Connect one-on-one with a Health Expert who will answer your question

Connect one-on-one with a Health Expert

A secondhand smoke drug test next to some marijuana joints

Secondhand smoke and drug testing: What you need to know about marijuana

Editorial TeamVerified

We help people get

expertise on demand

100k+ positive ratings
Will you fail from secondhand smoke?

You will most likely pass a drug screening if you inhaled a small amount of smoke secondhand, especially if you don't smoke.

As the laws controlling and regulating marijuana use in the United States continue to evolve, concerns regarding secondhand smoke and drug testing are predictably commonplace. Cannabis is trending towards the legal end of the spectrum, with recreational use now lawful (within parameters) in several states, and medicinal applications legal in nearly 30, as per CNN. As such, it’s not a stretch to assume that eventually it will be legal nationwide, but that doesn’t mean companies are planning to change their drug testing procedures anytime soon.

In fact, smoking marijuana might not be safe if even you live in a state that has legalized it. As employers strive to retain their public image, it’s not unheard of for a failed drug test to result in immediate termination – regardless of where you live. Even medicinal marijuana users have faced the axe as well, which makes it clear that you can’t depend on a doctor’s prescription to protect your job if you flunk a drug test because of Ms. Mary Jane.

Some marijuana buds sitting next to pot plants
With marijuana being legalized in an increasingly growing number of states, the chance of secondhand smoke inhalation is a problem for some individuals.

But what about the people who tend to inhale their marijuana in a less direct fashion?

Given the increasing number of places in which cannabis use is now legal to some degree, the likelihood of being exposed to secondhand smoke has risen as well. Of course, with this rise also comes a surge in questions regarding the impact of secondhand smoke inhalation on drug tests. The last thing anyone wants is to lose their job because of what someone else happened to be doing nearby, but luckily there are answers out there.

How does marijuana affect legal issues?

As marijuana continues to emerge as a legal option in new places, and the illegality of the drug grows more and more questionable, concerns about the drug are bound to increase. Many of these questions fixate on drug tests in general, but common concerns also include consequences in regards to issues like parole and child custody, which can be complicated in a big way by a failed drug screening.

Years ago, failing a drug test while on probation or parole was grounds for being sent back to prison in a heartbeat. The landscape has changed somewhat in this regard, as some states have begun to give parole officers more freedom to offer second chances for lesser infractions – which include a failed screening due to cannabis. Part of this can be attributed to marijuana’s shifting status, but this also comes as a result of ongoing efforts to downsize prison populations.

Just as some parole officers have the freedom to handle marijuana use at their discretion, judges in child custody cases can typically do the same. If one party attempts to use the other’s cannabis use to make a case against them, the judge can choose to consider it a non-factor and disregard it. On the other hand, marijuana use can potentially cause a judge to order regular drug tests, rehabilitation, restricted visitation, or loss of custody. In more extreme cases, the parent in question could even be reported to Child Protective Services.

Secondhand smoke, for obvious reasons, isn’t as potent as taking a firsthand drag from a joint – but can it still make you fail that big drug test you have coming up? Given the rising number of cannabis smokers in the United States, this is a legitimate concern. As more states legalize the drug, the likelihood of secondhand exposure will only continue to rise. Luckily, there's good news for those nonsmokers who spend their free time in the company of ganja enthusiasts.

According to research conducted on the topic, testing positive on a drug test due to secondhand smoke is extremely rare. Although THC (the component in marijuana that produces its “high”) was found to be present in some individuals tested – in others it was undetectable – the amount was considerably lower than what trigger a failed drug test. And even in the instances where a red flag might pop up during a screening, the drug test would need to have been administered within a few hours of prolonged exposure to concentrated weed smoke.

The molecular structure of THC
In some subjects who inhaled secondhand smoke, THC was not even detectable by drug tests.

So unless you’re planning to spend a few hours locked in a van with your five stoner compatriots before heading straight to your next drug test, secondhand smoke shouldn’t be a concern.

In some states where marijuana has become more of a ‘grey area’ as it's gradually becoming legal, first medicinally and then recreationally, there is some confusion regarding the impact of a drug test failure due to THC, especially when it comes to companies that still test for marijuana despite being located in a state that has decriminalized or legalized it.

Even without any repercussions from the presumably heightened amount of secondhand smoke people in these states likely contend with, the availability of the drug creates an issue for some individuals. If it’s legal for recreational use, logic would dictate that you shouldn’t face negative consequences for testing positive for THC. Alcohol is legal as well, and people don’t get laid off from work for having a cocktail over the weekend.

Of course, alcohol has been in legal circles for a long time (Prohibition ended in 1933), and it also doesn’t fall into the grey area inhabited by cannabis when it comes to federal versus state regulations. Eventually, employers might come around.

But for the time being, if you come into contact with marijuana in any way, it’s vital to check company policy regarding marijuana use, even if you live in a state that has legalized it. Making the wrong assumption could very well cost you your job.

    Please type your question in the field below

    8 verified Health Experts are online now

    Health Experts on JustAnswer are verified through an extensive 8-step process including screening of licenses, certifications, education and/or employment Learn more

    Dr. Chip

    Health Expert

    Family Practice

    28,566 positive reviews
    Nurse Milli

    Health Expert

    Registered Nurse

    4,051 positive reviews
    Dr. J Burk

    Health Expert

    Medical Doctor

    2,234 positive reviews
    See all Health Experts
    JustAnswer in the news:
    Ask-a-doc Web sites: If you've got a quick question, you can try to get an answer from sites that say they have various specialists on hand to give quick answers... seen a spike since October in legal questions from readers about layoffs, unemployment and severance.
    Traffic on JustAnswer rose 14 percent...and had nearly 400,000 page views in 30 days...inquiries related to stress, high blood pressure, drinking and heart pain jumped 33 percent.
    I will tell you that...the things you have to go through to be an Expert are quite rigorous.
    Web sites like
    ...leave nothing to chance.
    Tory Johnson, GMA Workplace Contributor, discusses work-from-home jobs, such as JustAnswer in which verified Experts answer people’s questions.