Reading Time: 8 minutes
What to know before you board the plane
CBD has entered the mainstream. From offices to grocery stores, it’s never been easier to find this non-psychoactive cannabinoid. Unlike THC (another compound found in the cannabis plant), Cannabidiol, or CBD, does not create a sense of altered reality.
That means it can fit into the daily routines of a huge range of people and lifestyles, unlocking personal health benefits that are increasingly being documented by scientific research.
You may already take CBD, or you may be curious about starting it. But how will it affect your holiday travel plans? There are both benefits to taking CBD on long flights and important risks and factors to consider. Here are nine important things to know about flying with CBD:
- CBD can make flying less nerve-wracking.
Does air travel make you nervous? You’re not alone. Fear of flying is one of the world’s most common phobias: between 2.5 and 6.5 percent of the population suffers from some form of aviophobia. While counseling and exposure therapy can help nervous flyers manage their anxiety, a different method is far more common: self-medication using a pre-flight cocktail or a glass of wine. Studies show that using alcohol for anxiety management can actually make things worse in the long run.
Anecdotal evidence from CBD users coping with chronic pain, PTSD, depression, and other conditions suggests that the cannabinoid is an effective, non-intoxicating alternative to both pharmaceutical treatments and dangerous self-medication with alcohol. The same anecdotal evidence–increasingly backed-up by formal scientific studies–suggests that CBD can help anxiety sufferers manage their symptoms.
That’s good news for people who don’t suffer from aviophobia, too, because even without this specific fear tasks such as packing, getting to the airport on time, getting through security, and spending hours in a plane cabin can create and exacerbate stress and anxiety.
Just be sure to let your doctor know you’re using CBD if you turn to it for anxiety management in airports, airplanes, or anywhere else, and always consult them before stopping any other anxiety treatment.
- CBD can help with other flying woes, too.
The stress, anxiety, and outright fear that often accompanies flying can be bad enough–but to make matters worse, airplanes can wreak havoc on other elements of your health as well! Whether you’re flying economy or first-class, airplane air can be punishing on sensitive skin.
Cabin humidity levels tend to be 20-50 percent lower than normal comfortable levels, causing skin dryness and oil overproduction. High altitudes can decrease skin blood flow, exacerbating breakouts, dryness, and puffiness.
Long flights in uncomfortable seats and loud cabins (not to mention switching time zones or waking up at 3:00 am to catch a red eye flight) can cause sleep deprivation and jetlag, and when your body isn’t rested the rest of you–from your digestion to your mood to your ability to fight off infections–also suffers. And the anxiety and stress of flying, of course, can make your skin and sleep problems worse.
CBD to the rescue! While scientific research examining the relationship between this cannabinoid and sleep or skin health is in its infancy like most other fields of cannabis science, early studies and plenty of anecdotal evidence suggest that CBD can improve both skin health and sleep hygiene.
One study, for example, found that people who used CBD to address sleep problems often experienced a noticeable improvement during their first month of use, suggesting that CBD may act as an effective short-term sleep aid for flyers or anyone else who encounters roadblocks drifting off.
A large crop of new skincare products incorporating CBD lean on studies suggesting that CBD may improve skin health, especially when it comes to the inflammation and dehydration often created by airplane cabins.
Research has implied, for example, that CBD can regulate oil production in breakout-prone skin, fight inflammation, and serve as an antioxidant protection against airborne pollution. And with CBD-based skincare experiencing a rising tide of popularity and mainstream acceptance, there are plenty of well-reviewed CBD skin products to choose from.
- CBD makes flights easier for pets.
Flights can be stressful enough for humans who understand what’s going on around them. Now think of what the experience must be like for the over two million animals who fly every year in the U.S. alone. Whether flying as service or emotional support animals in cabins or shipped in the cargo hold in kennels, flying can significantly stress-out animals.
The Humane Society, in fact, recommends against transporting animals in plane cargo holds whenever possible, blaming exposure to temperature fluctuations, rough handling, air pressure changes, and other factors on the 85 animal deaths that occurred in US airplane holds between 2015 and 2017.
CBD is no replacement for other important flying pet protections implemented by airplanes and the government and recommended by vets, but it might play a role in making your pet’s next flight a little more bearable.
The same early evidence suggesting that CBD can help humans manage anxiety and other conditions also suggests that CBD can fight anxiety in other mammals. CBD may be especially useful for pet owners inclined to sedate their flying animals.
While drugs might sound like an effective counter to flight-induced stress, veterinarians strongly recommend against sedating flying animals. Sedatives can compromise animals’ cardiovascular and respiratory systems in already tough cargo hold conditions and affect their response times and sense of balance, creating further emotional distress.
For animals in the cabin, CBD can reduce the stress of unfamiliar surroundings, noises, and people–while for animals confined to the cargo hold, CBD is a far safer stress reducer than chemical sedatives. Always consult with your vet before flying with a pet, but don’t ignore CBD’s potential to make your next trip with Fido a little easier.
- Your CBD may still get you in trouble during some plane journeys.
If you live in a very cannabis-friendly place, such as one of the eleven states where recreational marijuana is state-sanctioned, it can be easy to forget that even non-intoxicating CBD products retain a complicated legal status in many municipalities and states across the United States.
Many members of the legalized cannabis community claim that the 2018 Farm Bill legalized all CBD products, and the bill did indeed remove key legal restrictions on CBD by reclassifying cannabis plants containing less than .3 percent THC as “hemp” rather than “marijuana” (which remains an illegal controlled substance on a federal level regardless of state laws permitting recreational or even medical use).
