Can I Use CBD In Recovery?

CBD is popping up everywhere from coffee shops to doctor’s offices. But is it safe to use in recovery?

Can I Use CBD In Recovery?

The idea of using marijuana during recovery has sparked a lot of debate. Some people argue that it is an intoxicating substance and therefore has the potential to re-trigger a full blow addiction, or that using marijuana is itself a symptom of a continued addiction. Others say responsible, non-compulsive marijuana use is the total opposite of addiction, and even that it can help them manage some symptoms of opioid use disorder, like withdrawal and cravings. But the introduction of one substance has complicated this argument even further. That substance is cannabidiol, or CBD.

What Is CBD?

Like THC, the ingredient in marijuana responsible for those controversial intoxicating effects, CBD comes from the cannabis plant. But unlike THC, CBD doesn’t get you high. Which means the objection to CBD apparently comes from its source, and not the chemical itself. CBD is also responsible for a lot of the medicinal effects attributed to cannabis. For example, it was recently approved by the FDA to treat seizures and is being sold and marketed under the brand-name Epidiolex.

Although seizures are the only official, marketed use for the drug, many people believe CBD can also help with a host of other medical issues. For example, many people believe their anxiety can be relieved by a CBD regimen, and some studies back this, including anxiety related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It’s also thought to be responsible for the pain relieving effects commonly associated with marijuana, in conjunction with THC.

Best of all, it delivers these effects without an accompanying high. CBD is non-intoxicating. That’s because while it does affect the brain—hence its medicinal properties—it does not activate the receptors responsible for the intoxicating effects of THC. Similar to antidepressants or over-the-counter pain relievers, CBD changes the brain enough to diminish pain or anxiety, for example, but not in a way that delivers euphoria.

Is CBD Legal?

Unfortunately, CBD has an unusually complex regulatory status. Technically, it is not legal. It comes from cannabis, which is scheduled by the DEA—and they say that covers all the compounds that come from it, too. But that same plant becomes legal when the THC is bred out of it. At that point, it gets classified as hemp, making it legal under the 2014 Farm Bill for certain people to grow it. The general attitude from the DEA and other law enforcement agencies seems to be that if the CBD comes from hemp, it’s not really legal, but it’s tolerated. That’s why you will see it being sold without issues in stores around the country, regardless of their marijuana laws. When it comes to staying above the law during recovery, you’d have to stay away from CBD to be technically in compliance. But it’s extremely unlikely that you will catch a charge if you do buy a bottle of CBD from your local supplements store or vape shop.

Will CBD Show Up On A Drug Test?

The average urinalysis or other drug test typically tests for THC. CBD is a totally different metabolite and therefore won’t cause a test to pop positive for THC. But because they come from the same plant, some CBD products do contain small amounts of THC. Others intentionally add some THC into the product in order to potentiate the effects, especially those sold in states where recreational or medicinal marijuana is legal. If your CBD comes from a hemp source, it should contain .3% THC or less. And that should not make your test show up on the average test, at least not according to toxicologists I interviewed while covering the topic for Vice. Some users have claimed that the trace amounts of THC built up over time, after using CBD products daily for an extended time, and eventually caused them to come up positive for THC. That’s just anecdotal though—the official state is, currently, CBD products from reputable hemp growers won’t cause issues with your drugs test.

So What Does All This Mean For My Recovery?

Addiction recovery is individual. There will never be a straightforward answer to these kinds of questions, because ultimately it’s up to you. Some people feel that even the use of prescribed anti-depressants is an affront on their recovery, because it means they continue to be reliant on drugs. Most people are less strict, and recognize that we rely on many substances throughout our lives. If your use is not compulsive and continued despite negative consequences, it doesn’t meet the technical criteria for addiction. Because CBD does not produce euphoria, it is unlikely to lead to that type of use. And since it likely doesn’t carry significant negative consequences like a failed drug test or incarceration, you should feel pretty safe using it for anxiety, depression, pain, or another issue you are facing in recovery.  But in the end, it’s up to you.

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Elizabeth Brico is a freelance writer with an MFA in Writing & Poetics from Naropa University. Her blog, Betty's Battleground, was recently ranked by Feedspot as one of the top 75 PTSD blogs. She is also a regular contributing writer for HealthyPlace's trauma blog. Her work has appeared on Vice, Vox, Stat News, The Fix, and others. When she isn't working, she can usually be found reading, writing, or watching speculative fiction.