U.S. Coast Guard: Using Hemp Products Can Lead to MMC Revocation

Chemical analysis for the detection of cannabinoids like CBD and THC (DoD file image)

Published Feb 11, 2020 7:14 PM by The Maritime Executive

Hemp-derived pain relief products are growing in popularity across the U.S., with many users turning to cannabidiol (CBD) for everyday relief or as a substitute for addictive opioid painkillers. However, the U.S. Coast Guard has issued a warning to mariners that CBD products come with a risk for mariners. Some products marketed as hemp or CBD may contain enough tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to cause the user to fail a drug test, with an outcome identical to the results for the use of marijuana. Over-the-counter hemp and CBD products are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the purity of their active ingredient varies.

Under federal law, an individual who fails a lab test for "dangerous drugs" - including THC - must be removed from duties affecting the safe operation of the vessel. In addition, he or she will be subject to merchant mariner credential suspension and revocation proceedings. For purposes of administering this regulation, the USCG does not accept the use of CBD products as a defense for a THC-positive drug test result. 

Mariners wishing to avoid a positive THC drug test result should exercise extreme caution with hemp or CBD products, the Coast Guard warned, because it could result in the loss of their license. This applies equally to products taken by mouth (tinctures or edible products) and products applied to the skin (muscle rubs and lotions). 

The cultivation of hemp and the interstate sale of hemp products have been legal under federal law since 2018, and CBD extracts are legal in all 50 states (with restrictions in some localities). According to the World Health Organization, "CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential . . . [and] to date, there is no evidence of public health related problems associated with the use of pure CBD."

Marijuana (THC) products are legal under state law in about dozen states, and they are legal for medical purposes in 22 more; however, they are still illegal at the federal level. The Coast Guard says that it still prohibits THC use by mariners because of its "known debilitating effects," and all U.S. Coast Guard-required drug tests screen mariners for use of THC.

Schedule II prescription opioid painkillers carry a 20-30 percent recreational abuse rate and an eight to 12 percent addiction rate, according to the NIH's National Institute on Drug Abuse.  Under Coast Guard guidelines, mariners may apply for a waiver to use prescription opioids like oxycodone while retaining their license. A recommendation from the prescribing physician and (in some cases) a psychiatrist is required.