As most of you likely know, our country is experiencing an opioid epidemic the likes of which we’ve never seen. What’s different about this drug crisis is that it stems from the often legitimate use of legally prescribed opioids to deal with pain that is both chronic and acute. We know opioids come with many side effects, including a potential for addiction. As a result, various entities around the country and within individual states are taking steps to reduce the number of opioids being prescribed. However, this doesn’t change the fact that many people are still suffering from pain and want a way to get some level of relief.
In my role at the LHSFNA, I address issues related to workplace substance use and abuse. As the Director of Health Promotion, I’m often asked to speak at conferences and meetings about the opioid crisis and related workplace issues. After my formal presentation ends, there is usually a group of people waiting to talk to me. This is where the conversations get real – people often talk about their own addiction or a family member’s and the losses they have experienced due to opioids. Lately, the conversation often involves pain relief alternatives to opioids, including medical marijuana and more recently, CBD oil.
What Is CBD Oil?
CBD stands for cannabidiol, one of more than 85 different cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. Cannabinoids are the primary chemical compounds in all cannabis plants. The two you’ve probably heard of are CBD and THC. CBD is found in hemp (legal in all 50 states) and marijuana (legal use varies by state). CBD oil is made from the flowers, leaves and stalks of hemp and not from its seeds like hemp oil.
CBD oil has been used for thousands of years to treat various types of pain, but it’s only recently begun getting attention from the medical community. One thing that makes CBD oil distinct from marijuana is that CBD oil does not cause users to experience a “high” like marijuana does due to its lack of THC.
CBD oil has been used to treat the following:
- Chronic pain, inflammation and overall discomfort related to a variety of health conditions
- Anxiety, depression, seizures and neurodegenerative disorders
While many people use CBD oil to relieve pain, more research is needed to be certain it can be used safely.
Legality & Implications for Drug Testing
Based on what we know so far, it seems that CBD oil had some promise as an alternative to manage pain. However, there is concern about the impact it could have on a worker’s ability to pass a workplace drug test. Any cannabis-based product has the potential to trigger a positive drug test for marijuana. Although the risk of a positive test may be low, as a result of this possibility, CBD oil may not be suitable as a pain management strategy for LIUNA members.
If Marijuana Seems Beneficial for Pain Management, What’s the Holdup?
Since the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) considers marijuana to be a Schedule I drug (the same as heroin, LSD and ecstasy), researchers need a special license to study it. This has made it difficult to study the potential medicinal benefits of marijuana on a large scale. In addition, because marijuana is still illegal federally, the Food & Drug Administration has not been able to regulate it.
While many states have legalized marijuana for medicinal or recreational use, any product that contains THC, even in small amounts, is considered marijuana and is illegal under federal law. Like marijuana, federal and state laws also differ widely on the legality of CBD oil. While it’s legal in many states, the DEA still views CBD oil as illegal, although they acknowledge that prosecuting this offense is not a priority.
“It would not be an appropriate use of federal resources to go after a mother because her child has epileptic seizures and has found something that can help and has helped. Are they breaking the law? Yes, they are. Are we going to break her door down? Absolutely not,” says DEA spokesperson Rusty Payne.
Regardless of the legality within a given state, employers generally have the legal right to require a workplace be free from drugs, that workers not be under the influence of drugs or alcohol and that workers are able to pass a drug test.
As promising and effective as CBD oil may be for some people as an alternative pain management treatment, its use cannot be endorsed by Laborers. It is a requirement on most job sites that workers be able to pass a drug test. Because there is no guarantee that CBD oil use will not result in a positive workplace drug test, its use must be questioned at this time.
[Jamie Becker is the LHSFNA’s Director of Health Promotion.]