CANNABIS – Is my employee safe and fit to perform the job?


What do you need to know as an employer?

Although cannabis has been shown to be effective in managing pain, neurological symptoms and has become a common prescription, it is important to understand this impacts employee function.  How do you know if your employee’s cognition and response time is impacted by the use of cannabis?

Marijuana comes from the hemp plant Cannabis sativa. It has an active ingredient called THC that makes you feel high. THC and other compounds in marijuana can also affect the way your body works. When a person smokes marijuana, THC quickly passes from the lungs into the bloodstream. The blood carries the chemical to the brain and other organs throughout the body. … THC acts on specific braincell receptors that ordinarily react to natural THC-like chemicals in the brain.

According the WebMD: “No matter how it gets into your system, it affects almost every organ in your body, and your nervous system and immune system, too. When you smoke pot, your body absorbs THC right away. (If you eat a baked good or another item, it may take much longer for your body to absorb THC, because it has to break down in your stomach before it enters your bloodstream). You may notice changes in your body right after you smoke. The effects usually stop after 3 or 4 hours.

What Managers Need to Know!

Cannabis has an impact on the brain. The amount of impact on your brain and body will depend on the type, mixture and how it is used (inhaled or ingested). As noted above the impact when inhaled may be quicker but end more quickly than if ingested.

Key points that might impact the job:

  • Slowed reaction time (If you drive after using marijuana, your risk of being in a car accident more than doubles.)
  • Attention – the ability to pay attention and concentrate on a task may be reduced Memory – reduction in memory.
  • Decision making – because of the impact on neurotransmitters in the brain the psychoactive ingredients can impact the speed of thought processing.
  • Motor control – cannabis has been shown to calm neurological responses in conditions such as epilepsy, parkinsons and MS.
  • Learning – learning systems can be impacted.
  • Anxiety levels – anxiety can be calmed or heightened.

Workplace assessment and policy solutions:

  1. Ensure that your organization has a substance use policy which covers details on use of substances (alcohol, legal or illicit drugs) in the workplace.
  2. If an employee is using medical cannabis with a prescription, ensure that the employee has a valid prescription. Prescriptions currently in Canada must be provided through a regulated physician and purchased through a pharmacy. (The street level “medical Marijuana” facilities continue to be illegal.)
  3. Offer the employee and their physician consultation with a medical marijuana specialist to ensure that the prescription is optimum for the employee’s needs. Develop an accommodation plan in the workplace including details of timing, use and location of ingestion of the cannabis.
  4. Develop a personal emergency plan if the employee has a safety sensitive position. Ask that the employee be assessed by an Occupational Therapist. A comprehensive cognitive and functional assessment can provide details on how the cannabis has impacted the cognition and function of the employee. The Occupational Therapist can then assess the essential duties of the job to determine if cognitive and reaction time changes will impact the employee’s safety and capabilities.
  5. If the employee operates machinery, vehicles or has a safety sensitive position ensure that there are supports in place to manage changes to function that will impact safety.
  6. Consider work adjustments that support alternate ways to process information. Provide the employee with strategies to manage symptoms such as pain in various ways which are not medicinal in nature such as through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, meditation and pacing of tasks.
  7. Follow up with the employee regularly to ensure the validity of the accommodation plan.
  8. Educate managers and supervisors in procedures when they suspect intoxication or use of substances at work.
  9. Educate employees on all policies and procedures related to use of substances in the workplace.
  10. If you are a workplace considering drug testing make sure to review the new 2016 OHRC policy on drug and alcohol testing.
  11. Contact Gowan Consulting for workplace accommodation support and early return to work planning.

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