San Antonio woman’s CBD use leads to firing, lawsuit
Drug counselor Melanie Farr alleges in a lawsuit that she was fired by her employer, Management & Training Corp., for failing a drug test. Farr said she was taking CBD oil to help with symptoms of her multiple sclerosis. She is suing under the American Disabilities Act, saying the company did not accommodate her disability.
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Products containing hemp-derived CBD oil are seen at a store in Willis. A San Antonio woman says in a lawsuit she was fired for failing a drug test for taking CBD oil to treat her multiple sclerosis.
San Antonio drug counselor Melanie Farr early last year started taking CBD oil to help with her multiple sclerosis.
Farr, 48, placed drops of CBD oil under her tongue. It improved her gait, eased her pain and lowered her blood pressure. But it also got her fired after she failed a drug test.
Now, Farr is suing her former employer for refusing to allow her to use CBD oil. She alleges that Utah-based Management & Training Corp. failed to provide her a “reasonable accommodation” in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Farr said her supervisor knew she was taking the CBD oil for her MS.
“We discussed it many, many times,” she said. “I worked there a long time taking it. I’m a counselor. That’s what I do. So if I was high, somebody would have said something. It was clear I wasn’t high.”
Management & Training spokeswoman Issa Arnita said she could not comment because the matter is in litigation.
Farr’s case may be among the first of its kind in Texas. It highlights the risk workers take when they consume cannabidiol, or CBD — even though it’s perfectly legal. That is, it’s legal as long as the hemp-based products contain no more than 0.3 percent THC, the psychoactive ingredient that gives users the high sensation.
Take too much and it could lead to a failed drug test, experts say.
The Food and Drug Administration found in 2016 that some CBD products contained fairly high amounts of THC, said Grace Kroner, a fellow in the clinical chemistry program at the University of Utah School of Medicine. She has studied whether CBD use can lead to a positive drug test.
Depending on the particular CBD product, Kroner said taking it over time can lead to a build-up of THC in the body. That, in turn, could cause positive results on different types of drug tests, she said.
“I don’t think there is any perfect way to get around this problem if someone is using CBD of some kind,” Kroner added. “I wouldn’t have any good advice for how to approach it. The easiest way would not be to take it. (But) I know there is evidence that it might help, or some people feel it might help” with various ailments.
Brett Ginsburg, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral health at UT Health San Antonio, called the issue a “conundrum” for CBD users.
“People are consuming products that are effectively legal,” he said. “But once they consume them, they may now test positive for an illicit substance. So it is an issue.”
“It’s caveat emptor,” Ginsburg said. “It’s buyer beware because this is largely an unregulated space.”
Beside oil drops, CBD is marketed in a variety of product types, including capsules, syrups, food products such as chocolate bars and teas, and topical lotions and creams.
Farr was diagnosed with MS in 1997. It “renders her substantially limited in various life activities, including walking, balancing, caring for herself, and working,” her suit says. “Despite these limitations, (she) … was fully capable of performing her job.”
She started working as a licensed chemical dependency counselor for Management & Training in October 2018 at the Dominguez State Jail on Cagnon Road in San Antonio. The company contracts with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Farr counseled about 25 inmates in group and individual counseling sessions.
Farr’s lawsuit alleges that she informed her supervisor upon her hiring that she suffered from MS. He often referred to her as “fluffy” because she reminded him of a fluffy cat that is always in the way, the suit says.
After President Donald Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill, which essentially legalized the cultivation and sale of hemp, Farr’s primary care doctor suggested she take CBD for her MS. She says she purchased the CBD oil from the doctor.
“It helped her walk significantly better with less pain,” her suit says.
On Feb. 14 of last year, she was instructed to take a random drug test. She notified the lab technician administering the test that she took CBD oil on her doctor’s recommendation knowing that it could “trigger a false positive for THC.”
The following week, the suit says, she was pulled out of a group session and advised by her supervisor that she had tested positive for marijuana. She was placed on administrative leave despite telling her supervisor that her use of CBD oil caused the false positive.
The supervisor said she needed to provide a doctor’s note confirming that she was “prescribed CBD by her doctor.”
Farr forwarded a doctor’s note saying she had been taking CBD oil for chronic pain treatment since January 2019.
“CBD oil does not contain THC,” the doctor wrote in the note. “We will report UDS (urine drug screening) test in office as well. Patient has no current history of current drug use.”
Farr also gave her supervisor a Forbes article that reported on how CBD oil can cause false positives for THC.
They didn’t help. Farr. Management & Training terminated her March 8, 2019, for the failed drug test, the suit says.
“They should have allowed her to continue using what was an appropriate medication for her, for her condition,” said Farr’s San Antonio lawyer, Michael V. Galo Jr. He filed the lawsuit Feb. 20 in San Antonio federal court.
The lawsuit accuses Management & Training of unlawfully discriminating against Farr because of her disability. It acted with “malice, or reckless indifference” towards her federally protected rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the suit adds.
Farr seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, as well as reimbursement for lost wages and benefits.
A few months after Farr’s termination, Gov. Greg Abbott signed legislation to establish hemp cultivation and production programs in Texas. The law also clarified that hemp-based products such as CBD oil are legal as long as they contain no more than 0.3 percent THC.
