In December 2018, United States President Donald Trump signed Congress’ omnibus Agriculture Improvement Act, often called the “Farm Bill,” into law.

Up until that time, all cannabis and cannabinoids derived from cannabis were categorized as Schedule I controlled substances under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) (1). 

Schedule 1 is the most restrictive, imposing significant limitations on research and use, which are enforced by the Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA.

The new law changed how cannabis is treated under the CSA. Among other things, this law removed a category of cannabis known as hemp from the CSA’s definition of marijuana, which means that hemp (as distinct from marijuana) is no longer an illegal controlled substance under federal law (2).

Since hemp is no longer a controlled substance, it is now the job of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to regulate the crop as it does other agricultural commodities.

The law defined “agricultural hemp” as cannabis strains that contain less than 0.3% THC. Additionally, the Farm Bill explicitly legalized the “extracts, cannabinoids, and derivatives” of hemp.

How Is CBD Different From Marijuana?

The CBD oil found in most CBD products in the market is extracted directly from the hemp plant. Hence, most labels may describe CBD oil as hemp extract or hemp oil.

CBD is the second most prevalent of the active ingredients of cannabis (also called marijuana). 

However, unlike THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive component of marijuana, CBD does not cause a “high.” 

According to a report from the World Health Organization, “In humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential… To date, there is no evidence of public health-related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.” (3).

CBD is readily obtainable in many parts of the United States, although its exact legal status continually changes. 

In December 2015, the FDA eased the regulatory stipulations to allow researchers to conduct CBD investigations and trials. 

Currently, many people can get CBD online without a medical cannabis license (4). Still, the government’s position on CBD is confusing, and it depends in part on whether the CBD comes from hemp or marijuana (5).

However, the legality of CBD is expected to change. Currently, there is a bipartisan consensus in Congress to make the hemp crop legal, which would make CBD difficult to prohibit, says Dr. Peter Grinspoon, the author of Free Refills: A Doctor Confronts His Addiction, in a 2019 article published by Harvard Health (6).

Many states and Washington, D.C., have passed cannabis-related laws, making medical marijuana with high levels of THC legal. However, marijuana may require a prescription from a licensed physician (7).

Also, several states have made recreational use of marijuana and THC legal. One should be able to buy CBD in states where marijuana is legal for recreational or medical purposes.

To get more information on state laws and penalties, click here (8).

Individuals who possess cannabis-related products in a state where they are illegal or do not have a medical prescription in states where the products are legal for medical treatment could face legal penalties.

For a complete list of legal medical marijuana states and D.C., including the corresponding laws, fees, and possession limits, click here (9).

Does CBD Show Up on a Drug Test?

CBD products from hemp sold online and in retail stores are not supposed to contain over 0.3 percent THC, the compound in marijuana that can get the user high.

However, sometimes, CBD products contain more THC than the amount printed on the label, says Barry Sample, senior director of science and technology at Quest Diagnostics, the largest administrator of drug tests in the U.S. (10).

It is also possible that, eventually, the trace amounts of THC allowed in CBD products could accumulate in the body to detectable levels, Sample explains.

THC is fat-soluble, adds Norbert Kaminski, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University in East Lansing. Thus, THC that is not immediately broken down by the body is stored in fat tissues (11).

Over time, THC and THC metabolites (substances made when the body breaks down chemicals) are slowly released,” Kaminski says. As a result, it is possible to test positive for THC and not pass a drug test, even after one has stopped taking the product.

Conclusion

Because of its frequent association with marijuana, CBD has experienced an often complex legal history in the United States. 

However, note that the cannabis industry is complex and frequently changing. Thus, it is essential to check with one’s State to get the most up-to-date information on specific CBD and cannabis regulations.

More importantly, before using any CBD products as an adjunct therapy, or as a remedy for symptoms or medical conditions, consult with a doctor experienced in cannabis use for advice.


  1. USFDA. (2019, Dec 8). Remarks at the National Industrial Hemp Council 2019 Hemp Business Summit. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/news-events/speeches-fda-officials/remarks-national-industrial-hemp-council-2019-hemp-business-summit-08132019
  2. ibid.
  3. Expert Committee on Drug Dependence. (2017, Nov 6-10). CANNABIDIOL (CBD) Pre-Review Report. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/medicines/access/controlled-substances/5.2_CBD.pdf.
  4. Grinspoon, P. (2019, Aug 27). Cannabidiol (CBD) — what we know and what we don’t. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/cannabidiol-cbd-what-we-know-and-what-we-dont-2018082414476.
  5. Rosenberg, C. (2016, Dec 7). Federal Register. Establishment of a New Drug Code for Marihuana Extract. Retrieved from https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/12/14/2016-29941/establishment-of-a-new-drug-code-for-marihuana-extract.
  6. Grinspoon, P. (2019, Aug 27). Cannabidiol (CBD) — what we know and what we don’t. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/cannabidiol-cbd-what-we-know-and-what-we-dont-2018082414476.
  7. ProCon.org. (2019, July 24). Legal Medical Marijuana States and DC Laws, Fees, and Possession Limits. Retrieved from https://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/legal-medical-marijuana-states-and-dc/.
  8. State Laws. Retrieved from https://norml.org/laws.
  9. ProCon.org. (2019, July 24). Legal Medical Marijuana States and DC Laws, Fees, and Possession Limits. Retrieved from https://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/legal-medical-marijuana-states-and-dc/.
  10. Gill, L. (2019, May 15). Can You Take CBD and Pass a Drug Test? Retrieved from https://www.consumerreports.org/cbd/can-you-take-cbd-and-pass-a-drug-test/.
  11. Gill, L. (2019, May 15). Can You Take CBD and Pass a Drug Test? Retrieved from https://www.consumerreports.org/cbd/can-you-take-cbd-and-pass-a-drug-test/
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