The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has issued an advisory to clarify the agency’s cannabis policy for pilots. In a medical advisory published in the current issue of FAA Safety Briefing, FAA Federal Air Surgeon Dr. Michael Berry noted (in dated language) that as cannabis legalization in its various forms continues to spread across the country, the flying community has repeatedly shown interest in marijuana and CBD.
“The Federal Air Surgeon’s office has received a number of inquiries about marijuana, due to the recent increase in the number of states around the country that have approved its use for medical and recreational purposes,” Berry wrote. “Specifically, airmen are concerned about the safety of cannabidiol (CBD) oil use and how such use impacts an airman’s medical certificate. Be aware that federal law — not state law — governs FAA medical and pilot certification.“
Berry reminded pilots that they could be subject to drug screenings that detect the use of marijuana and could affect their certification to fly.
“The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) drug test includes THC, and its presence at defined levels constitutes a positive drug test,” he wrote in the advisory.
Pilots Warned Against CBD Use
Berry also acknowledged the growing popularity of CBD and noted that the FDA has approved Epidiolex, a cannabidiol-based medication, for the treatment of severe forms of epilepsy. But he warned that other CBD formulations are unregulated products that may be contaminated with other substances including THC, which is still a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law. Berry also noted that using CBD products would not be an acceptable excuse for a pilot who fails a drug screening for THC.
“Although most CBD products claim to have under 0.3-percent THC, they could contain high enough levels of THC to make a drug test positive,” said Berry. “Use of CBD oil is not accepted as an affirmative defense against a positive drug test.”
Before pilots will be permitted to use medical marijuana, Berry said, much more research would have to be conducted and evaluated by regulators. Until then, no allowances will be made by the FAA for pilots who wish to use cannabis medicinally.
“We need to understand much more before considering the use of marijuana and its derivatives for airman certificate holders,” Berry continued. “Please also be aware that no special issuances have been granted for conditions treated with medical marijuana.”
What About the Farm Bill?
It seems unlikely that Berry’s advisory will be the final authority on the use of cannabis products by pilots, however. Although he cited federal law several times in the article, he failed to mention that hemp and hemp derivatives such as CBD were legalized by the 2018 Farm Bill, and are currently undergoing a regulatory review by the FDA.