Marijuana leaf
Photo credit: National Institute on Drug Abuse

Recent data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) shows there are approximately 192 million past-year users of marijuana worldwide. The next closest number is 58 million opioid users, easily placing marijuana as the world’s favorite drug. In the US, states continue to pass legislation allowing the sale and use of the drug for medicinal and recreational purposes, despite the drug being listed as a Schedule I controlled substance. This disconnect has led to confusion about the risks of marijuana from would-be users to employers in states where marijuana legislation has passed.

Marijuana is not a federally regulated drug or product

When a product lacks regulation and oversight, the manufacturer cannot guarantee safe dosages for people turning to the drug for medicinal purposes. From farming to distribution, marijuana operations are left largely up to the individuals caring for crops and packaging goods for human consumption with adherence to local laws, which vary from state to state.

Why is this a risk? Consumers have a long history of relying on the FDA to ensure our goods and services are properly vetted, a process involving intensive research and rigorous approvals. Without the backing of federal agencies, marijuana consumption is risky at best.

The new age of marijuana – Providing insight on the value of drug testing in the ever-changing marijuana legislation landscape

What are the risks of marijuana and the workplace?

According to data from the Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index™, marijuana continues to top the list of the most commonly detected illicit substances across all workforce categories and specimen types (urine, oral fluid, and hair). In the general US workforce, marijuana positivity increased nearly 11 percent in urine testing (2.8% in 2018 versus 3.1% in 2019) and 29 percent since 2015 (2.4%).

Marijuana continues to be present in the US workforce and can be hazardous, especially to safety-sensitive positions. If there is an increased use of marijuana in the workplace, users may experience a range of short and long-term side effects while high on the job. Insights from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide a closer look of what these side-effects look like from a user’s perspective.

  • Basic brain functions – Drug use specifically impacts the part of the brain associated with memory, learning, attention, decision making, coordination, emotions, and reaction times.
  • Mental health – Frequent and daily users of the drug may experience anxiety, paranoia, and depression. In more extreme cases, bouts of psychosis or long-term mental health disorders such as schizophrenia have been reported.
  • Addiction – Marijuana dependence and abuse is recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and can be diagnosed if the user meets two of 11 possible symptoms which include withdrawal, lack of control, and negative effects on personal and professional responsibilities.


The risks of marijuana are no secret, yet increased awareness is needed as more states continue to pass legislation around the drug. Especially for employers who are unsure of whether they can or should continue to test for the drug in their drug-free workplace programs. Legal or not, while in the workplace, marijuana use remains a risk both to the employee population and employers alike.

To learn more about options for addressing drug use in the workplace, download our drug testing guide or contact us online.