Knowing marijuana’s risk

It’s not just a joint . . .

Canadians’ increasingly casual attitude to marijuana has prompted the federal government to promise it will make the substance legal on April 4, national marijuana day, lifting a 97-year-old prohibition on weed.

With its growing acceptance, lots of people might think marijuana is harmless.

But a growing number of experts don’t. One of them is Diana Dow-Edwards, the distinguished visiting research chair in Brain Science and Child and Family Health and Wellness with the Fulbright Canada-Palix Foundation, who’s studied marijuana for more than two decades.

Dow-Edwards and other neuroscientists know marijuana can lower a person’s IQ, lead to mental illness and cause abnormal responses to stress. Pot’s effects vary according to when and how a person uses it and for how long. The effects are most dramatic in teens who are heavy users (smoking a joint four times a week) of the weed and its synthetic versions such as K2 and spice. Their brain development can be permanently altered.

Marijuana use can:

  • Slow physical responses
  • Reduce coordination, balance and peripheral vision
  • Cause cognitive impairment by limiting verbal learning and memory
  • Bring on depression
  • Trigger anxiety

In other words, marijuana impairs. Not always exactly the same way alcohol or other drugs (legal or illegal) do, but it still diminishes your ability to think and act.

Health Canada warns that the effects of marijuana “take days, weeks, months or years to resolve after use is stopped, depending on how long one has been using and when use began. Regular smoking can also harm the lungs.”

If you work in a safety-sensitive job, using marijuana or pot can make you a workplace hazard. If the federal government keeps its promise to legalize marijuana, Enform and its member associations are asking the legislation to call for anyone who tests positive for marijuana use be removed from safety-sensitive positions until they test negative (as is currently the case).

Because no reliable test yet exists for determining marijuana impairment, you can’t be tested for impairment—just the presence of the substance. And pot can remain in the bloodstream for up to 30 days. So a joint smoked two weeks ago when you were off rotation, could see you sidelined for two weeks. The same holds true for medical marijuana.

Depending on your use, you could also be required to undergo drug and alcohol treatment.

When it comes to your well-being and safety in the workplace, it’s not just a joint. It’s an actual hazard.

For resources on developing alcohol and drug policies, see Alcohol and Drug Policy Model for the Canadian Upstream Petroleum Industry.

Read past blog posts in this series: