Can Cannabis Topicals Make You Fail A Drug Test?

Passing a drug test could mean the difference between having a job and being unemployed. With medicinal users caught between a rock and a hard place, will the use of cannabis topicals make you fail a drug screening for THC?

Cannabis topicals are an incredibly useful way to get localised pain relief and reduce inflammation. With the market expanding rapidly, their use is becoming significantly more widespread, even extending outside of traditional cannabis users.

While a large number of these topicals feature very little THC, many users are worried about the potential risks that accompany them and whether they could trigger a positive result on a drug test. These are just a couple of the challenges faced by patients using marijuana to manage pain in a society still largely unreceptive to their needs.

Cannabis topicals are exactly what they sound like: creams, lotions, oils, salves, or any other creative concoction that is made to be absorbed by the skin and is infused with cannabis extract. Typically, cannabis isn’t the only active ingredient though. Many topicals are combined with essential oils and other ingredients like lavender, cayenne, peppermint, avocado oil, emu oil, and more, that help increase the effectiveness of the overall product. As topicals are rubbed into and absorbed by the skin, the cannabis extract binds to cannabinoid receptors throughout the body and that’s really when the magic starts.

With a localised application, sufferers can target specific areas of trouble, supporting mild pain relief and reducing inflammation. It is the nature in which they are absorbed through the skin, however, that has raised questions about their safety. Will users get high as a result? And furthermore, would that cause a positive reading on a drug test?

Will Topicals Get You High

For those who find cannabis topicals to be a nice help to get them through what would be otherwise painful and uncomfortable days, it’s important to wade through some misconceptions about topicals. The question of whether cannabis topicals will trigger a positive drug test comes with a multi-part answer. First, let’s start with some basics on THC and drug testing.

It is true that THC, an active component in cannabis, can be a stubborn thing to work out of our system unlike harder and more dangerous drugs that can cycle through in 24 hours. The common conception that it takes 30 days to get rid of THC in the system is not exactly accurate; this figure varies for every person and different type of drug test, of which there are a few (hair, urine, and blood). When it comes to hair follicle drug tests, THC can be detected within three months. Urine-based tests are by far the most common because they are relatively inexpensive compared to the others. These examine substances found within lipids (fat cells) and THC can live cozily in fat cells for four weeks or even more depending on the person. THC sticks around in blood for significantly less time, cycling out in about 48 hours usually.

Topicals are infused with a variety of cannabinoids. The most common is CBD, which does not contain any of the psychoactive properties that cannabis is renowned for. Instead, it is utilised for its medicinal benefits. However, some topicals do contain other cannabinoids like THC and CBN. Given that THC is the key psychoactive component in cannabis that enables users to get high, it is understandable that some remain sceptical about the use of topicals.

The thing is, our skin acts as a protective barrier, which it does an excellent job at. To give you an example of how topicals cannot get you high, consider rubbing alcohol. Those who apply alcohol to a cut are still able to drive afterwards without fear of being over the legal limit. This is because it cannot be absorbed into the bloodstream through their skin. Cannabis topicals work on the same principle. The cannabinoids bind to receptors in our skin, muscle tissue, and nerves, but get absorbed before they could permeate through our skin into the bloodstream. THC only gets users high when it reaches our brains, something it cannot do through the surface of the skin.

Can Topicals Cause Users To Fail A Drug Test

With topicals unable to get users high, it would stand to reason that it’s not possible to fail a drug screening as a result of their use. In principle, this is true; but there are some caveats. This study from 2017 confirmed that topicals containing THC did not cause a positive test in both blood and urine.

The caveat is transdermal patches. These work in the same way as a nicotine patch, providing patients with a strong dose of the active ingredient that is absorbed into the bloodstream through the skin. As such, use of THC-rich cannabis patches is likely to result in a failed drug test.

Depending on the method of drug testing, cannabis can be detected in your body months after it was last smoked or ingested. A hair follicle test will retain trace elements of THC for up to three months. If you have switched to topicals as a means of receiving pain relief without smoking cannabis, then it’s worth establishing when you stopped to identify if you are at risk of failing a test.

We know topicals should not test positive, as long as transdermal cannabis patches are avoided, but you should always handle them with care regardless. Contact with your eyes or mouth may cause trace amounts of THC to enter your bloodstream and trigger a positive reading. It is all too easy to rub your eyes or bite your nails after applying a topical and put your chances of passing at risk. Using gloves and washing your hands thoroughly after applying medicated lotions will help to avoid the threat.