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Can Topical Cannabis Products Cause You To Fail a Drug Test?


If you’ve ever been the unlucky sort to try CBD products for pain, you may have found out later when you failed a drug test at work that some products with no THC can still cause you to fail. Under the 2018 farm bill, cannabis and hemp products can contain up to 0.03% THC, which is more than enough to show up in a standard urine test. Luckily, if you deal with chronic pain, one type of cannabis product won’t make you fail a drug test: topicals.

Unlike most cannabis and hemp products, topicals can’t penetrate deep enough to enter your bloodstream. With that in mind, they’re never processed through your liver or kidneys, so they don’t show up in urine, saliva, blood, or hair tests. However, a small niche in the topical cannabis market can cause you to fail a drug test. Here’s everything you need to know about topical cannabis products and which ones are best for relief without failing a drug test.

Can the cannabinoids in topicals cause you to fail a drug test?

Most of the time, the answer is no. Topical preparations made with THC and CBD aren’t strong enough to penetrate through the various layers of skin tissue. Instead, they’re applied to an area and provide skin-deep relief to the muscles in the areas they’re applied to directly.

Topical cannabis products can’t reach the bloodstream or liver since they can’t penetrate deep enough. With that said, their metabolites don’t show up in any drug test, including urine, hair, saliva, or blood tests. Typically they’re safe to use even if your employer has rigid drug testing policies or you work in a government position.

Both CBD and THC, the primary cannabinoids in hemp and cannabis, act as powerful pain-relievers, anti-inflammatories and can relieve itching when brought into contact with skin. Topicals are an excellent choice for people dealing with arthritis, muscle spasms, eczema, rashes, psoriasis, neuropathy, and chronic pain from injuries. For people who can’t partake in recreational marijuana, topicals offer relief without the mind-altering effects or the possibility of failing a drug screening.

However, beware of transdermal topicals if you’re trying to avoid a failed drug test.

One small corner of the topical market can cause you to fail a drug test, though. Be on the lookout for transdermal topical products. Transdermals typically come in the form of gels, patches, and salves. Unlike ordinary topicals, transdermals can penetrate through the skin tissue into the bloodstream. They also cause a mildly intoxicating effect and can cause you to fail a drug test.

Because transdermal products can seep into the bloodstream, they’re eventually metabolized in the liver and end up in blood, saliva, urine, and hair tests.

What’s the difference between transdermal topicals and regular topical cannabis products?

Topicals are all absorbed through the skin to provide centralized relief to sore muscles. Most topicals can only penetrate the topmost layers of the skin and soothe the muscles underneath. Since they never make it to the bloodstream, they don’t get you high. Normal topicals come in lotions, creams, balms, salves and can start soothing pain in as little as 10 minutes. 

On the other hand, you have transdermal topicals. These products provide longer-lasting relief and can penetrate much deeper than the skin. They’re typically better for relief against chronic pain and don’t need to be reapplied as frequently. However, this deeper penetration comes at a cost. The cannabinoids in transdermals can make their way into the bloodstream and cause you to fail a drug test. Transdermal products include patches, lotions, or muscle compounds. If you’re looking to pass a drug test, you’ll want to avoid transdermal products and stick to ordinary topicals instead.

Remember, when in doubt, ask your budtender and be sure to read the labels on topical products thoroughly to get a better understanding of how they work and how they’ll affect you.

What to look for in topical cannabis products and how to use them

If you’re looking to pass a drug test, first thing’s first: check and double-check the packaging. If you want to avoid failing a drug test, make sure you re-read the dispensary menu or ask your budtender to make sure that the product you’re interested in isn’t a transdermal product. Transdermal products are often found in gels, applicator pens, or patches. 

You should also take care to look at the ingredients. If you have any allergies or sensitivities to certain chemicals, you’ll want to make sure that the topical doesn’t contain it. If you’re taking other medications, you’ll also want to make sure that the ingredients don’t interact with them negatively. Most topicals come in unscented neutral carrier lotions, but many contain borneol or menthol, which have a potent scent and feel tingly like Icy Hot or Tiger Balm. If you have a preference, make sure to ask your budtender.

From there, it’s just the simple matter of using the cannabis topical. Start by showering or exfoliating the area you’ll be applying the topical. This simple practice helps remove dead skin, unclog pores, and improve blood circulation, allowing you to effectively absorb the cannabinoids (THC or CBD) in the topical.

After you clean the affected area, dry off and apply the topical. If you have strained muscle, arthritis, cramps, or other aches and pains, you’ll love topicals for their ability to decrease inflammation. Just take care to avoid transdermal products if you’re looking for relief without failing a drug test.

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