Marijuana testing continues to be one of the most reliable ways to protect businesses from substance abuse. More people are now using cannabis than ever before. In fact, according to the United Nations, marijuana ranks as the seventh most widely used illicit drug in the world.

Why should that high ranking raise alarm bells for CEOs, HR, and safety officers in Australian industry? Because it suggests that some of your workers could be among the many Australians who are using marijuana at work.

Thankfully, there are solutions to your marijuana-related workplace concerns.

Marijuana comes in many forms
Marijuana/cannabis comes in many forms. Not all of them are considered harmful.

What is Marijuana?

Marijuana, or cannabis, is a depressant drug that slows down the activities of the central nervous system when consumed.

Illicit drug makers derive marijuana from Indian hemp plants. They’ve also given the drug different names to avoid detection by law enforcement. Some people refer to it as cannabis, ganja, grass, hashish, pot, dope, herb, weed, and reefer.

Marijuana has become the most widely used illegal drug in Australia. According to the National Drug Household Survey in 2007, as much as 33.5% of the Australian population reported having used it at some point in their life.

Cannabis also ranks as the seventh most commonly abused illicit drug in the world based on the World Drug Report.

Medicinal Cannabis

Note that there is also medicinal marijuana, a special form of cannabis meant to relieve the symptoms of conditions like epilepsy, fibromyalgia, and cancer.

In places where medical cannabis is legal, doctors prescribe it to sufferers of chronic pain or terminal illnesses who don’t respond well to pharmaceutical drugs. In other cases, they may also give them to patients who use conventional treatment but need relief from its debilitating side effects.

The main difference between medical cannabis and recreational cannabis is that medicinal cannabis will not make people high. Its purpose is strictly to treat severe medical conditions and symptoms.

Taking a closer look at Marijuana

THC is a psychoactive compound found in marijuana
THC is the compound that gives marijuana users a “high”

Marijuana contains an active ingredient known as delta-9 tetrahydro-cannabinol or THC. This is the part of the plant that provides users the “high” they’re looking for. There are several ways that people can use marijuana.

The most common way is to smoke it in hand-rolled cigarettes popularly referred to as joints. Some smoke them in pipes or even water pipes called bongs. Other people use marijuana by stuffing the drug in emptied cigars. This results in the cannabis product popularly known as ‘blunts’.

There are also marijuana users who like to take the drug as a beverage. They brew the cannabis leaves just like traditional tea leaves. Meanwhile, other users mix it with food such as brownies, cookies, or candy.

In Australia, medical doctors or specialists can prescribe medicinal marijuana to treat terminal illnesses as well as conditions like nausea, weight loss, glaucoma, and multiple sclerosis.

Some doctors also prescribe the use of THC, which is the main active ingredient in marijuana. Manufacturers isolate the compound from the rest of the drug. They then turn it into a spray, oil, or pills.

Street marijuana, on the other hand, contains natural THC that, when smoked, gives the feeling of being “high”.

Effects of marijuana/cannabis in the body

Depending on the dose, method of consumption, and combination with other drugs, marijuana can bring varied effects to the body.

Taking marijuana through smoking
Some marijuana users take the illicit drug by smoking it like a cigarette.

Short-term effects of the drug include:

  • Altered state of consciousness, where the user can feel very happy, relaxed, and euphoric
  • Distorted perceptions of time and space
  • Increased appetite, dilated pupils, bloodshot eyes, and increased pulse and heart rate
  • Impaired concentration and body coordination, making activities such as driving a car or operating machinery very challenging and dangerous.

Long-term effects of the drug include

  • Increased risk of respiratory diseases, including sore throat, asthma, and bronchitis
  • Decreased brain function and learning abilities
  • Decreased motivation in areas such as work, concentration, and everyday activities
  • Lowered sex drive, and irregular menstrual cycle for females
  • Hallucinations, paranoia, and toxic psychosis, when drug is taken in high doses

Synthetic marijuana

Using traditional marijuana already carries certain health risks. However, there is an even more dangerous variant of the drug that’s gaining popularity in recent years. Many people refer to it as synthetic marijuana or synthetic cannabis. Illicit drug makers combine dried plant material with chopped up herbs to produce the designer drug. They then add the synthetic chemical compound by spraying it on the mixture.

