Can A Burger End Your Pilot Career?

Can A Burger End Your Pilot Career?

  • April
  • 16
  • 2020
  • Advanced Aircrew Academy

A professional pilot's workday never ends. There cannot be a separation between a personal life and a work life because pilots carry their jobs into their personal lives and vice versa due to the standards they are held to which are even more restrictive than the law.

Being a pilot is not just about flying airplanes; it's also about understanding all the rules, restrictions, and regulations of the FAA and that what you do on your own personal time, can be the reason you lose your career. It can be as simple as not paying attention to the ingredients in a hamburger, taking a dietary supplement, or rubbing some lotion containing CBD on your hands.

Marijuana Carriage and Use

U.S. pilots know that, according to FAR 91.17, "No person may act or attempt to act as a crewmember of a civil aircraft while using any drug that affects the person's faculties in any way contrary to safety." Now that state laws are changing regarding marijuana, there are new challenges to that statement.

The regulation doesn't state how much time must pass before you can fly again, nor does it say what amount can be in your system. The industry acknowledges that the psychoactive effect is mostly gone after a few hours, but the evidence stays in your body for weeks and that residual is the unknown variable. Despite the variables, the drug testing rules are clear. Testing anything other than zero on a drug test will cause you an enormous headache and possibly end your career. Most pilots know and abide by this. The rule is easy. Pilots are not allowed to use marijuana. Federal, not state Law, governs FAA medical and pilot certification.

Canada legalized marijuana (recreational) nationwide in 2018. The "method" they are using is by saying sure, you can use a product with THC, but you must wait 28 days before flying. So, essentially, you can't use it even in a country where it's legal everywhere, not just on a state level.

Now, what about your passengers? Pilots are also at least casually familiar with the regulation 14 CFR 91.19 (a) that, "no person may operate a civil aircraft within the U.S. with knowledge that narcotic drugs, marijuana, and depressant or stimulant drugs or substances as defined Federal or State statutes are carried in the aircraft." What does that pilot do if, for example, their passengers show up in Colorado with legally purchased marijuana and are planning on landing in a state where it is also legal? What if the pilot doesn't know that it's stashed in their passenger's golf bag? What if the pilot does know it's there?

There is a mismatch between state and federal law, but once that aircraft door closes, Federal laws take over and the pilot is in violation—if they know that it is onboard.

Business Aviation pilots are not required to inspect passenger bags for drugs, but the lesson for operators and pilots is clear: If you have knowledge of your passengers carrying a controlled substance on board, you must stop them. Easier said than done because we all know that pilots are also risking their jobs by telling their boss or customer 'no'. The pressure is on pilots to not ask.

Hemp | CBD Carriage and Use

To add an additional layer of burden on pilots and flight departments, the DOT Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy and Compliance sent out a notice reiterating that the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (Farm Bill) removed hemp from the definition of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act.

"Under the Farm Bill, hemp-derived products containing a concentration of up to 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are not controlled substances. THC is the primary psychoactive component of marijuana. Any product, including 'Cannabidiol' (CBD) products, with a concentration of more than 0.3% THC remains classified as marijuana, a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act." The TSA now allows a passenger to carry hemp and CBD (less than .3% THC and still must abide by onboard liquid restrictions).

CBD is short for cannabidiol and it also contains THC but, unlike its Uncle, Delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol in marijuana, the THC in CBD is not psychoactive. However, even though Hemp/CBD is not under the Controlled Substance Act anymore, just .3% of THC in your system can still end your career.

Hemp vs Marijuana

The plant Cannabis has two species—hemp and marijuana. Both contain CBD, but hemp has a higher percentage of CBD. Hemp and marijuana are both biologically classified as cannabis, but their chemical makeup is different. Hemp produces cannabinoids, including THC, but not enough to give you the intoxicating effects when consumed. But, it's still there.

Another trend which is popping up is food products, supplements, and topical lotions containing the CBD from hemp. You can now find hempburgers on restaurant menus. Also, hemp oil, milk, tea, seeds, and infused drink, all touting that you can't get "high", but they can still contain THC. Notice a theme here? All these products are lacking regulated oversight to ensure that the THC level in a CBD produce is lower than .3%, but do you think the FAA will care how the THC got into your system? No. A positive test is a positive test and the burden is on you to make sure THC, at any level, is not in your system.

The FAA and DOT remain firm on their stance on their restriction of any product that might have the potential of affecting a pilot’s performance. Just because marijuana was legalized in some states, it essentially means that the state is not enforcing federal law so it's not "legal" by any means on a federal level.

Testing and Training

One positive coming out of the confusion is the research that is now being put into how a body reacts to THC and CBD and more specific methods of testing for it. Whether or not it shows up on a drug test depends on many factors and it will be different from person to person. THC is fat-soluble so it can be stored in your body's fatty tissue for a long time. The key is testing and setting a baseline for what level can be in a body while not affecting performance.

In the meantime, you managed to live this long without having a hempburger, might as well wait until we know more information before putting your career on the line.

Advanced Aircrew Academy has a Drug and Alcohol Misuse Prevention Program eLearning module for your Part 91 and/or 135 flight department. If you're Part 135, flight crews, flight attendants, flight instructors, mechanics, and ground security coordinators are required to be part of an alcohol and drug testing program. We customize our standard module for your specific policies and procedures for alcohol and drug testing. If your Part 91 flight department has an alcohol and drug testing program, we can customize our standard module for your specific program. It's just one of 65 core topics we can customize for you. Just email us at, check out our website at, or call 843-557-1266 for a demo.

References Accessed 2/29/20. FAA Safety Briefing. Accessed 3/2/20. TSA Dept of Homeland Security. Accessed 3/2/20. DOT. Accessed 2/28/20. DOT CBD Notice.