Of all the substances deemed by governments around the world as illicit, marijuana is hands-down the most widely used.

According to the United Nation’s 2014 World Drug Report, Australia ranks seventh in marijuana use worldwide. For CEOs, HR and safety officers in Australian industry, that ranking should raise alarm bells, as it suggests that some of your workers could be among the many Australians who are using marijuana at work.

Thankfully, there are many solutions to any marijuana at the workplace concerns you might have.

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.

Derived from Indian hemp plants, marijuana is also known by many other names including cannabis, ganja, grass, hashish, pot, dope, herb, weed, and reefer.

Marijuana is the most widely used illegal drug in Australia. In fact, 33.5% of the Australian population reported to have used it at some point in their life, according to National Drug Household Survey in 2007.

Medicinal Cannabis

Note that there is also medicinal marijuana or medicinal cannabis. This is a special form of cannabis. Its purpose is to relieve the symptoms of medical conditions, such as epilepsy, pain and cancer.

For some people suffering from chronic or terminal illnesses, conventional medicines do not work, or do not work as effectively as medicinal cannabis. Also, for some patients, conventional medicines may work but cause debilitating side effects that cannabis can help to relieve.

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 - psychoactive cannabis / 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 a number of 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. There also those who use marijuana by partially or completely stuffing emptied cigars with the drug, and these marijuana-stuffed cigars are called blunts.

Marijuana can also be used through means other than smoking. Brew it as a tea, while some mix marijuana in food such as brownies, cookies, or candy.

In Australia, medical doctors or specialists can prescribe medicinal marijuana for medical use. It can treat conditions like nausea, weight loss, glaucoma, and multiple sclerosis. THC, the main active ingredient in marijuana, is isolated in either a spray, oil or as pills to make them appropriate for medical purposes.

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.

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

Marijuana by itself brings with it a host of dangers, but there is a more dangerous type of marijuana that is currently working its way into Australian society, and it’s known as synthetic cannabis or synthetic marijuana. Categorised as a designer drug, synthetic marijuana is actually made from dried plant material and chopped up herbs, and the synthetic chemical compounds are sprayed onto them.

What makes synthetic marijuana so dangerous is that no one really knows what chemicals it contains. Synthetic marijuana is already being blamed for a number of deaths in Australia, and yet they continue to be sold in shops in Australia and over the Internet, and is often referred to as spice, kronic, k2, blueberry haze and blaze.

The Impact of Marijuana at Work

workplace accident

Many people probably think that marijuana is the least dangerous of all illicit drugs, and is therefore okay to use in the workplace. 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, at great cost to employers. And if an employee involved in such incidents decides to sue the company for failing to provide a safe workplace, among other things, 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, and the best path to take to deal with marijuana at workplace concerns would be to develop a well-written drug and alcohol policy. Such a policy should also have a provision for a marijuana testing programme. A cannabis drug test is crucial in determining if any of a company’s employees is impaired by marijuana so that the right course of action can be taken before it’s too late.

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, as they may not only injure themselves, but harm others as well.

Developing a Marijuana Testing Program

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, and the results that we return are guaranteed accurate.

If you like more information about developing a comprehensive safety program for marijuana at work or our marijuana drug testing at work, please feel free to get in touch with us today for a confidential discussion.