June 16, 2021

Is CBD A Drug? The Answer: It Depends

Laws and regulations surrounding hemp, cannabis, and CBD have evolved dramatically in recent years. After so many changes, even the savviest of CBD users have caught themselves confused about the status of CBD products, asking things like:
  • Is CBD a drug or supplement?
  • Is it legal?
  • Can my doctor prescribe CBD?
  • Does CBD show up on a drug test?

Making matters more confusing, the term “drug” carries different meanings depending on its context. We’re here to set the record straight on all fronts. Let’s get mighty clear on whether CBD is a drug, shall we?

CBD Is Not A Drug According To Federal Law

To be more specific, hemp-derived CBD oil is not a drug according to federal law. CBD oil made from marijuana, a controlled substance, is considered a Schedule I drug (1).

Yep, even though CBD is CBD regardless of where it came from, the law cares about its origin. Here’s the backstory on that.

CBD, The DEA, The FDA & The USDA Walk Into A Bar

Okay, there was no bar. There won’t be a punchline, either. But these acronyms and abbreviations do have a story to tell.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) organize substances into categories based on medical usefulness and potential for causing drug dependency.

Technically, CBD (aka cannabidiol) has never been classified as a controlled substance. But due to some fine print known as the “source rule,” CBD extracted from marijuana is considered a controlled substance because it’s sourced from a controlled substance (2).

Marijuana has been a Schedule I controlled substance since 1970.

CBD made from hemp was in the same boat until the 2018 Farm Bill passed. Before then, industrial hemp was a controlled substance with the same schedule as marijuana. Industrial hemp is hemp that contains no more than 0.3% THC.

After the 2018 Farm Bill passed, industrial hemp became an agricultural commodity and was removed from the list of Schedule I drugs. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) defined rules for hemp cultivation, and the FDA continues to oversee regulations of CBD products.

In short: hemp-derived CBD is now federally legal. Yep, you’re free to stock up on CBD gummies, CBD softgels, CBD topicals, and more!

CBD Is Not A Drug According To The FDA

Although the FDA has rules about what can and can’t be done with CBD, it’s not an FDA-approved drug.

Despite promising research suggesting therapeutic benefits of CBD, the only FDA-approved drug that contains CBD is Epidiolex, a medication for seizure disorders (3).

Currently, no other CBD products are permitted to make health claims.

Can Doctors Prescribe CBD Oil?

Since CBD isn’t FDA-approved, physicians aren’t able to prescribe it. They might be able to recommend it if they practice in a state with a medical cannabis program that explicitly allows them to, though.

Even in states where healthcare providers recommend cannabis and cannabis-derived products such as CBD oil, CBD is still not a drug. Only the FDA can approve drugs for therapeutic use.

CBD Is Not A Supplement, Either

We’re just pounding on all these CBD classifications like whack-a-moles, aren’t we?

Under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act, CBD products cannot be sold as dietary supplements. The FDA also prohibits adding CBD to food and beverages (4).

Some states have their own rules about adding CBD to food and drinks, but supplement claims are off-limits.

CBD Might Be A Drug If…

Yes, even after the sea of red tape we just waded through, there are scenarios in which CBD may be considered a drug. Here’s when, why, and how.

By Definition

What makes something a drug doesn’t only depend on a DEA or FDA classification. According to the dictionary, drugs can be any non-food substance that’s “intended to affect the structure or any function of the body of humans or other animals.”

Scientific and anecdotal evidence points to CBD affecting human and animal bodies. It has measurable effects on the body and mind, showing promise for a long list of health concerns.

Some people use CBD in place of over-the-counter pain relievers and sleep aids. And some folks use CBD as part of their medical treatment plans.

And some peeps simply enjoy the “I can’t quite put my finger on it but I like it” benefits of CBD.

There’s A Drug Test In Your Future

Although CBD is not detectable with a drug test, other compounds in CBD oil products can be. THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis, is present in some types of CBD.

  • Full-spectrum CBD may contain more than 0.3% THC.
  • Broad-spectrum CBD can contain trace amounts (up to 0.3%) of THC.
  • CBD isolate has been processed so that it only contains CBD.

Any amount of THC can be detectable on a drug test, and many variables influence how long THC stays in your system. So, you might consider CBD a drug if you’re required to take a drug test now or in the near future.

Duty Calls & CBD Is Not Permitted

Drug policies for educational institutions, sports organizations, and high-profile or government jobs can be very strict. Jobs that require you to operate vehicles or heavy machinery can also have zero tolerance rules about the use of any substances, CBD included.

Regardless of the law, employers and organizations can implement their own rules about the repercussions of CBD usage, treating CBD as they would a controlled substance.

CBD Is (Mostly) Not A Drug

The law considers CBD a drug if it’s derived from marijuana, or if it exceeds 0.3% THC. Hemp-derived CBD oil is not a drug.

When it comes to marketing and selling CBD products in the US, CBD isn’t a medical drug. It can’t be marketed as a dietary supplement, either.

That said, you might encounter situations in which CBD oil is treated as a drug. For instance: CBD may cause a failed drug test. Some professional or educational systems have zero tolerance for CBD.

You’ll want to take all of these facts into account when determining whether CBD is a drug for your specific situation.




  1. (2021) List of Controlled Substances. US Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration.
  2. Hoban, R. (2020) CBD Has Never Been A Controlled Substance. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/roberthoban/2020/06/24/cbd-has-never-been-a-controlled-substance/?sh=77a90c6b4569
  3. (2018) Schedules of Controlled Substances: Placement in Schedule V of Certain FDA-Approved Drugs Containing Cannabidiol; Corresponding Change to Permit Requirements. Federal Register. https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/09/28/2018-21121/schedules-of-controlled-substances-placement-in-schedule-v-of-certain-fda-approved-drugs-containing
  4. (2021). FDA Regulation of Cannabis and Cannabis-Derived Products, Including Cannabidiol (CBD). US Food & Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/public-health-focus/fda-regulation-cannabis-and-cannabis-derived-products-including-cannabidiol-cbd

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