In an August 7 release from Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, the Navy reiterated its policy that Sailors and Marines refrain from using hemp-based products.
The Navy bans all use of CBD products, even if they are free of the psychoactive compound THC. Most CBD products in the U.S. are derived from hemp rather than marijuana, and only contain little to no THC.
But CBD is not FDA-approved, so the agency does not regulate the industry. This means brands do not always take proper precautions when testing and labelling products for THC content.
The release states that “Sailors and Marines are prohibited from knowingly using products made or derived from hemp…including cannabidiol (CBD), regardless of the products THC concentration, claimed or actual, and regardless of whether such product may lawfully be bought, sold, and used under the law applicable to civilians.”
The Navy defines use as injecting, inhaling, or otherwise introducing a hemp-derived product into the body. However, this prohibition does not apply to topical products like shampoos, soaps, creams, and balms.
This renewed focus on an existing policy comes as a response to the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, which removed industrial hemp from the Controlled Substances Act. The passing of the act, which occurred in December, means hemp-based products are now commercially available in the United States.
The Navy and other branches of the military have long adhered to Article 112a of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which outlaws all substances listed in the Controlled Substances Act. Hemp’s removal from that list has prompted the Navy to clarify its own stance on the compound (CBD).
It also does not apply to drugs approved by the FDA for which a service member has a prescription. This includes the drug dronabinol, which is sold under the names Marinol and Syndros to treat patients with HIV/AIDS and cancer who have difficulties with appetite and weight loss. It also includes Epidiolex, a CBD-based oral solution used to treat epilepsy.
A separate release from the Chief of Naval Personnel Public Affairs Department said “Sailors who test positive for THC or other controlled substances for which they have no valid prescription are subject to mandatory administrative processing and could receive a discharge characterized as “Other Than Honorable” (OTH), which can affect future veteran’s benefits and employment opportunities.”
In April, the Department of Defense (DOD) warned service members against using products containing CBD or other hemp derivatives. The message was delivered via the American Forces Network and cautioned that THC levels in these products may be higher than listed.
Other branches of the military have similar policies when it comes to service members using hemp-derived products. The Army and the Air Force also prohibit their members from using hemp products of any kind.
A message from Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz released July 29 stated service members who enter or support an establishment that primarily sells or makes cannabis products will be prosecuted. This ban does not apply to FDA-approved prescription medicines containing CBD or THC.
Research on CBD and other cannabis compounds is still ongoing, and scientists are currently unsure of their long-term effects. As laws and cultural norms change, there may be more extensive military acceptance of CBD and hemp in the future.