A growing – and changing – crop

How marijuana has transformed into a much more impactful drug

There has been a change in the way Americans view marijuana. More than 11 states have legalized the drug for recreational use and another 33 states and Washington, D.C. have passed legislation for medical marijuana use. Not surprisingly, more people in the U.S. general workforce are testing positive for marijuana with an increase of 40% since 2010. But that’s not all that has changed. Marijuana itself has evolved from the mildly potent ditch weed of the 1960s and 70s, to a potent and potentially dangerous narcotic. Here are a few changes that create danger for many.

Edible accidents
With marijuana availability increasing, the potential of accidental marijuana exposure and poisoning also rises. Many of these incidents happen with children who mistake marijuana edibles for candy or treats. The results are sobering. A study published by Pediatric Emergency Care showed that marijuana ingestions by children increased an average of 27% annually from 2009 to 2017. More than 70% of these cases happened in states with legalized marijuana. Of the children who were accidentally exposed to marijuana, 72% were younger than three years old and most required hospital-based treatment. While some symptoms were minor and included drowsiness and confusion, other more severe symptoms including seizures or coma also occurred. 

This is not the weed your dad talked about
With marijuana legalization came an increase in the drug’s potency. Concentrations of THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, have skyrocketed to more than 20%, up from as low as 3.7% in decades past. Additionally, some cannabis concentrates contain nearly 100% THC. This higher THC content can be most dangerous when a potential user doesn’t know what he or she is buying. A higher potency of drug that isn’t treated as such can lead to marijuana poisoning. And the higher risk of poisoning has led to more accidents. A recent study by a Colorado hospital showed a 300% increase in Emergency Room visits related to marijuana overdoses. And reports of cannabis poisoning in Quebec have also tripled since that region legalized marijuana.

Mary Jane goes to work
The effects of marijuana in the workplace are significant. A recent study conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) showed that employees who tested positive for marijuana had 55% more industrial accidents, 75% greater absenteeism, and 85% more injuries compared to employees with a negative drug test. Decreased productivity, increased worker compensation claims, and higher turnover rates can also affect the bottom line. In contrast, research has shown that promoting a drug-free workplace through drug testing can help improve employee morale while decreasing absenteeism, accidents, downtime, employee turnover, and theft.

In summary, things are changing and marijuana is evolving every day. As an employer, it’s important to stay up-to-date about changes to state laws, employment protections, and to review your drug testing policy. It should be clearly written and comply with all relevant Federal, state, and local laws. A drug-free workplace can add to more than just your bottom line. It can add to the safety, health, productivity, and morale of your workplace.

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