It may surprise you to learn that the TSA does not actively check for drugs.
TSA agents are far more concerned with items that can put passengers’ safety at immediate risk, like explosives.
However, just because TSA agents aren’t actively searching for drugs, it doesn’t mean that they won’t find drugs – and if drugs are found, there will consequences.
Table of Contents
- 1 How TSA Agents Discover Drugs
- 2 Tell the TSA You Are Flying With Prescription Drugs
- 3 Why TSA Agents Aren’t Concerned With Finding Drugs
- 4 TSA Agents Must Report You if They Find Drugs
- 5 Even Medical Marijuana is No Exception
- 6 How People Hide Weed from Airport Scanners
How TSA Agents Discover Drugs
Detecting Drugs in Carry on Bags
If you’ve ever taken a flight before, you have had to go through airport security.
This involved placing your carry on bag in a security screening bin and placing the bin on a conveyor belt, at which point it would then be scanned.
Airport scanners create detailed images of your bag’s contents, which airport security personnel will then inspect more closely if they see something suspicious.
Based on the range of energy that passes through an airport scanner, images of your items will either come up as orange, green, or blue.
This represents organic material (orange), non-organic materials (green), or metals and hard plastics (blue/black).
If an item shows up as orange on the scanner, it will be taken a look at a lot more closely because explosives are often partly composed of organic materials like glycerin, and potassium nitrate.
Weed, for example, is also organic material, so weed shows up as orange on the airport scanner.
This is usually how weed is discovered by TSA agents.
Detecting Drugs in Checked Bags
Baggage scanners typically use X-ray technology that form detailed images of luggage contents.
Anything that looks suspicious may alert airport security personnel, who will then investigate further.
Approximately, 1 out of every 10 checked bags are opened up to be physically inspected.
Again, TSA agents are not actively checking for drugs, but they may still inadvertently find drugs if something in a passenger’s luggage seems worth investigating further.
Detecting Drugs on a Person
Airports use millimeter-wave scanners and backscatter scanners.
These are whole body scanners that are designed to detect hidden weapons, tools, liquids, narcotics, currency, and other contraband.
Millimeter wave machines use low-energy non-ionizing radiofrequency waves to bounce waves off people and back into the machine to detect any items that may be concealed.
Backscatter machines use low energy x-rays that reflect the x-rays back to the machine to create chalk-like images of passengers to reveal if anything is trying to be concealed.
Today, millimeter wave scanners are more commonly used in airports in the USA.
Tell the TSA You Are Flying With Prescription Drugs
The TSA requires passengers to inform a TSA agent about any medication they are flying with and to separate them from their other belongings before screening.
Additionally, medically required liquids are subject to additional screening, and are not limited to the standard number of liquid ounces you are allowed to bring on a plane in your carry on bags.
While the TSA does not require any medication to be in prescription bottles, state laws about the labeling of prescription medication apply.
Why TSA Agents Aren’t Concerned With Finding Drugs
The TSA state on its website that:
“TSA’s screening procedures are focused on security and are designed to detect potential threats to aviation and passengers.
Accordingly, TSA security officers do not search for marijuana or other illegal drugs, but if any illegal substance is discovered during security screening, TSA will refer the matter to a law enforcement officer.”
We assure you that this isn’t a ruse, either.
The TSA is genuinely more concerned with detecting direct threats to passengers, which means that drugs simpler aren’t a concern.
TSA Agents Must Report You if They Find Drugs
Typically, if a passenger is trying to hide drugs on them, a TSA agent will ask a passenger to exit the queue they were in and direct them to a separate room where they will be searched.
If a suspicious item is detected in a passenger’s luggage, the TSA agent would simply open the luggage to confirm the contents of the bag.
While a TSA agent may not prioritize finding drugs, if drugs are found, they will be confiscated and the passenger will be reported to the local, state or federal authorities.
This is because a TSA agent has the responsibility of confiscating and reporting any forbidden item to the relevant authorities if discovered.
Even Medical Marijuana is No Exception
The TSA state that:
“Marijuana and certain cannabis infused products, including some Cannabidiol (CBD) oil, remain illegal under federal law except for products that contain no more than 0.3 percent THC on a dry weight basis or that are approved by FDA.”
In short, this means that on a federal level, marijuana is still illegal to fly with, so you can’t bring weed on a plane.
However, states have their own laws, so the exact process and authorities’ involvement depends on local state laws.
Airport ordinances also play a role too.
For example, marijuana possession, up to 28.5 grams, is legal in airports like LAX.
How People Hide Weed from Airport Scanners
Other ways passengers have had success hiding weed is by placing small quantities inside shampoo or moisturizer bottles.
Ella Dunham, a Freelance Travel Journalist and Marketing Manager, boasts an impressive career spanning eight years in the travel and tourism sectors.
Honored as one of "30 Under 30" by TTG Media (the world’s very first weekly travel trade newspaper), a "Tour Operator Travel Guru" and "Legend Award" winner, Ella is also a Fellow of the Institute of Travel, a Member of the Association of Women Travel Executives, has completed over 250 travel modules, and hosts travel-focused segments on national radio shows where she provides insights on travel regulations and destinations.
Ella has visited over 40 countries (with 10 more planned this year).