The subject of drug testing has been a hot topic lately. Amazon recently published an official statement documenting its plans to drop cannabis from drug screenings for many employees. On the other end of the spectrum, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) banned sprinter Sha'Carri Richardson from competing in the Tokyo Olympics after she tested positive for cannabis. The agency also prohibits CBD products, even though the compound was made federally legal after the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill.
When it comes to cannabis legalization and drug testing, consumers navigate a constantly changing landscape. Currently, one of the biggest gray areas surrounds the compound delta-8 THC.
Delta-8 is the latest hemp-derived cannabinoid to bask in the spotlight, but many people still have a lot of questions about the compound. Since delta-8 produces similar effects as traditional THC, one of the most pressing concerns about delta-8 vapes and other products is whether or not it will show up on a drug screening for cannabis.
In this article, we’ll cover some of the most frequently asked questions about delta-8, including whether the compound will cause you to fail a drug test.
What is Delta-8, and How Is It Different from Regular THC?
There are many types of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). While THC is still in the plant, it exists in its acidic form, THCA. After THCA is transformed by decarboxylation, through smoking, vaping, or cooking, the molecule drops its acid group and becomes ready for the body to absorb as THC.
Traditional delta-9 THC and delta-8 are chemical analogues or isomers. THC isomers, such as delta-8, delta-9, and delta-10, are almost identical except for the placement of one double-bond. In the case of traditional THC, the double-bond links to the 9th atom in its carbon chain, and scientists call it delta-9 THC.
When delta-9 THC begins to degrade, it produces several close analogues, including delta-8 THC. In the delta-8 molecule, the double-bond repositions itself on the eighth carbon atom in the chain. This tiny shift in the placement of the double-bond causes the delta-8 molecule to change into a more stable form that can’t bond as strongly with CB1 receptors in the brain.
The result is a clear-headed and markedly mellower effect that rarely produces overwhelming psychoactive sensations like traditional cannabis can. Additionally, Delta-8 has many potential therapeutic benefits, such as reducing nausea, stimulating appetite, calming inflammation, and easing anxiety.
How Do Drug Screenings Test for Cannabis?
As we’ve mentioned, when THC starts to break down in the body, it creates compounds known as metabolites. For example, edible THC takes the form of the metabolite 11-hydroxy THC after being processed by our digestive enzymes.
Drug tests target these metabolites to determine if the subject has been consuming cannabis. The most common metabolite targeted by drug tests, THC-COOH (11-Nor-9-carboxy THC), can remain in the fat cells long after consumption. A result of 50 nanograms per milliliter of THC-COOH constitutes a positive on most drug screenings.
Drug tests look for THC metabolites using two standard methods:
- Immunoassay (IA): This type of procedure searches for related macromolecules and serves as a preliminary examination before a more detailed screening.
- Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS): This test is more sensitive and can detect metabolites down to a concentration of 20 nanograms per milliliter. GC-MS is often used to confirm the results of an immunoassay.
Since delta-8 and traditional delta-9 THC are so similar molecularly, they produce many of the same metabolites. Although hemp-derived delta-8 is federally legal, the compound will likely produce a false positive on a drug screening for marijuana.
What Should I Do if I’ve Already Consumed Delta-8 and I Need to Take an Unexpected Drug Test?
If you’re subject to random drug testing, you should avoid consuming delta-8. Most drug tests aren’t sophisticated enough to tell if the THC metabolites they detect come from legal, hemp-derived delta-8 or federally prohibited cannabis.
Unfortunately, life sometimes presents us with unpredictable challenges. So, what do you do if you’ve already consumed delta-8 and you need to pass an unexpected drug test?
First of all, stop consuming delta-8 immediately. Although there are no guarantees that you’ll pass the drug test, there are some actions you can take to reduce your chances of testing positive, including:
- Purchasing a detox kit: While they’re far from foolproof, some of the higher-quality cannabis detox kits can speed up the process of eliminating THC metabolites.
- Drinking plenty of water: Water is critical for flushing toxins from the body and can also help dilute any leftover metabolites.
- Exercising: Physical exercise helps burn fat, speed up metabolism, and remove toxins from the body.
- Taking an at-home cannabis test: Although they’re far less accurate than the professional varieties, taking a DIY test can give you a rough idea of where you stand.
- Alerting your employer or other testing agency: Some authorities may grant leniency if you tell them that you’ve been consuming federally legal delta-8. However, keep in mind that some states prohibit delta-8 products. You’ll want to avoid alerting your employer if you live in an area where delta-8 has been banned.
- Asking to have a GC-MS test: Having a more sensitive GS-MS test to confirm a false positive may reverse your result and absolve you of any negative consequences.
How Long Does Delta-8 Stay in the Body?
Since delta-8 is a THC isomer, the compound will remain in your system for approximately the same amount of time that traditional THC does. Many factors affect the duration that delta-8 and its metabolites stay in your system, including:
- Amount consumed
- Method of consumption
- How much water is in the body
Typically, the actual delta-8 molecule can last up to 8 days in urine, and its metabolites last even longer. If you have an average metabolism and you only consumed delta-8 a few times, you can usually clear your system of THC metabolites in around 3-4 weeks. However, heavy delta-8 consumption can provoke a positive drug test even if you’ve stopped for 30-60 days or more.
Another factor is the type of drug test. So far, we’ve been talking mainly about urine testing, the most common form of drug screening. Blood and saliva tests can detect delta-8 that was consumed up to 30 days prior to the test. Hair and nail exams are even more sensitive and can detect THC metabolites that were consumed much earlier, typically up to 90 days.
Unfortunately, delta-8 will probably show up on a drug test. If you’re required to pass random drug screenings or foresee a cannabis test in your future, you should refrain from consuming delta-8. Instead, you may want to relax with hemp products containing CBD isolate. If you’ve already consumed delta-8 and get tagged for a drug test, don’t panic. You can take a variety of actions to reduce your chances of triggering a false positive.