But states and municipalities still retain broad powers to govern CBD usage in their own territories. Local authorities arrested a 71-year-old grandmother in May earlier this year after they found CBD oil ostensibly carrying trace levels of THC in her luggage during a routine stopover at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, where CBD containing any level of THC is illegal.
Official TSA policy is to turn over any apparent violation of federal or local laws to law enforcement, so flying to or from a CBD-friendly location can still land you in trouble if any leg of your journey goes through an airport with different state laws.
Cross-jurisdictional travel is another area where ambiguous, patchwork laws and enforcement policies can create risk and headaches for CBD users–but as federal cannabis policy continues to evolve, those headaches will hopefully cede to reasonable and clear CBD and THC policies.
- But flying with CBD is still much easier than before.
Though in many places CBD law–and law enforcement activity–have a long way to go, that doesn’t mean flying with CBD hasn’t gotten a whole lot easier. A recent TSA bulletin clarified a policy already made federal law by the 2018 Farm Bill, stating that cannabidiol products legally considered “hemp” due to their low-THC content and generally in compliance with federal and local laws are perfectly legal to fly with.
And while dreaded legal ambiguity may continue to plague most non-FDA approved, low-THC products (a class that includes virtually all “hemp” products other than the FDA-approved epilepsy medicine Epidiolex), the TSA has also made it clear that they have higher priorities in mind than hassling every traveler who carries CBD.
Screening procedures are “focused on security and designed to detect potential threats to aviation and passengers,” so TSA agents spend far more time looking for weapons and other immediate threats than they do looking for drugs.
- Research international law.
CBD law in the US is growing both more permissive and (very slowly) easier to understand for consumers, growers, and retailers.
But just as you’d practice caution transporting CBD from a state with lax laws to one with totally different regulations, be even more cautious when it comes to flying to a different country. Not only does CBD’s legal status vary by country, but legal ramifications for drug policy violations can vary immensely and be especially punitive for non-citizens.
Government officials in the UK, where CBD laws are fairly lax, had to remind travelers not to bring any CBD products or even travel with CBD present in their system while travelling to the United Arab Emirates, where authorities may prosecute even minimal CBD possession with a jail sentence of four years.
Exercise caution, as well, when bringing CBD into the United States–even after passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, Canadian nationals have received lifetime bans from entering the United States after U.S. officials found CBD products on them at the U.S./Canada border.
- Pack smart!
You’ve researched CBD laws in every airport you’re passing through and taken care to avoid an unpleasant contact with law enforcement–so don’t risk running afoul of ordinary airport security rules!
Remember the TSA’s liquid rule and bring any CBD oil, vape juice, or other liquid through security in a 100ml container sealed in a clear Ziploc bag. Battery-powered vape pens aren’t allowed in checked luggage, so put them in your carry-on or on your person.
Vape retailer VapeBox offers detailed advice on travelling with vape equipment, protecting your valuable vape kit from TSA confiscation or flight-related damage while keeping your fellow passengers safe.
Protect CBD oil or vape juice in checked luggage by using shatter-resistant travel containers, plastic bags, and adequate wrapping and insulation. Keep in mind that temperature fluctuations, which can occur if your baggage sits on the tarmac during hot summer days or cold winter ones, tend to shorten CBD’s shelf life.
- Know what’s in your CBD.
You should always know what’s in your CBD products, whether you’re flying with them or not. That’s because a shockingly high percentage of CBD products contain ingredients they’re not supposed to or lack the most vital ingredient: cannabidiol itself.
In a widely reported-on 2017 study, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania purchased eighty-four CBD products from 31 different companies online. 26 percent of the tested products contained less CBD than advertised.
Unlabeled THC was also present in 21 percent of the products, sometimes in large enough quantities to cause intoxication in a child. CBD products can also be contaminated by dangerous synthetic marijuana, heavy metals, and pesticides.
Contamination and inaccurate labelling in CBD products is bad regardless of why or where you use your CBD–but how does it specifically affect flyers? If you’re taking CBD to deal with any health problems caused or exacerbated by flying, such as anxiety or acne, then you may not be getting the cannabinoid benefits you’re looking for.
And flyers can get in trouble with the TSA or local authorities for flying with products containing illegal levels of THC–even if they had no idea they were carrying THC in the first place! At least one CBD-related arrest at a Dallas airport resulted from a drug-sniffing dog detecting THC in an ostensibly legal CBD product.
The solution is to buy CBD from trusted providers and suppliers who conduct–and provide the results of–third-party lab testing. At Penguin CBD, their broad spectrum CBD oil tincture contains 0 percent THC. Sources such as CBDHacker or Labdoor can also help consumers find lab-verified products.
- Worried? Consider buying at your destination.
For many people, CBD is a genuine life-changer. Users swear by its powers to alleviate pain, anxiety, insomnia, PTSD, and other serious medical conditions. But because CBD use is surrounded by shrinking but still present stigma and legal ambiguity, flying with CBD can be anxiety-provoking. No one wants to lose their CBD to TSA confiscation or rough baggage handling.
But there’s reassuring news: most of the time travelers who lose their CBD to the TSA or the luggage carousel, run out of CBD during their trip, or choose not to fly with CBD at all can still obtain CBD at their destination. Tools such as CBDmap or Leafly’s CBD search tool can help consumers find reputable local retailers. Furthermore, many CBD producers and retailers will ship their products anywhere in the United States, including hotel rooms or other temporary abodes for travelers.
CBD users can book their next flight with confidence if they pay attention to these tips. For lots of travelers, holiday journeys just got a little bit easier.