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Buyer Beware: Steroids, Hemp Seed Products Off-Limits to Air Force Members
By Capt. Sean McKenna
Air Force Space Command Public Affairs

04/17/01 - PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. (AFPN) — Exercising and following good eating habits can lead to a long and healthy life, but taking health products with hemp seeds or using steroids can lead to a short Air Force career.

There is a booming market of commercial weight and diet programs, high carbohydrate or protein diets, multilevel marketing plans and health club advertisements that cater to the health fitness market. Air Force members are among the many working to stay in shape in this fast-paced world.

There are some nutritional supplements on the commercial market that are made with hemp byproducts such as hemp seeds and hemp seed oil. Although the use, importation or manufacturing of marijuana is illegal in the United States, hemp byproducts are not themselves illegal. To attract customers, manufacturers of hemp seed oil products, such as Spectrum Essentials, Nutiva, Hempola and Manitoba Harvest, market hemp byproducts as good sources of fatty acids and proteins, both important to good health. However, taking these products could spell the end of the line for airmen.

picture of lab technician
Al Lanham, Air Force Drug Testing Laboratory lab technician compares the identifiers on a urine bottle with the chain-of-custody in the specimen accessioning laboratory.
(Photo by Senior Airman Oshawn J. Jefferson)

Even though hemp seeds do not themselves contain tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, the seeds may become contaminated with THC through contact with the stems and leaves during processing. In fact, studies have shown that products made with hemp seed oil may contain varying levels of THC, and may therefore be detectable in the urinalysis samples provided as part of the Air Force Drug Testing Program.

Laboratory testing cannot distinguish between hemp seed oil products and marijuana. Therefore, to ensure military readiness, the ingestion of hemp seed oil or products made with hemp seed oil is now prohibited by Air Force Instruction 44-121, "Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment (ADAPT) Program." Failure to comply with this prohibition is a violation of Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

While most airmen have no desire to jeopardize their careers by ingesting illegal products, some may do so by ingesting products that contain hemp. The bad news is that ignorance is no excuse. When a urinalysis test detects the presence of prohibited substances in an airman's system, in whatever form, UCMJ action is likely to follow.

There are also many synthetic agents currently available as dietary supplements and marketed for body builders. Currently, the Air Force has not issued a general ban on these dietary supplement substances. However, there is an aeromedical policy requiring "special duty" personnel such as those on the Personal Reliability Program or on flying status to report the use of dietary supplements. Any person considering using dietary supplements should consult the health and wellness center and their physician.

The use of steroids is a different story. Air Force members should be aware that steroids are a Schedule III controlled substance. They are illegal to use unless prescribed by a licensed physician. Wrongful use of steroids is punishable under Article 112a of the UCMJ.

Not only will the wrongful use of steroids get you in legal trouble, the adverse medical effects of anabolic steroids are very serious. Effects include behavioral changes, shrinking of the testicles, reduced sperm production, development of adipose breast tissue in males and baldness. Long-term effects include increased risk of stroke or heart attack and hardening of the arteries as well as direct damage to the heart or liver.

The Department of Defense mandates that 75 percent of the total military population be tested for drug use each year. That means that if a base has 10,000 members, at least 7,500 random urinalysis tests must be conducted. If an airman ingests hemp seed oil or uses anabolic steroids, it is possible that his urine will test positive for THC or steroids, and he would become the subject of a criminal investigation and possible disciplinary action.

The Air Force does not tolerate the illegal or improper use of drugs by Air Force personnel. It is a serious breach of discipline, is not compatible with service in the Air Force, automatically places the member's continued service in jeopardy, and can lead to criminal prosecution resulting in a punitive discharge or administrative actions, including separation or discharge under other than honorable conditions.

"The Air Force recruits and retains great people who consider illegal drug use unwise and unhealthy," said Maj. Gen. William Moorman, Air Force judge advocate general. "But we're a huge organization and we can't expect that all members will be so steadfast in their attitudes regarding drugs. That's why we have a urinalysis program."

So, how can someone prevent this from happening? People should remember the consumer slogan "buyer beware," especially if they regularly use products from health or natural food stores, because some contain hemp byproducts. Read the label and look for the active ingredients of each product. If the product label lists any form of hemp seed oil or hemp byproducts, then don't buy it or use it.

The good news is that nutritional products at the fitness center and base exchange are safe because they do not stock any products containing the prohibited substances. The best course of action is to always consult with the health and wellness center and a physician before beginning any diet or exercise program. These professionals can help design a healthy fitness regimen and advise on the safe use of dietary and nutritional supplements. So, buyer beware. Be smart, be aware, read the label and get professional advice. red ribbon icon
(Courtesy of AFSPC News Service)

- Maj. Gen. William Moorman

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