, who also serves as director of the Consortium for Health and Military Performance.
“CBD isn’t psychoactive but if it is adulterated it could contain psychoactive ingredients,” she said.
Nate Atwood, 45, a former civilian defense worker at Misawa Air Base, Japan, and Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, said he’s used CBD products to battle inflammation and pain.
“I would definitely recommend it for anyone who has problems with inflammation, including arthritis and backpain,” he said. “You can easily replace Motrin and most other over-the-counter pills, and a lot of pharmaceutical pain pills as well. I’m living proof of that.”
Atwood recently started growing cannabis at home in Salcha, Alaska, to make his own CBD oil, he said.
Some CBD manufacturers guarantee no THC, but others might add it to give their products a kick, he said.
“That’s the stuff people need to be wary of,” he said. “If you do get tested for drugs at your place of employment, THC might show up. I doubt it’s possible, but if the military could come up with a list of approved brands, it could be beneficial to a lot of people.”
The military’s Operation Supplement Safety campaign posted a message on its website Feb. 26 warning that “Military Service Members should avoid using any product with CBD, as it could contain THC and result in a positive drug test.”
In a two-month period last year, military bases in the U.S. reported more than 100 medical incidents related to such products, Deuster said.
The incidents involved things such as emergency room visits with troops reporting symptoms ranging from increased heart rates to hallucinations, she said.
Military regulations prohibit members of the Army and Air Force from consuming hemp products. The Navy and Marines allow their servicemembers to consume them but Deuster said those who do are taking a risk consuming “foods that might cause them to fail a drug test.”
A positive test for THC is a career ender, she said.