Addressing the Trace THC Issue

Unfortunately, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) have attacked hemp food and cosmetics, mainly on the thin pretext that such products interfere with their campaign to eliminate the use of hemp's psychoactive cousin, marijuana. This is akin to attacking fruit juices and breads for promoting alcohol use on account of their trace alcohol content, which results from natural fermentation.

The issue: even industrial hemp varieties, bred for low THC content, produce small non-psychoactive quantities of THC - short for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. If seeds are not properly cleaned after harvesting, excess trace residual THC sticks to their hulls and infuses oil and other products. Until 1998, when thoroughly cleaned seeds from Canada and the European Union became widely available, hemp oil containing more than 50 parts per million (ppm) of THC was often found in the market. While too low in THC to cause psychoactivity, studies have shown that such oil may produce a positive drug test for marijuana. Of course, that has also caused a few cases of alleged false-positives in workplace drug testing.

To determine whether current hemp foods can still cause positive drug tests, a Canadian governmental research program (ARDI) and members of the hemp industry commissioned a toxicological study. 15 individuals consumed hemp oil with a known THC concentration. Four different daily doses were given, each for a ten-day period, to allow the THC concentration to reach steady-state concentration in the body. At the end of each period, two urine samples were collected and analyzed. The study found that none of the 15 individuals who consumed up to 600 µg (micrograms, or one-millionth of a gram) of THC per day were even close to producing a urine sample that was "confirmed positive".

With current seed-cleaning technology and the correspondingly low trace THC levels in hemp oil and hemp nut, producing a confirmed positive test result would require that unrealistically high amounts of hemp oil or hemp nut be eaten. The practice of "confirming" all urine samples, which test positive in an initial screening test is followed by all federal and most private employers. Because some employers and law enforcement agencies rely on screening tests only, screening positive results caused by copious hemp food ingestion are conceivable, yet not likely. To view a summary of the study, click here. (PDF file 21k)

As for body care products, there is no issue whatsoever. A second study evaluated the concern that extended topical application of hemp cosmetic products would interfere with workplace drug-testing programs in the United States. The study shows that no significant transdermal uptake of THC would occur even in a worst-case scenario of highly compromised skin, full-body application of hemp oil and 10 ppm THC in the hemp oil (the maximum limit allowed by Canadian law). To view the assessment, click here. (PDF file 277k)

These and similar findings have not kept the federal government from using past drug-test interference problems as its pretext to harass the hemp industry. This irrational policy is especially puzzling as the DEA has quite sensibly not attacked poppy seed bagels and pastries for promoting opium use, despite the fact that poppy seeds come from the same species as the opium poppy and contain trace opiates which interfere with current narcotics drug-testing.



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