Know your supplements; it could cost you

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ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. — Airmen should be careful when taking dietary supplements — because of the potential health risks, but also because they could lead to a positive urinalysis test result, according to officials with Air Force Reserve Command’s Medical Services Directorate and staff judge advocate’s office.

“You really need to do your homework and check with your doctor before taking any kind of supplement,” said Dr. Don Jenrette, the AFRC’s Drug Demand Reduction Program manager. “And you should know all of the ingredients that are in any supplement you might be taking.”

Dietary supplements are intended to provide nutrients that may otherwise not be consumed in sufficient quantities. The most common supplements are vitamins. Other popular supplements promise help in gaining or losing weight, or in improving athletic or sexual performance.

Jenrette said he and his DDR specialists in the field are often asked if there is a list of dietary supplements that are banned or illegal for use by military members.

He said that Air Force Instruction 90-507, “Military Drug Demand Reduction Program,” specifically bans any supplement that contains hemp and hemp seeds or hemp seed oil, but there is not a comprehensive list of banned supplements by name. He did say, however, that the Defense Department is clear about what substances are banned for use by U.S. military service members.

According to the DOD’s Human Performance Resource Center website, substances banned for use by Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Coast Guard members include:

• Anything on the Drug Enforcement Agency’s controlled substance list — this includes spice, marijuana, synthetic cannabinoids, amphetamines, mood-altering substances and anabolic steroids

• Any substance the Food and Drug Administration has declared “illegal” or “not allowed” for use in dietary supplements — such as ephedra/ephedrine alkaloids, DMAA, DMBA and BMPEA

• Salvia divinorum, commonly known as diviner’s sage

• Any prescription drug without a current prescription written specifically for the individual

“(Airmen) who take supplements that contain any of the illegal or illicit drugs on this list are in danger of testing positive during routine urinalysis screening,” Jenrette said. 

He added that some supplement companies may not list all of the ingredients in their products.

“Positive urinalysis results due to dietary supplement use can occur because products on the market may contain undeclared drug ingredients — that is, controlled substances that are not stated/listed on the product label,” according to the HPRC website. 

“The FDA has found that many dietary supplements — especially weight-loss, bodybuilding and sexual-enhancement products — contain undeclared drug ingredients that could be potentially harmful and/or produce unwanted urinalysis test results,” according to the website.

Jenrette said Airmen need to pay especially close attention to supplements that contain hemp seed or hemp seed oil. Hemp is the plant that naturally contains the substance tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana).

According to AFI 90-507, “Studies have shown that products made with hemp seed and hemp seed oil may contain varying levels of THC, an active ingredient in marijuana that is detectable under the Air Force Drug Testing Program. In order to ensure military readiness, the ingestion of products containing or products derived from hemp seed or hemp seed oil is prohibited.”

Having a positive drug test due to the ingestion of hemp seed products can be detrimental to an Airman’s career, explained Maj. Ryan Haslam, an attorney with AFRC’s staff judge advocate’s office. 

“Arguing that you popped positive for THC due to hemp seed use can still get you discharged because it is a failure to observe the prohibitions in AFI 90-507 and, as a result, a violation of Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice,” he said.

Military members should be mindful that products containing hemp seeds or hemp seed oil can be found at health food stores, including those located on military bases.

“Military members need to read the product label prior to consumption to make sure it doesn’t contain hemp seed or hemp seed oil,” Jenrette said.

Studying the label is good advice for anyone thinking of taking a supplement. Buying only from reputable, well-established supplement manufacturers is also recommended. Getting a doctor’s opinion is another piece of good advice.

“Common sense is key when we talk about supplements,” Jenrette said. “The best policy for Airmen is to be vigilant about what you put into your body. If you’re not 100 percent sure that what you are taking is safe and does not contain any illegal ingredients, stay away from it.”