Since Canada legalized recreational cannabis, many Canadians have grappled with the question of how long before work they can get high. They want accurate information about how and when they can safely use it. This is especially true for employees working in safety-sensitive workplaces, and most notably for those whose workplaces test for alcohol and drugs.
Although everyone wants a simple answer, there isn’t one for cannabis.
Cannabis is not what it used to be. Studies even 20 years ago underestimated the impairment it causes. It’s important for employees to understand that, although they may feel the effects from cannabis have passed, impairment can linger for some time.
Cannabis is a complex plant with hundreds of active ingredients. The length of time that cannabis affects an individual depends on many factors. Some elements that determine how long cannabis might affect a person are:
· quantity of the cannabis being consumed;
· concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis;
· route of consumption (inhaled, ingested);
· makeup of the cannabis (the other cannabinoids, terpenoids and flavonoids that may have any impact);
· person’s history of use;
· other medications or substances being taken, as they could interact with cannabis;
· individual’s metabolism and body build.
Unlike alcohol, the effects and length of cannabis impairment are unpredictable and non-linear. Its effects vary from person to person, as does the length of time that it impairs.
The Occupation and Environmental Medical Association of Canada (OEMAC) recommends the following guideline:
“[T]he timing and duration of cannabis impairment is variable and … more research is needed in this regard. To provide practical guidance, until definitive evidence is available, it is not advisable to operate motor vehicles or equipment, or engage in other safety-sensitive tasks for 24 hours following cannabis consumption, or for longer if impairment persists.”
Some safety-sensitive workplaces have policies that prohibit workers from using cannabis for 28 days or longer before reporting for work. Others require abstinence. The reasoning behind this is likely rooted in studies that show persistent negative effects on memory, thinking and reasoning, visual perception, reaction time and manual dexterity. Heavy and prolonged cannabis use has been associated with difficulties learning and solving problems, even after 28 days of abstinence.
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January 21, 2020
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