If you’re like many cannabis users in the workforce, odds are you’re worried about those pesky drug screenings brought on by your employer. Most cannabis products, including hemp products and CBD, can trigger positives on the tests and cause you to lose your job. But there is one area in the cannabis universe that is largely safe for people avoiding positive drug screenings: topicals.

Unlike most cannabis products, topicals don’t penetrate deep enough to enter your bloodstream. That said, they never make their way into your liver or kidneys and into your urine. There are some topical products that do surpass the dermal layer and into the bloodstream, though. Here’s everything you need to know about which cannabis topicals are safe to use to pass your next drug test.

Can the cannabinoids from cannabis topicals cause you to fail a drug test? 

In short, no. Since topical preparations aren’t strong enough to penetrate through the many layers of the skin, they tend to only work in the area they’re applied. For example, a THC or CBD cream is used by people with lots of aches and pains. They are applied directly to the affected areas and stay centralized to that area.

Basically, topically applied cannabinoids never reach the bloodstream or liver. So their metabolites don’t show up in any type of drug test, including urine, saliva, hair, or blood. With that in mind, they’re safe to use — even if you have a stringent drug-testing job or government position.

Both THC and CBD have powerful anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, and anti-itch properties when they come in contact with skin. They benefit people dealing with arthritis, neuropathy, muscle spasms, rashes, eczema, psoriasis, and pain from injuries. They’re great choices for people who can’t partake in cannabis recreationally but benefit greatly from its physical relief.

Topicals won’t cause false positives, but transdermals will. 

There is one corner of the topical market that will make you fail a drug test, though. Introducing, transdermals. Transdermals are topical cannabis products typically found in the form of patches and salves. These products can penetrate through the skin into the bloodstream and cause a mild intoxicating effect. More importantly, the cannabinoids found in topical transdermal products can cause a positive on a drug test.

cannabinoids topicals drug tests

Because transdermals can seep into the bloodstream, they end up being metabolized in the liver and flushed out through your kidneys. They can cause you to fail urine, saliva, hair, or blood tests.

What’s the difference between topical and transdermal cannabis products? 

Cannabinoid delivery via topicals is all about absorbing cannabinoids into the skin. Most topicals only penetrate the topmost layer of the skin and sooth sore muscles in the area where the topical was applied. These products don’t cause an intoxicating effect and won’t cause you to fail a drug test because they don’t ever make it into the bloodstream. Topical products include lotions, creams, balms, salves, and can start soothing pain in as little as 10 minutes.

Transdermals on the other hand can penetrate much deeper. They tend to be more powerful against chronic aches and pains and don’t need to be reapplied as frequently. However, they do penetrate the skin and into the bloodstream. Therefore, they can cause you to fail a drug test. Transdermal products include patches, lotions, or muscle compounds. They’re a little more expensive than ordinary topicals, but they last a little longer. If you’re looking to pass a drug test, you’ll want to avoid them. Be sure to read the labels on topical products thoroughly to better understand how they’ll affect you.

How to get the most out of your topical cannabis products 

To get started with topicals and avoid a nasty surprise on your next drug screening, be sure to check and double check the packaging or dispensary menu to make sure you’re buying an ordinary topical and not a transdermal. Transdermal products are often found in gels, applicator pens, or patches.

You’ll also want to look at the ingredients. For one thing, you want to avoid any chemicals that you might be allergic to or any that will interact with your other medications or conditions. Most topicals come in neutral carrier lotions, but some include menthol and borneol which feel tingly like Icy Hot or Tiger Balm. If you have a preference, double check the ingredients or ask your budtender for more information. From there, it’s just a matter of using the product!

Before you apply a topical cannabis product to your skin, it helps to shower or exfoliate the area you’ll be applying the topical to. It can improve how well you absorb the topical because it removes dry or dead skin, unclogs pores, and improves blood circulation within the skin.

From there you just dry off and apply the lotion, balm, or salve to the affected area. They’re great on arthritic hands, strained muscles, cramps, and other aches and pains because they decrease inflammation. Just be sure to double check what you buy if you’re trying to avoid a drug test. A transdermal product will cause a high within about 20 minutes and is recommended for people who already have experience with cannabis, THC, and CBD.


    • Man, that is unfortunate, my knee hurts from time to time from an acl replace I had 7 years ago. Found an article from. The national institute of health that said it wouldn’t show up. But it’s not worth the risk for me, having a CDL I’ll never be about to use thc products until it’s federally legal, and even then they will probably leave restrictions for CDL holders because there are no real methods to tell if you are actually intoxicated in the moment from thc.


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