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Can a THC/CBD Topical Cause You to Fail a Drug Test?

When we think of typical cannabis use, we think of smoking a bowl, bong, blunt or joint. Some stoners may also use concentrates such as resin, live budder, water hash, etc. Nowadays, we can also enjoy our cannabis in a plethora of candies, cookies, cakes, and even infused olive oils. Finally, with the arrival of CBD on the scene, products have evolved to include topical cannabis items like body creams, salves, lotions, balms. As the industry continues to change and grow to include new ways to incorporate the cannabis plant, we need to wonder: which of these fascinating new things will get us high and/or, which would show up on a drug test?

It’s (fairly) common knowledge that the consumption of marijuana can be detected on a drug test because it ends up in various parts of the body, showing up in urine, blood and even hair follicles. Cannabis is typically consumed orally (smoke, vapor, candy, etc.), which is why it can be found in these tests. So, what happens when we use cannabis in a different way? In other words, if you’re using THC/CBD cream, lotion, salves, balms, etc. are you on the road to a failed drug test and potential lost job opportunity?

The short answer is no. When using topical marijuana products, remember that your skin acts as a barrier between the outside world and the inner workings of your system. Although there is THC, CBD or other cannabinoids in the lotion/cream which is absorbed into your skin, muscles and nerves, it does not reach your bloodstream (and ultimately, your brain, where the psychoactive aspect of THC is caused), so it cannot be detected by a test. Since you’re not consuming the THC orally, there’s no way for it to get into your bloodstream.

The one caution/exception to the topical rule is transdermal patches. These work similarly to nicotine patches, and send the THC/CBD past the skin barrier where it can reach your bloodstream and your brain so you also experience the psychoactive effects. This WILL result in a failed drug test should you take one.

In the end think of topicals the same way you would think of alcohol. The only way you can increase your BAC (blood-alcohol content) is by drinking (you can’t get drunk by rubbing Grey Goose on your thigh!). The same holds true with marijuana. The only way you can put THC/CBD into your bloodstream is by oral consumption or a specific transdermal patch. So, assuming you use only topical cannabis and you’re not into smoking, vaping, or edibles, you’re set to go take your drug test and pass with flying colors! If you enjoy oral consumption, too, we might suggest holding off on the other categories before heading in for your test.

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How Long Does Marijuana Stay in Your System?

When asking “How long does marijuana stay in your system?” the answer depends on a number of factors. Detection times may vary depending on the dose of marijuana and the testing method. Read on to learn how long marijuana stays in your urine, blood, saliva, and hair.

What are Marijuana Tests and Why Might You Need Them?

Marijuana can impair your focus, memory, and performance . Thus, your employer, or sometimes, the police, may require you to get tested for it. Drug tests help detect THC or marijuana metabolites (tetrahydrocannabinol carboxylic acid; THC-COOH).

How long does marijuana stay in your system correlates with the detection window. The detection window is the period between drug use and a positive test result. This definition can also include the period between the first positive and second positive tests.

Several factors affect how long marijuana (cannabis) stays in your system. These include:

  • Body fat percentage: THC, the main compound in marijuana, stays longer in a fat person than a skinny person. THC stands for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol
  • Genetics: Some people excrete THC more rapidly than others
  • Method and frequency of use: Frequent users retain THC for more extended periods than infrequent users
  • Type of the testing method (urine, blood, saliva, or hair)
  • Concomitant use of other drugs that affect liver enzymes
  • The strength of marijuana and its form of use

A Quick Overview of Marijuana Addiction, Use, and Trends in the United States

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and CDC,

  • Marijuana is the third most frequently used addictive substance in the U.S., after tobacco and alcohol.
  • Marijuana-involved ED visits increased by 21% from 2009 to 2011.
  • Each month, there are about 22.2 million active users.
  • Adult marijuana use was highest in the District of Columbia (27.42%) and lowest in South Dakota (11.13%) between 2018 and 2019.
  • About 10% of the users eventually develop marijuana addiction.
  • Studies have linked chronic or frequent use to a higher risk of psychosis or schizophrenia in some users.