In 2015, Texas passed the Compassionate Use Act, allowing the first legal use of low-THC cannabis products for patients with epilepsy. That law was expanded last year to include other conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, terminal cancer and autism. CBD products under the program can contain no more than 0.5 percent THC.
Neither Disability Rights Texas nor the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities had heard of any case involving a person with a disability being fired for using CBD oil.
“There remain significant gray areas in the way that Texas views CBD and marijuana, in general, especially for medical use,” said Dennis Borel, the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities’ executive director.
Borel, who is not involved in Farr’s case, said it’s important to highlight that her consumption of CBD oil was not for recreational use.
“It seems to me if her doctor, informally or formally, told her, or at least put it in writing, that CBD would be helpful to her in dealing with MS, then there would seem to be a case to be made — if not a legal letter of the law case, a humanitarian case — that this particular drug counselor should be allowed to continue in her work, if everything else is good with her work,” Borel said.
For her part, Farr said she has stopped taking CBD to avoid any problems with her current employer.
Can using CBD products cost someone their job? Here's what you need to know
PHOENIX — It’s a hot product that’s all the buzz right now, and it’s helped bring relief to tens of thousands of people who suffer from chronic pain and anxiety, but some people say using a full spectrum form of CBD oil cost them their jobs.
CBD, or cannabidiol, is a product that comes from the cannabis plant. Hemp-derived CBD with trace amounts of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, has been given the green light for use by the federal government. These products must contain less than 0.3 percent THC — the substance that gives the so-called “high” associated with marijuana.
“I tested positive for THC, and I ended up being put on administrative leave,” said Tammy Allen, who ended up eventually losing her job due to her company’s policy of no drug use.
Allen said she was taking CBD after suffering from seizures and migraines. She was told the product she was using had no THC in it; she even had lab toxicology reports from the company to prove it. So she was completely caught off guard after a drug test revealed positive results for THC.
Allen said she had taken a dose of CBD two days before the drug test.
“It looked as if I had just smoked pot, as if I had just done pot like within a couple of days of being tested,” Allen said.
She had the product tested on her own and found the lab results to be very different from what the company had given to her.
Allen said it was an online CBD company and declined to disclose the name of the business.
Another Phoenix mother, who requested anonymity, told KNXV she also tested positive for THC and almost lost her job. Thankfully, her company let her stay after performing further tests.
The woman said she had deviated from the product she normally used and got a bottle of full spectrum oil from an Arizona smoke shop. She was also told the product didn’t contain THC.
Chris Martin, the owner of Hempful Farms in Phoenix, specializes in CBD products.
“I am going to tell you right now, any full spectrum product that has all of the cannabinoids in it, you’re going to run that risk,” Martin said.
He added that his clients included police officers, transportation workers and airline pilots, and he had warned all of them about the risks of taking a “full spectrum oil” when they came in to buy products.
In eight years of running his company, Martin said he had only heard from two customers who told him they had failed a work drug test.
“I had warned them they ran that risk, but they chose to take it anyway,” Martin said.
A full spectrum CBD oil is one that includes all of the active compounds in the raw hemp, or cannabis plant. Even with oil that contains less than the federally allowed limit of 0.3 percent THC, Martin said users ran the risk of testing positive.
“Any cannabinoid that you’re taking over a period of time can cause a build up. If you’re taking a cannabinoid test, I would avoid putting cannabinoids in my body — even one that says no THC because CBD is CBD. It could convert it if you heated it, it could convert in your stomach. So why run the risk if you’re going to take a drug test? Don’t put things in your body that could cause you to fail,” Martin said.
Staff working at drug treatment centers said they often heard from addicts in recovery who wanted to take CBD products, saying it helped them handle withdrawal symptoms.
Chris Riley, a compliance officer at the Crossroads Substance Abuse Treatment Center, said he always warned his staff and clients to err on the cautious side.
“Without having any studies, having any research, we really don’t know what the long-term or short-term effects will be,” Riley said.
Across town at A Better Today Recovery Services, clinical manager Eboni Fields fielded the same question from her clients. Her advice?
“Everything needs to go through the doctor when it comes to any type of medication. Also, know who the provider is, where (you’re) getting the CBD from,” she said.
Martin advised those who were using CBD to research the companies they were purchasing the products from closely. They should be able to provide you with toxicology results. Ask them questions. If you sense any hesitation, you may want to consider another company, said Martin. He added that a good company would care about a customer’s well-being more than a quick sale.
“It does me no good if you don’t come back because you failed a drug test, or lost your job, or the product doesn’t work. That does our company no good at all,” Martin said.
KNXV asked Martin if stories like the one you are reading could hurt his business.
“No, I want these stories to come out. How many people are out there making this product in the backseat of their car and not testing it?” Martin said.
He advised those worried about losing their jobs to consider taking a CBD isolate or distillate product, in which most of the other substances except for the CBD are removed.
Unfortunately for Allen, despite the relief her CBD oil gave her, she is no longer using the product as she fears to lose a job again.
“To test positive for something you know you didn’t do, and to try to convince everybody you didn’t do it, that’s a horrible feeling,” she said.
It is also a good idea to talk to your company’s human resources department or supervisors about using CBD on the job. Some workplaces may allow it; others may have a stricter policy. The woman who chose to stay anonymous said her company is allowing her to remain on the job. She has now switched to a CBD isolate product, instead of taking the full spectrum oil.