Cannabis seeds in foods may interfere with drug tests

Food Standards Australia overrode objections from police and health officials that the “marijuana munchies” could interfere with drug tests. It said yesterday it planned to amend the Food Standards Code to permit the used of processed hemp seeds – a rich source of omega fatty acids – to be used as an ingredient in foods ranging from ice cream to cheeses, salad dressings and muesli bars. Likening hemp to poppy seeds, Food Standards chief executive Steve McCutcheon said it was safe to eat, and already used in a range of foods in Canada, the US and parts of Europe. But the Food Standards assessment concedes that the hemp food could trigger positive drug tests for marijuana.

“It is not known whether the consumption of hemp foods will interfere with screening tests that involve the collection of saliva, such as the tests used by some law-enforcement agencies in roadside testing procedures in Australia,” its report concludes. The application was lodged by controversial Sydney doctor Andrew Katelaris, who was deregistered for supplying medical marijuana to patients. “Anything you can do with dairy or soy, you can do with hemp better,” Dr Katelaris said yesterday. He said health ministers had vetoed his proposal in 2002, “but we’re hoping for some sanity this time”. Food Standards is seeking public comment on its proposal, which must go once more to a meeting of health ministers for approval next year.

The federal Health Department is already fighting the plan, on the grounds it could “promote a public perception that cannabis is an acceptable and safe product to consume”. Queensland’s Health Department also opposes the use of processed hemp, although it has a lower level of the psychoactive product THC than marijuana. Citing a confidential police service submission, the state Health Department said low-THC hemp would be “indistinguishable” from marijuana used as a drug, without genetic profiling. Hemp foods might also create “legal uncertainty” in drug testing and prosecution, with implications for elite athletes, car accidents and insurance claims. Food Standards has proposed that only hulled hemp seeds be used in food, to prevent people passing off illegal seeds as a food ingredient. “It is possible that a person could be in possession of illicit cannabis seeds, but claim that the seeds are hemp seeds purchased as a food,” the Food Standards ruling states.

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