Tests used to determine how long does marijuana stay in your system can check your:

  • Urine
  • Blood
  • Saliva (oral fluids)
  • Hair

The results can vary depending on:

  • The pattern of marijuana use (frequency and duration of use)
  • Sample collection time (some tests cannot detect recent use)
  • Method of testing

Marijuana Urine Testing

This is the confirmatory test for marijuana. It does not detect THC, as THC is rapidly removed through the urine. Instead, it measures the amount of THC-COOH. THC-COOH is detectable in urine within 60 minutes to 4 hours after you use marijuana and shows how long does marijuana stay in your system.

Having THC-COOH in the urine can mean two things.

  1. Marijuana use within the last three days (for infrequent users)
  2. Use in the previous 30 days (for long-term heavy users)

The detection windows for marijuana (THC-COOH) in urine samples are:

  • Three days following single-use
  • Five days if you use it four times a week
  • Ten days if you use it every day
  • Thirty days if you have been using it daily for several months


  • Urine contains high amounts of metabolites
  • A well-established and non-invasive testing method
  • Point-of-care tests are available.


  • The detection window is short or intermediate
  • Risk of sample adulteration
  • You may find it difficult to collect urine if you have something called “shy bladder” syndrome.

Marijuana Blood Testing

In the blood sample, THC typically becomes detectable within 0.5 to 2 hours after use. The detection window for THC ranges from 2 to 8 hours. Likewise, the detection window for THCCOOH is 7 to 51 hours.


  • Useful for detecting recent use
  • Well-established laboratory test method


  • Higher cost
  • Narrow detection window
  • An invasive procedure that may increase the risk of infection
  • It may not be suitable for you if you have not palpable veins

Marijuana Hair Testing

Marijuana hair testing generally gets used as a complementary test for urine, blood, and saliva analysis. It is because THC is fat-soluble, and the concentration in hair of how long does marijuana stay in your system is extremely low.

In general, one cm of hair segment from the root gives the amount of THC used in the last 30 days. THC can take up to 15 days to reach the hair shaft and is detectable for up to 90 days.


  • Longest window of detection
  • May help assess changes in drug use over time
  • Non-invasive procedure


  • Not suitable for assessing recent use (Use within the last 7–10 days is not detectable)
  • Costly and time-consuming procedure
  • Only a few labs provide hair testing
  • Point-of-care tests are not available
  • Single-use may not show up
  • Hair color may affect the results
  • Close contact with a marijuana user may transfer THC-COOH to your hair, increasing the likelihood of a false-positive result.

Marijuana Saliva Testing

Among recreational or infrequent users, the THC detection window is a maximum of 24 hours. In chronic or frequent users, saliva testing may detect marijuana for up to 30 hours.


  • Helpful in assessing recent use. THC becomes detectable within 10 minutes to 30 minutes after use
  • Non-invasive procedure
  • Point-of-care tests are available


  • Marijuana levels in saliva may not correlate with blood concentrations
  • The use of other drugs, such as stimulants, reduces saliva production


Can you metabolize marijuana faster with detox remedies?

There is no evidence that detox remedies can speed up marijuana metabolism. However, in most cases, it’s the amount you use that determines how fast marijuana leaves your system.

What happens if an athlete tests positive for marijuana?

According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), an athlete who tests positive for marijuana get barred from competing for 365 days or more from the test date.

How long does marijuana stay in your system after just one hit?

Urine samples can contain detectable amounts of marijuana for up to 3 days in one-time users.

Marijuana Addiction

This article was meant to be a resource to inform on the testing process of how long does marijuana stay in your system, and the process of how your body handles THC metabolites. If you’re trying to beat a marijuana test, there’s a good chance you have an addiction to marijuana. The truth is, while the drug may not be considered a “hard drug” or be illegal everywhere, it is still a drug and can potentially ruin your life.