What makes synthetic marijuana so dangerous is that no one really knows what chemicals it contains. Several people have already died because of synthetic marijuana use in Australia. But despite its dangers, the illicit drug can still be bought easily in shops all over the country. Users can also buy their supplies over the Internet.

Synthetic marijuana is often sold under different names including spice, kronic, k2, blueberry haze, and blaze.

The Impact of Marijuana at Work

Workplace accident marijuana
If let undetected, marijuana use in the workplace can lead to severe accidents.

Many people probably think that marijuana is the least dangerous of all illicit drugs, but this is a misconception.

There is no such thing as a safe recreational drug at the workplace, be it marijuana or even much more potent opioids commonly stolen from hospitals.

On the contrary, marijuana creates quite an impact in the workplace, especially on work performance.

An employee who uses marijuana at work is likely to suffer from short-term memory problems, impaired thinking, and an impaired ability to perform more complex tasks. They become prone to errors, and errors in a workplace can be very costly to the employer.

Using marijuana at work can also lead to loss of balance and coordination, decreased concentration, alertness, and reaction time, all of which can be highly dangerous if the impaired worker is tasked with operating heavy equipment or driving vehicles for the company.

Accidents that cause injuries and deaths in the workplace have already happened because of marijuana at work. This often comes at a great cost to employers. Workers can also sue their company for failing to provide a safe workplace. Those costs are going to get higher because of legal fees and the like.

What to do about Marijuana Abuse at Work

A business must do all it can to protect itself and its employees. The best way to deal with marijuana use in the workplace would be to develop a well-written drug and alcohol policy. Such a policy should also have a provision for a marijuana testing program.

By testing your employees, you can identify if there’s growing drug abuse in your workplace. You can then address the situation accordingly before it’s too late. You’ll save yourself a lot of trouble if you do.

Marijuana Testing

Marijuana testing urine
A laboratory technician inspecting urine samples for marijuana testing.

The most common marijuana testing methods in use today are:

  • Urine testing – This method is the most commonly used by employers for marijuana testing. A cannabis urine test provides a window of detection that usually ranges from two to 30 days. However, certain factors like method and frequency of use, THC content, diet and body type can affect how long marijuana remains detectable in the body.
  • Hair testing – Compared to a urine test, a hair test for marijuana use has a longer window of detection. It can detect marijuana use for the past two to three months, and sometimes even longer. This longer window of detection makes it popular for use in pre-employment cannabis testing.
  • Oral fluid testing – This is the least common method for marijuana testing. Less invasive than a urine or hair test, oral fluid testing or saliva testing has an approximate window of detection for marijuana of 24 to 48 hours.

Signs of Marijuana Abuse in the Workplace

Signs that can help determine if a worker is under the influence of the drug include the dilation of the blood vessels in the eyes, increased heart rate, memory impairment, and difficulty in paying attention to one’s surroundings.

It is very dangerous for a person under the influence of cannabis to perform work or other outdoor activities because they may harm themselves and others as well.

Developing a Marijuana Testing Program

Workplace drug testing marijuana

The first step to protect your company from marijuana/cannabis at the workplace is to put in place a drug and alcohol policy. This provides a solid foundation from which to combat the problem. Based on this framework, you can then implement an effective and comprehensive drug testing at work program.

Safework Laboratories can help you develop a drug and alcohol policy and beyond.

We have a fast turnaround time for marijuana testing. We provide test results that are guaranteed accurate and reliable.

For more information, contact SafeWork Laboratories today. We’ll help you develop a comprehensive safety program for your workplace. We can also provide you with drug and alcohol testing solutions including marijuana testing.