When it comes to CANNABIS in any form at work not just in law; having a policy and educating employees can go a long way to ward off unwanted behavior. However, there is still a risk that even an educated employee may be impaired at work.
In Canada and at work, “we’re caught in a potential Catch 22: how do you protect the worker and those around them as well as deal with legalized marijuana? Employers are also realizing that pre-employment drug screens don’t detect drug use on the job, nor do they dissuade it, and thus do not improve safety. Instead, job applicants merely take a break from using drugs so they are clean for the pre-employment drug screen. “Employers know that [drug testing] doesn’t mean anything. Anyone who smokes pot will just stop for a few days. It’s an empty ritual that nobody wants to be the first to give up,”
Contrary to the issues posed by drug testing programs, impairment testing has the potential to increase workplace wellness, improve communication between frontline workers and supervisors, and reduce problematic presenteeism. Presenteeism can cause impaired workers to stubbornly continue safety-sensitive work and can cause contagious workers to spread illness. Impairment testing allows for increased productivity because both presenteeism and absenteeism are balanced and prevented from becoming extreme.
In short, impairment testing, which today has become accessible, affordable, and more sophisticated, is an obvious solution to the many problems posed by workplace drug testing. Where drug testing is too narrow, invasive, expensive, and reactive, impairment testing is proactive, preventative, wide in scope, non-invasive, and can improve productivity and organizational culture.
THE KEY WORDS ARE H.R. ( Human Resources) AND THE COMPANY: HR personnel and policy makers will best serve their employers and employees by establishing and setting forth clear guidelines and expectations. By ensuring due diligence on a case-by-case basis with their employees, it can be determined whether there is any danger of impairment at work. Typically, there is not, as the employee is either treating their conditions with the non-psychoactive CBD by day or using THC at night for pain or insomnia (impairment causing THC clears the bloodstream within 3-6 hours). The most common test, the urine test, will detect minute amounts of THC up to a few weeks after ingestion. This test is helpful in establishing past use, but not current impairment.
This risk exists with alcohol too and breathalyzers are an effective means for assessing active impairment. This is because alcohol levels in the blood and brain tend to be directly correlated. As a result, alcohol impairment is closely tied to blood (and breath) alcohol levels.
This is not the case for cannabis, where THC is stored in the fatty tissues and retained even as blood levels fall quickly.
The tests commonly used today in workplaces to detect past drug use fall short of measuring active THC impairment.
Please Note! THC is the psychoactive, impairment-causing component in cannabis. When cannabis is consumed, THC is absorbed into the bloodstream and is stored in fatty tissues. THC remains active in the body for several hours and begins to be metabolized into carboxy-THC (also called THC-acid). Carboxy-THC is an inactive metabolite, so it doesn’t affect brain function the way that THC does. THC re-enters the blood from the fatty tissues throughout the body in small quantities over time.
Urinalysis is a common test administered for workplace drug testing but it has limitations. Urinalysis identifies carboxy-THC, the inactive metabolite. Carboxy-THC is not an indicator of active THC, rather that THC has been in the system at some time in the past hours, days, weeks or even months. While the test does detect recent use it doesn’t detect impairment. The courts have been clear on this limitation, saying “urinalysis does not demonstrate current impairment.
ORAL FLUID ANALYSIS
Oral fluid analysis is another test that has gained popularity over the past decade. This test uses fluid from the mouth and identifies THC in the liquid. Oral fluid tests have a shorter window of detection than urine tests, detecting THC 12-24 hours after cannabis consumption. An important distinction from urinalysis is that it detects active THC, not carboxy-THC. Accuracy limitations can be a serious problem with the efficacy of oral fluid tests. Measuring active THC in the system is a more accurate assessment of recent use. As discussed, THC rapidly breaks down into carboxy-THC over 3-6 hours from consumption
CUT OFF LIMITS
Another issue in both urinalysis and oral fluid tests is the cut-off limit. Cut off limits with alcohol (typically .08 percent for driving infractions) are appropriate because of the direct correlation between alcohol blood levels and impairment. Cut-off levels for cannabis have commonly been set at 50ng/ml (carboxy-THC) for urine tests and 5ng/ml (THC) for oral fluid swabs. It’s been shown that in new users THC concentrations rapidly decrease to 1-4 ng/mL within 3-4 hours of consumption.
The risk is that we are punishing employees that are not actually impaired. The punishment can come in the form of termination of employment, affecting their ability to earn an income.
In the absence of a test for THC impairment we must assess the big picture or we risk being guilty of punishing employees that we cannot unequivocally prove are impaired. The chemical compounds in cannabis, called cannabinoids, which include THC and CBD, behave rather differently than other substances because they are stored in the brain or in fat cells. Unlike alcohol, which is water-soluble and whose presence in the blood more accurately reflects current intoxication, cannabinoids, which are fat-soluble, can be present in body fluids long after they have been metabolized and long after any psychoactive effects have worn off. Thus, urine or blood testing for cannabis use is essentially pointless, as the strongest indicators of cannabis impairment are behavioral and cognitive. In addition, the results of any such body fluid test are not immediate, so impairment at the time of the test compared to the time results are available would not be the same.