“Those in recovery are asked to refrain from using mind/mood altering substances. CBD is still considered a substance; a drug. Even if it is legal – like alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine or opiates, it is not optimal for recovery.”
~ LaTisha L. Bader, Ph.D., LP, LAC, CC-AASP
See full Q&A With Dr. LaTisha Bader on CBD
A Story of Accidental Relapse
CBD is hailed as a safe and effective treatment for many ailments, but is it recommended for those already in recovery? Is there a risk of relapse due to trace amounts of THC being present within some forms of CBD? Do some CBD products contain MORE THC than others? This article explores one woman’s story of accidentally relapsing (testing positive for THC) after using CBD. It is our hope to educate and support those in recovery to make healthy decisions and be educated about CBD types.
Trending Now Across the United States: CBD
Suddenly, CBD is everywhere. It is sold at dispensaries, smoke shops – even gas stations. And, the verdict is in. Americans across the country are in love with this stuff and willing to spend some serious coin to get it. In fact, the burgeoning market is already booming. Projections suggest that U.S. cannabis sales will exceed $80 billion by 2030. This includes cannabidiol products. Many are convinced CBD is a miracle drug that can treat everything from chronic pain and seizures to anxiety and depression – even rheumatoid arthritis and insomnia. You can buy this stuff over the counter. It is readily available and sold in many forms – including infused products. Plus, it is affordable (when compared to other medicinal products). CBD sounds like a miracle cure, right? Not so fast. What do we really know about CBD – especially in the context of addiction recovery? Is it okay to use this hemp product if you are living a sober lifestyle? Is it addictive? How does it make you feel? If you have used it, would it be considered a relapse? In this article, we attempt to answer these questions.
We Feel it is Important for the Recovery Community to Start Talking about CBD
When a friend in recovery came to us and shared her experience with testing positive for THC after using CBD, we felt we had a responsibility to address the issue. We are still learning about this substance. As sober women, we need to be informed. We believe sharing Anne’s story might help recovering women who are currently using this product or planning to use it. Plus, we will provide a Q&A session with WR’s Chief Clinical Officer, Dr. LaTisha Bader (Ph.D., LP, LAC, CMPC) after Anne’s contribution. She will weigh in on the trending topic of CBD from a clinical perspective. So, without further ado, let’s hear from Anne. Disclaimer: The information in the following article is not meant to substitute medical advice. You should always talk to your doctor before you try a substance like CBD. (And, it wouldn’t hurt to check in with your sponsor too!)
Anne Shares Her Experience Using CBD
My name is Anne and I am a recovering addict. I have almost two and a half years clean. After more than 20 years of battling a hardcore addiction to cocaine and other drugs, I have freedom in my life today. I am actively involved in Narcotics Anonymous and I am truly grateful to be clean. As they say in recovery: but by the Grace of God, there go I. So, I have a story to tell you about a recent experience I had with CBD. For a few weeks, it had me questioning my recovery and reevaluating what it means to relapse. I feel it is important to share this story with anyone who will listen. Sobriety requires vigilance. It is so easy to slip into unhealthy behaviors and repeat those same old tired patterns. We have to be ever mindful of what we put into our bodies. This includes legal products marketed as remedies or medicine – namely, CBD.
High on CBD? Is that Even Possible?
A few weeks ago, I smoked the CBD flower when it was offered to me by a woman who used to be my sponsor. I was looking for a solution to my (often suicidal) depression and crippling anxiety. I conducted extensive research about the substance before I used it. Countless reviews suggested this stuff works wonders for people like me who have a dual-diagnosis. (I have bipolar disorder). After years in therapy, dozens of different medications, and a hundred other tactics; I figured it couldn’t possibly hurt to try this “plant medicine.” Everything I read told me that smoking cannabidiol DOES NOT make you high. That was not my experience. Almost immediately, I felt high. I was stoned, baked… lit… faded… whatever you want to call it. I had no doubt in my mind that I was under the influence. I asked myself, “I am high on CBD – did I relapse?” I did a drug test later in the week and tested positive for THC. My heart dropped. I had just accidentally relapsed. What follows is a brief summary of the information I obtained on my quest to get an honest answer to this question. I think you will find it to be most helpful if you are currently researching CBD.
