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Can Pilots Smoke (Cigarettes or Weed)?

Pilots have pretty strict rules they need to follow, including what they do when they’re not flying. Airlines want pilots to show up to work bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, so they can fly without putting anyone in danger. However, do these bans extend to smoking any kind of substance?

Pilots are allowed to smoke cigarettes—and technically, they can also smoke while in the air, although the regulations on that are murky. However, airlines are a lot stricter when it comes to weed. No pilots can smoke marijuana, regardless of the sector where they work.

Here is everything you need to know about smoking and pilots.

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Can Pilots Smoke Cigarettes?

Yes, pilots are allowed to smoke cigarettes because they are a legal substance, just like pilots are allowed to have a beer when they’re not on duty.

However, some airlines will not hire pilots who disclose that they are smokers. There are a few reasons for this. Some airlines, such as Qatar Airways, ban smoking for cultural reasons (Qatar is one of the strictest in terms of regulations for pilots and cabin crew—they’re not even allowed to have pork in their apartments.). 

Others are nervous about hiring smokers because they don’t want pilots going through withdrawal on long flights. However, for the most part, pilots are allowed to smoke cigarettes when not on duty.

Can Pilots Smoke Cigarettes While Flying?

The answer to this may surprise you. Even though passengers were banned from smoking on flights in the US in 2000, pilots could actually light one up while flying and, by law, are still allowed to do so. The regulators didn’t want pilots going through nicotine withdrawal while flying and causing an accident due to their health issues.

However, seeing a pilot light up on your flight is much rarer these days. Federal regulations have tightened, and many commercial airlines outright ban smoking for their pilots now. The reasoning is that pilots had several years to get used to the new rules and adjust their consumption accordingly.

Most pilots don’t smoke at all to avoid withdrawal during long flights, and the ones who do rely on nicotine patches to get by. Pilots who really want to smoke while in the air can look into airlines that don’t ban smoking, such as Iran Air.

Can Pilots Smoke Marijuana?

The regulations regarding smoking marijuana are much stricter. No pilot is allowed to smoke marijuana, even in sectors of the industry that are relatively loose regarding their regulations for pilots, such as the private plane sector.

If someone discloses marijuana use on their license application, the applicant will not get the medical certificate necessary to become a pilot. 

If a pilot does not disclose marijuana use and continues consuming, that is still no guarantee. Commercial pilots have to undergo random drug tests, and any THC found in the pilot’s system is grounds for immediate dismissal and revocation of a license. 

Although pilots for private planes don’t have to undergo random drug tests, the FAA can still demand a substance test after an accident. If pilots refuse, the agency can suspend their certificates and deny any subsequent applications for renewal. 

Under no circumstances can pilots consume marijuana while flying or immediately before flying as it impairs judgment and coordination, possibly resulting in accidents.

What About Legal or Medical Marijuana?

Unfortunately, the FAA is very clear: people who want to be pilots cannot smoke weed under any circumstances. This includes pilots who live in states where marijuana is legal and those who have prescriptions for medical marijuana. 

There are a few different reasons for this blanket ban. One is that although marijuana is legal in many states, it is still illegal under federal law and classified as a controlled substance. Since pilot licenses are issued by a federal agency, the FAA, the agency and all those applying for licenses from it have to follow federal law.

Another is that marijuana does impede people’s judgment and coordination, so regulatory bodies worry about potential substance issues. On applications for a medical certificate, you have to disclose if you’ve used any illegal substances and if you ever failed a drug test or had substance abuse issues.

While these rules may change as legalization efforts continue, for now, pilots cannot smoke weed or consume marijuana at all.

What About CBD?

CBD, a legal cannabinoid derived from the same hemp plant as marijuana, is becoming more and more popular. Although this is a perfectly legal substance people use for medical reasons, it is recommended that pilots continue to avoid it. 

On certain drug tests, CBD may show up as marijuana or THC. Some CBD products even contain trace amounts of THC (which is legal for hemp-derived products in certain amounts). For pilots, it is better to be safe than sorry.

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