Record number of U.S. workers test positive for cannabis in latest study

Jun 6, 2023

According to the results of the annual analysis published by Quest Diagnostics, the percentage of U.S. employees who tested positive for cannabis in 2022 reached record levels since the beginning of data collection in 1988.

Specifically, over 6 million urine tests were analysed for cannabis use by Quest in 2022 in the general worker category, including federally mandated, safety-sensitive workers such as pilots and truck drivers, who are subject to routine drug testing. Moreover, the study results show that 4.3% of the samples were positive for cannabis, which corresponds to an increase from 3.9% in 2021. Furthermore, this is the highest number of positive test results for cannabis detected by Quest so far. Finally, it was found that the number of general workers who tested positive for cannabis following an on-the-job accident in 2022 was 7.3%, compared with 6.7% in 2021, which is the highest in 25 years.

“This historic rise seems to correspond with sharp increases in positivity for [cannabis] in both pre-employment and post-accident drug tests, suggesting that changing societal attitudes about marijuana may be impacting workplace behaviours,” said Keith Ward, general manager, and vice president for employer solutions at Quest Diagnostics, in a released statement.

Compared to previous years, more workers in federally mandated safety-sensitive jobs also tested positive for cannabis. Within this group, 0.98% of the samples gathered nationally tested positive for cannabis, compared with 0.86% in 2021.

The study data also shows that in U.S. states where recreational use of cannabis is legal, 5.7% of the general U.S. workforce tested positive for cannabis in 2022, compared to the 4.3% national average that same year. In addition, the percentage of positive tests for cannabis among the general workforce in U.S. states where medical cannabis is legal was below the national average, at 3.9% in 2022.

“In the general U.S. workforce, states that have legalized recreational and medical marijuana use exhibit higher positivity rates than the national average. States that have not legalized marijuana appear to have positivity rates below the national averages,” said Suhash Harwani, senior director of science for employer solutions at Quest Diagnostics in a released statement.

Despite the increase in U.S. workers’ cannabis use, Quest’s data also shows that overall drug use among all other categories of U.S. employees was unchanged at 4.6% in 2022. However, the 2021 and 2022 positivity rates for overall drug use are also the highest since 2001, with a slight increase in amphetamine detection.

“The increase in amphetamines positivity is also notable, given the addictive potential and health risks associated with this class of drugs,” Ward said. However, the testing carried out by Quest does not differentiate between legally prescribed amphetamines, such as Adderall, and positive test results due to illicit methamphetamine use.