What is CBD?
I had no idea when I smoked this substance I would soon be in for a lesson in botany. There is far more to the cultivation of CBD than you might realize. It’s actually quite fascinating – and equally confusing. Here is a simple explanation for those who want to better understand what CBD actually is: CBD – short for “cannabidiol” – is one of more than 85 different naturally occurring compounds found in the cannabis sativa plant. These compounds are known as cannabinoids. You are probably already at least a little familiar with the most famous cannabinoid: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This is the psychoactive ingredient found in marijuana that gets people high. More to the point: CBD is a chemical found in the cannabis plant that affects the human brain when consumed.
What is the Difference Between CBD and THC?
Cannabis Sativa is a species of the Cannabaceae family. There are several varieties of this species, including marijuana and hemp – which are commonly confused as the same plant. Ultimately, the fate of the cannabis plant lies in the hands of the person cultivating it. How it is grown will determine whether this flowering plant becomes hemp or marijuana. Cannabis plants can now be bioengineered to produce higher concentrations of CBD or THC, depending on the desired product. The hemp plant produces fiber to make clothes, paper, and other products. It contains less than .3 percent THC and a high concentration of CBD. To be clear; marijuana (THC) gets you high, but hemp (CBD) does not.
Why is CBD Legal, But Marijuana is Not?
Cannabis became a Schedule I drug when it was federally banned in 1970 under the Controlled Substances Act. A Schedule I drug currently has no accepted medical use and it has a high potential for abuse. Surprisingly, marijuana is categorized as Schedule I alongside hard drugs like heroin and cocaine. After almost 50 years on the ban list, the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp at the federal level. This made the plant legal in all 50 states, which is why CBD is now sold over-the-counter across the country. Marijuana is still only legal in certain states. But, many believe that we are quickly approaching legalization at the federal level. In the meantime, only products made from industrial hemp (less than .3 percent THC) are legal to sell, buy, consume, and ship in all 50 states. This is why we are seeing an influx of hemp products like lotions, coffees, essential oils, and candles.
The Different Types of CBD Products on the Market
I have learned that there are a number of ways to use CBD. Of course, I had previously heard a lot about the oil. This seems to be the most popular way to use this product. But, I had no idea that this substance is now readily available in several forms. Here are the most common ways to use cannabidiol:
- You can vape CBD by inhaling the oil using a vape device. This works similar to vaping tobacco. The so-called “vape juice” comes in different strains, flavors, and concentrations. The stuff is sold at vape shops, head shops, and tobacco stores.
You can use CBD oil by placing drops under your tongue. For those in recovery, be aware that many tinctures are alcohol based.
- In addition to vapes and oils, topicals are also quite popular. These are creams (like lotions) which are applied directly to the skin, rather than ingested. This method is used for everything from pain management to luxury face creams.
- Cannabidiol is also available in pill form – usually capsules. These are ingested, of course.
- Edibles are another option. You can get CBD gummies, brownies, and other food products.
- Infused products like teas, coffees, other beverages are another way to ingest CBD.
- The CBD flower is also available for those who want to partake of this substance. It is smoked, just like marijuana. This is what I used. I made the decision to smoke CBD (instead of try the drops or edibles) because it was offered to me. Also, my research suggested that smoking hemp guarantees the most bang for your buck.
Can You Get High on CBD?
There is one very important question every sober person should ask themselves before they try any type of unfamiliar substance: Can this get me high? I thoroughly researched cannabidiol before I made the decision to smoke a pre-rolled “cigarette.” It looked like a joint more than anything else, which should have been my first hint that smoking the stuff probably wasn’t a great idea. Anyway, the answer I came up with over and over again is that smoking the CBD flower would ABSOLUTELY NOT get me high. Everything I read said that cannabidiol could not contain more than 0.003 THC by law (which is basically zero). This mean that getting high was scientifically impossible. So, I sincerely thought I would be okay. I decided that I would feel the medicinal benefits of cannabidiol, but not catch a buzz. I was wrong. (Check out this misleading article, which is like so many I read before I tried this substance.)
How Does Smoking CBD Make You Feel?