Just because marijuana is legal where you live doesn’t mean it can’t get you expelled from school, fired from a job, kicked off a sports team, or cause addiction. Chronic users who have been smoking marijuana for long lengths of time have reported problems sleeping, mental health issues, physical health issues, and even marijuana withdrawal when they can’t smoke.

Since this drug is a form of substance abuse, like any other drug, there are support groups and resources to help overcome marijuana addiction.

Anchored Tides Recovery offers a number of options to help with marijuana addiction that focus on the whole person. Call us today and talk to one of our team about some treatments.

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Racheal Doll

Operations Manager and Admissions Coordinator

Racheal Doll is the Operations Manager and Admissions Coordinator at ATR and has worked in various positions of the recovery field for more than 10 years. She has been able to experience, guide and support clients at various stages of their recovery journeys, whether they have a few days or a few years. Racheal feels extremely passionate about helping women who are seeking a better way of life through recovery, and draws upon her own experience of addiction and recovery to better understand and relate to the unique circumstances women face while navigating coming out of the fog of addiction and into their own healing and recovery.

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Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Eating Disorder Specialist

Dawn has been providing individual nutritional counseling and group counseling for more than 20 years. Her approach has been to work beyond education and training, focusing on real-life practical applications and tools. Through it all, Dawn creates an open and encouraging environment to help her clients process successes and overcome setbacks by helping them establish new habits of their own that don’t disrupt their regular lifestyle.

Macy Miller

Being the first point of contact for women seeking aftercare for their recovery in alcohol and drug addiction; I am driven & passionate about helping them with their next steps. I have always been passionate about helping others & this position allows me to see those dreams come to life.

You can always find me in nature during my self care time, usually hiking, roller skating by the beach, or surfing the waves. I enjoy music to feed my soul & get grounded. I lead a healthy & holistic way of living that I enjoy sharing with others.

Heather Black-Coyne

Heather Black-Coyne holds a Master of Science in Clinical Psychology and works as the Clinical Director for Anchored Tides Recovery. Heather is a woman in long-term recovery and an astute Addiction Counselor who has partnered with addicted individuals in residential and outpatient facilities for over a decade, creating a space of learning for both the clients and her peers. Heather participated on the CDPWS Board as Secretary, helped launch the annual NAADAC Conference in Seattle, and has participated in developing Continuing Education Courses for Clearly Clinical.

Heather has worked in various direct care and leadership capacities treating substance use, always with the foundational beliefs that everyone is worthy of a meaningful life, and individuals need help along the way. She works in treatment to help others be curious about themselves and their possibilities. She is passionate about creating a safe space where individuals can explore their growth experientially, and collaboratively.

Tonia Stephens

I was born and raised in Orange County, California. I found myself needing substance abuse treatment in 2010. After learning tools of recovery and receiving treatment I was able to go back to school at age 41 and earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services and a Masters in Social Work with an emphasis on Community Mental Health from California State University Fullerton. Getting clean and sober opened the door to a life full of opportunity and hope. I am currently pursuing licensure in the State of California to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.

I have the unique opportunity to work as an Associate Clinical Social worker in a treatment setting. My role is to assist with helping each Client master Dialectical Behavior Therapy skills that allow them to emotionally regulate, tolerate distress, live a more meaningful life, and improve their ability to effectively communicate. I come alongside the Clients and help them address life issues that range from food assistance, legal matters, tax issues, creating resumes, budgeting, medical and dental appointments, organizing, studying skills, applying to schools, and finding employment. I assist them with integrating their recovery tool belt with the stressors of life in order to set them up for success once they leave treatment.

I wished that I had a social worker when I was in treatment. Some of my most difficult times were trying to take care of anxiety provoking adult tasks in early sobriety. I am passionate about my role in these human’s lives and I see it as my honor to be part of their bref journey here at Anchored Tides Recovery. I love my job and I love teaching individuals how to be sober, navigate life, and enjoy being themselves maybe for the first time.