More recently, interest has grown in other compounds derived from the cannabis plant that may have positive health benefits, but without the mind-altering features of THC. One such compound being widely marketed is CBD oil. In 2018, the FDA announced the approval of Epidiolex (cannabidiol), purified pharmaceutical grade CBD extract from the cannabis plant, for the treatment of seizures associated with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy. As a FDA approved medication, it is subject to strict quality control. In other words, you know what you are getting. Commercially available CBD, by contrast, is not regulated and may be contaminated with a variety of substances, most significantly, THC. Product labels are often inaccurate. Although most CBD products claim to have under 0.3-percent THC, they could contain high enough levels of THC to make a drug test positive. Use of CBD oil is not accepted as an affirmative defense against a positive drug test.
Furthermore, despite legalization in some states, it remains uncertain whether marijuana has therapeutic benefits that outweigh its health risks. There is evidence that marijuana adversely affects brain function both acutely and chronically, especially in younger individuals. It is generally agreed that currently available marijuana products are more potent than those used in older research, which casts doubt on the reliability of that research. We need to understand much more before considering the use of marijuana and its derivatives for airman certificate holders. Please also be aware that no special issuances have been granted for conditions treated with medical marijuana.
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Dr. Michael Berry received an M.D. from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, and an M.S. in Preventive Medicine from Ohio State University. He is certified by the American Board of Preventive Medicine in Aerospace Medicine. He served as an FAA Senior Aviation Medical Examiner and Vice-President of Preventive and Aerospace Medicine Consultants for 25 years before joining the FAA. He also served as both a U.S. Air Force and NASA flight surgeon.
This article was originally published in the May/June 2019 issue of FAA Safety Briefing magazine.