In a word, smoking CBD makes you feel like weed does. At least it did for me. It smelled like it. It tasted like it. And, I experienced the same high I used to be addicted to when I was a daily marijuana user – munchies included. I will admit that I had an immediate escape from my depression and anxiety once I was under the influence of this substance. I laughed at everything. Life felt a little more bearable. People were interesting. Everything on television was fascinating. But, I knew even then that this experience would come at a price.
Can You Fail a Drug Test if You Use CBD?
All of the information I found on the internet about CBD and drug tests asserted with total confidence (from credible sources) that cannabidiol would NOT cause users to show positive for marijuana. I can tell you with certainty that this claim is simply not true. The day after I smoked CBD, I immediately alerted my psychiatrist because I was concerned about my recovery. I explained the situation to him. I asked him to give me a drug test because I was convinced that whatever I had used (masquerading as cannabidiol) was, in fact, THC. I was right. I failed a drug test after smoking just one pre-rolled cigarette… joint… whatever you wanna call it. Look, y’all. It was weed or had weed in it; plain and simple! No one is regulating this stuff or governing the industry. Who knows how much THC is really in this stuff? I am now convinced that many of these CBD companies are selling weed legally under the guise of an innocent hemp flower. And, I am pretty sure most people buying this stuff on a regular basis use it to get high. Oops, my bad.
Being Accountable for my Use of Cannabidiol
Once I realized that I felt high on cannabidiol, I immediately called my sponsor as an exercise in self-care. (In hindsight, I should have sought her guidance before I did the stuff in the first place. Duh, Anne!) I told her what was going on and she suggested that I didn’t use anymore. The next day – after an awesome night’s sleep, I have to admit – I wanted to smoke more CBD the moment my eyes opened. For the first half of my day, I had to resist the compulsion to go buy some. I went to two meetings that day and shared honestly with my support circle about what was going on with me. I also called my therapist and psychiatrist. I was once again reminded that I have the disease of addiction. One is too many and a thousand is never enough for people like me. I will always want more drugs and alcohol once I introduce them into my system. This is why I am in recovery. I know where that road leads and it is never a good place. I am more than my disease. Total abstinence is the key to recovery.
I Used CBD – Did I Relapse?
So, I have shared with you some of the information I learned in the past few weeks while obsessively researching this topic. I really wanted to have a well-informed answer to the question that was plaguing me – does smoking CBD mean I broke my sobriety? Technically, I had tested positive for THC. But in my mind the answer is no. It wasn’t a conscious choice to get “high” but rather an accident. I did not go out and buy weed on the street. I honestly wasn’t taking it to get high. I have concluded that it wasn’t an awesome choice to try cannabidiol. But, I have been honest and accountable to myself, God, my mental health team, my sponsor, my support group, and even my mother. I immediately “told on myself” and that is new behavior for me.
Upward and Onward – Getting Back on the Right Track
I have a sincere desire to stay clean. I am so proud of the progress I have made in the past two-and-a-half years. I am not setting back the clock and starting over. I have forgiven myself for my error in judgment. I would say that I am moving forward with my head held high, but that seems inappropriate in this context. Let’s just say I am pressing on just a little wiser and more deeply committed to sobriety. Staying clean in 2020 is a recovery resolution for me. I am excited about the year ahead. I love being a sober woman. Going forward, I will be more cautious about what I put into my body. The potential benefits of any substance will never mean more to me than my recovery. I need to always remember that.
How to Use CBD Safely in Recovery
My experience tells me that it is not safe for me to use cannabidiol in recovery. I smoked marijuana for more than 25 years. (Yes, marijuana addiction is a very real thing!) I don’t think my brain knows the difference between THC and CBD. I have decided it is best to steer clear of this product – in any form. If you are using (or considering using) cannabidiol, I say buyer beware. You have no idea what you are getting when you buy this stuff. You could actually be using THC, which can trigger a relapse. Or, you might fail a drug test. However; if you truly believe this stuff can help you with health problems – and you have tried everything else –talk to your doctor and your recovery team before you take the leap. Seek out reputable companies and products. Proceed with caution. There are also many CBD companies selling 0% THC products, which if you’re going to use one, this would hopefully be a safer choice for those in recovery. But users must be careful in the unregulated world of “supplements”.
