According to a recent report by 2024, the cannabidiol (CBD) market could exceed $20 billion. And, perhaps surprisingly, much of this market is being fuelled by people over the age of 40. They are also more likely to be employed than non-users. That means that there is a strong possibility that CBD is already impacting your workplace. If it isn’t, it may soon. Here is what you need to know about the chemical, which many people have misconceptions or misinformation about.

What is CBD?

CBD is one of the major chemicals found in both cannabis and hemp, but pure CBD from marijuana does not contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the ingredient that causes a consumer to feel 'high.' While hemp products were legalized by the Farm Bill of 2018, because CBD is being studied as a drug, it cannot be included in either food or dietary substances. In fact, it is illegal to market CBD as an addition to food or nutritional supplements. That said, pure CBD may have some positive medical effects. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved it for therapeutic use with two different kinds of epilepsy. Researchers are also looking at it as a possible treatment for Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and anxiety. It is even used extensively for the treatment of anxiety and other conditions in pets.

CBD often appears in oil form, but it is also sold as capsules, lotions or edibles. It’s most frequently consumed in the form of a spray under the tongue or can also be applied topically or smoked in a vape. In the consumer market, you can find it used in CBD-infused beverages as well as cosmetic and skincare products and occasionally in diet supplements, although that is still technically illegal.

Effects of CBD

CBD does not produce the euphoric or psychoactive high that THC does, but it still affects the brain. In other words, it won’t intoxicate the user, but it does affect both mind and behavior. Its primary effect, according to preliminary studies, is to prevent or slow the breakdown of natural chemicals in the brain, controlling pain, mood and mental processes. It may also serve to reduce the high that is produced by THC.

The Legality of CBD

Despite the widespread interest in its use for a variety of medical applications, there is currently insufficient evidence for the therapeutic or preventative use of CBD other than as an approved treatment for two specific forms of epilepsy. In fact, CBD produced from the marijuana plant is illegal under federal law.

CBD supplied from the hemp plant, however, is now legal thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill. However, by law, hemp cannot legally contain more than 0.3 per cent THC. The problem is that marijuana and hemp plants are difficult to tell apart. It is also relatively easy for the two plants to cross-pollinate or for a male and female hemp plant to produce offspring that does have significant THC.

The Problem with Purity

Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that anyone buying a CBD product can be sure of what they are getting. Apart from the fact that is little research available about the effects of CBD, there is also a lack of state and federal oversight of the product or federal enforcement of the few laws that do exist. This has led to a hodgepodge of products available everywhere from the local coffee shops to freeway gas stations.

Many of these products, ranging from CDB-infused coffee to lotions, are mislabeled. A Journal of American Medical Association study revealed that 21% of the 84 CBD products analyzed contained THC and that a further 28% contained no CBD at all.

The problem for both employers and employees is that there is no way of knowing for sure what any CBD product contains, despite labelling, and the lack of oversight is compounding the issue. Your worker may believe they are using a product that has no THC, but unwittingly they may be consuming significant amounts. This can lead to safety concerns, particularly if the employee is unknowingly consuming enough THC to render them intoxicated.

Impact on Drug Testing

An employee who unwittingly takes THC via a CBD product may fail a drug test. If you are a federally regulated company or have zero-tolerance policies in place prohibiting the use of marijuana, the responsibility for that failed test lies with the employee. The Medical Review Officer will not consider the use of CBD oil as a medical excuse and will certify the positive test result.

It is also important to remember that even though drug tests will not detect its use, CBD is still considered to be a Schedule 1 drug and is illegal under federal laws.

Your Response As An Employer

CBD use is steadily rising and that, combined with the increasing number of states legalizing the use of marijuana and the lack of regulation of CBD related products, can be problematic for employers. Your best response is to prepare in advance.

  • Be aware of the most recent regulations regarding CBD products in your state as well as any recent judgements concerning these products.
  • Pay specific attention to any state regulations regarding your duty to accommodate. This does not apply to federal laws, as CBD is still considered a Schedule 1 drug.
  • Educate your workforce about all of the issues related to CBD products, including contamination with THC and inaccurate labelling.
  • Ensure your job descriptions identify safety-sensitive positions and highlight the need to remain alert at all times in these positions.
  • Inform your workers about your workplace drug and alcohol policy and the potential impact of CBD. This will allow workers to discuss your policy with their doctors before they use a CBD product.
  • Notify your employees that the use of CBD products will not excuse a positive marijuana test.

Remember that as an employer, you have the right to set policies regarding substance use at work, and this includes the use of CBD. However, education should be your primary line of defence. Understanding that risk and communicating it to your workers can help you effectively deal with the effects of CBD on your workforce and your company.