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New Police Drug Test Aims to Tell Pot From CBD

A few months ago, headlines about a 69-year-old great-grandmother named Hester Jordan Burkhalter flooded social media when she was arrested for possession of cannabidiol (CBD) oil while spending the day at Disney World with her family. Medical marijuana advocates were outraged, especially because it is legal in Florida, while others spoke out against the jailing of an elderly woman.

Moreover, health officials have long since ruled out the potential of intoxication or abuse of CBD, as it has none of the psychoactive effects caused by THC-containing cannabis or derivative products. There’s just one problem: drug test kits used by American police can’t tell the difference, and legal users are still getting arrested for it.

Why is CBD different?

Simply put, CBD has therapeutic benefits without the risk of negative side-effects sometimes associated with marijuana, such as sedation, anxiety, and distorted sensory perception.

On a cellular level, CBD molecules bind to receptors throughout the body, but mainly in the peripheral nervous system and immune system. Different types of receptors produce different effects when they bond with CBD, hence it can be used to treat a variety of different conditions.

According to cbdnol.com, CBD has anti-spastic properties, so it can be used to treat spasms and seizures associated with Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and certain kinds of epilepsy. It is also neuroprotective, meaning it increases the health and resilience of cells; this is partly what makes it an effective cancer treatment.

Current legal status

A brief review on marijuana science: Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica are two separate species of the plant. The indica variety, first discovered in the Hindu-Kush mountains, is the kind most people know as “pot” and contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which interacts with cannabinoid receptors in the brain to produce psychoactive effects. Sativa is commonly called hemp; although it looks and smells similar, it contains only trace amounts of THC if any.

The 2018 Farm Bill legalized the growing of hemp (and only hemp) under strict conditions, as well as the production and sale of certain hemp-derived CBD products containing no more than 0.3% THC.

However, as the Brookings Institute notes in their explainer, CBD is still a Schedule I Controlled Substance in the United States unless it meets those stringent requirements. Meanwhile, Florida, Ohio, and Virginia have updated state laws on hemp to match federal ones.

In states where CBD has been legalized, it’s used to treat things like:

  • autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis
  • migraines
  • panic attacks

Ongoing research suggests it could be used for much more, but again, there is only one federally recognized institution where such research can be legally conducted.

Need for a new test

As the news laws wind their way through their respective legislatures, police and others need to be able to accurately screen individuals for the presence of THC-containing marijuana, whether it’s under suspicion of driving under the influence (which is still illegal even in states where medical and/or recreational marijuana is legal), parole check-ins, or just to qualify for employment.

Regular people using the compound might benefit from the test as well, particularly if they purchase CBD from retail stores rather than quality-controlled dispensaries. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has found multiple cases of poisoning because over-the-counter products are not inspected or controlled by the Food and Drug Administration. This allows synthetic and counterfeit products to enter the market.

In a July exclusive, the NBC4 Washington I-Team announced that Virginia police are evaluating new test kits developed by forensic chemists and first used in Switzerland. The new test has been used to specifically screen for THC by Swiss police, and became available in the United States in June. Virginia was the first state to try it out.

Of course, “regulations would need to be altered” to allow the use of those tests, Virginia’s chief forensic scientist told the I-Team. Some police departments in Florida, however, have already ordered kits from the Swiss distributor and approved their use, saying they “definitely don’t want to put anyone who’s innocent in jail.”

After the kerfuffle at Disney World, who can blame them?

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