Chemically complex, the cannabis sativa plant, known as marijuana, has hundreds of active compounds and cannabinoids. Ratios of chemicals and potency can differ based on the age of the plant, the origin, and the method of cultivation. Some of the more well-known chemicals in marijuana include:

  • Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC): Primary psychoactive ingredient that produces a “high”
  • Cannabidiol (CBD): Antipsychotic, anticonvulsant, antiemetic, and not psychoactive
  • Cannabinol (CBN): weakly psychoactive

The cannabidiol compound found within marijuana has gained recent popularity for its potential therapeutic value. Many believe taking non-psychoactive, cannabidiol-rich cannabis can provide relief of ailments such as nausea, chronic pain, inflammation, spasms, anxiety, and depression. Marijuana growers have even begun crossbreeding marijuana plants to produce higher CBD and lower THC concentrations with the intent of using these plants as medicine.

Limited research is being conducted by a handful of scientists about the risks and benefits of marijuana on health conditions, such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In August 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) provided some funding to improve research but reiterated that marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance.

In 2013, CNN aired a documentary called Weed that shined a national spotlight on medical marijuana. Investigative journalist Dr. Sanjay Gupta traveled the world to interview doctors, researchers, growers, patients, and families about cannabis. The TV special featured a little girl with Dravet syndrome who suffered from violent epileptic seizures and found relief using a low THC/high CBD marijuana extract that derives its name – “Charlotte’s Web” – from the girl it helps to treat. The doctor’s change of heart regarding marijuana inspired a movement of sorts, and families of children suffering from similar conditions started lobbying state legislatures to provide access to CBD.

In 2014, a number of southern states began passing low THC/high CBD laws. Today, sixteen states have low THC/high CBD laws for limited medical purposes. The allowable levels fluctuate by state as shown in the table below. That said, there is no consensus on a permissible ratio of THC and CBD.

What this means for employers is that CBD itself will not show up as a positive result for marijuana in a workplace drug test. However, a medical marijuana cardholder in a low THC/high CBD state could screen positive for THC because some THC is permitted as an ingredient in various CBD products. Specific examples include the laws in Georgia and Virginia, which permit up to 0.5 percent THC. Employers should stay informed about how low THC/high CBD marijuana laws differ in certain states.

Visit the National Conferences of States Legislatures website to stay current on state marijuana laws.

For resources about marijuana and state legislation, visit our website.

This information is not intended to serve as legal advice. All information provided by Quest Diagnostics is qualified by the laws and regulations of the individual states, and such information is subject to change. If you have any legal issues or concerns, we urge you to get advice from your attorney.