Q&A With Dr. LaTisha Bader on CBD
We’ve shared Anne’s first-hand experience smoking CBD. Now, let’s hear from Women’s Recovery Chief Clinical Officer Dr. LaTisha Bader in this Q&A session about cannabidiol: Dr. Bader: It is difficult to answer for an entire field of professionals, so I will speak in generalities. There are no best practices when it comes to the recommendation of CBD use. CBD has become part of the landscape, even offered at Bed Bath and Beyond or a local coffee shop as an add-in, but we know little about this substance and how it interacts with our minds and bodies. Antidotal information is not a substitute for scientific knowledge. Right now, when referencing CBD, we are unsure about the benefits and risks of short term or long-term use. Dr. Bader: According to the Controlled Substances Act, CBD DOES NOT pass the five-part test to be seen as medication. So, if an individual is using CBD to “treat” their mental health concerns, I would encourage them not to. I would also share that the age of onset (first use), frequency, and intensity (potency) are also very important considerations when thinking about using a substance. If they are using to address mental health concerns, I would prefer if they sought support through a licensed mental health professional or medical provider. Dr. Bader: Those in recovery are asked to refrain from using mind/mood altering substances. CBD is still considered a substance; a drug. Even if it is legal – like alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine or opiates, it is not optimal for recovery. I would challenge an individual in recovery to address the underlying concerns, such as anxiety or depression, within their mutual aid group (AA, NA, MA…), a licensed MH professional or medical provider. Dr. Bader: In principle, there are no psychoactive ingredients in CBD. If a product has a 1:1 ratio of THC to CBD, it would also counteract the psychoactive nature of the cannabis, but THC would still be present. However, the industry is not held to a standard that requires them to prove it is free of THC. I have heard many more stories that an individual consumed something labeled or sold as CBD and it also had THC in the product. They experienced something often described as being “high or stoned” and recognized it as effects of THC. Dr. Bader: My first question would be to ask why are they interested and what do they know? Is it for curiosity of a new fad or product? Are they aware that we still don’t know what receptors are being activated in the brain when CBD is being used? Or, are they trying to address mental health concerns with a product that has limited proven effects for their symptoms? Much like alcohol, CBD may mask symptoms of anxiety or depression, but it is not treating it. Once I engage an individual in a deeper conversation, they often share that they have been plagued with mental health concerns and have been hesitant to address them with a professional or with treatment. They would rather turn to CBD as a relief of these concerns, real or perceived, hoping it will provide a faster fix. Sleep hygiene, therapy, mutual aid groups, and a healthy lifestyle take longer to implement but more sustainable and effective. Dr. Bader: Stop using the product, take safety precautions if needed. Call their sponsor, go to a meeting, tell a friend. If it wasn’t intentional, I would assess the safety of the people or products I am around. There are numerous stories of being dosed by edibles or it being added to products, massages, smoothies as an up charge. If they experience guilt or shame, I would tell them to bring it up to trusted members of their support circle. If it was accidental, it reflects on a person’s safety planning but if it was a limited understanding of a product I would encourage them to get educated. Dr. Bader: There are products that are offered that are free of or contain very low amounts of THC, but because of limited regulations there is no guarantee. There is also a risk of purchasing an expensive product without any CBD. I have seen products made of agave, sunflower, and sugar sold as hemp / CBD. Because there is no consumer protection there is little way to know the exact ingredients or the affects it will have. We end up trusting dispensaries or Bed Bath and Beyond to sell us products believed to improve our health versus physicians and psychiatrists. Dr. Bader: We have been lulled into thinking products inside the bottle or package are what they say on the outside (i.e, Advil is always Advil) but this is because the federal government has established consumer protection laws. After decades of these protections, we trust the products we consume and believe they are what they say they are. I know I don’t think twice that my skim milk has been through a highly regulated process of government laws to make it into my refrigerator. But, I do hesitate when I think about grabbing a hot dog from a street vendor. There are still no regulations for CBD products being sold. There are some quality measures (i.e, testing for chemicals, consistency) within the industry but nothing close to regulations. And there is not much accountability without these safeguards.
Final Thoughts on the Use of CBD
You have heard from Anne and Dr. Bader. Both agree that using this substance/supplement may not be the best option for sober women. What are your thoughts about using CBD in recovery?