Cannabis edibles may pose new challenges

According to an article published in Canadian Occupational Safety, newly available edible cannabis products are stronger and have more lasting effects compared to those which are inhaled, posing potential new challenges to employees.

On October 17, the legal production and sale of edible cannabis products, as well as cannabis extracts and topicals, took effect in Canada. Edible cannabis products take longer to take effect, and peak, due to their slower absorption into the bloodstream as their metabolism pathway begins in the stomach. Robert Gabrys, research and policy analyst at the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction (CCSA), told Canadian Occupation Safety, “The cannabis products that we currently have available are mostly those that are smoked or vaped. And the onset of psychoactive effects following these sort of substances is relatively quick, so they appear within a few seconds to minutes, whereas [with] edible cannabis products, the onset of effects is considerably longer. They might appear anywhere between 30 minutes to two hours. And for some individuals, that could take up to four hours for the high, essentially, to appear.” According to Gabrys, individuals with little experience taking edibles are more likely to take another serving while waiting for the effects.

Ryan Mallough, director of provincial affairs for Ontario at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) in Toronto, said legalization of edible products could cause concern from employers.

“It’s one thing to be able to identify a cannabis smoker [and] quite another thing to be able to identify an edible [user], and they react with the body differently, there needs to be a system in place in the workplace where you can report that to ensure that everyone is safe.” 

Ryan Mallough, director of provincial affairs for Ontario, CFIB

Since the legalization of cannabis in October 2018, most employers have implemented policies to manage any potential issues related to impairment in the workplace. However, according to Mallough there is still uncertainty around workplace impairment. “There still is a pretty significant education gap when it comes to business owners knowing what it is they are responsible for, what it is they need to do, particularly around things like recognizing impairment,” he said.

Drew Demerse, a partner at Roper Greyell in Vancouver, said the biggest concern regarding cannabis impairment is for safety-sensitive employers. “The first [issue] is that the medical experts I speak to note that a cannabis user is less likely to be able to tell they’re impaired than someone who has consumed alcohol. So, cannabis is more difficult from a self-assessment perspective to detect when a person is or ceases to be impaired.”

There are also some concerns related to workplace drug testing, due to the lack of clarity regarding when it is necessary to test an employee, which tests to use, and what information you are getting from that test. “[Cannabis testing is] still not telling you that someone was impaired; it’s telling you that cannabis was in their system. It’s still not as clean as an alcohol test where… you can tell impairment at that point,” said Mallough.

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