What consumers of edible cannabis need to be aware of after the legalization of edibles

Focus Area — Human Resources

workplace

This article was originally published in the Globe and Mail on September 11, 2019. It’s written by Bill Howatt of the Conference Board of Canada and Melissa Snider-Adler of DriverCheck Inc.


The Conference Board of Canada and The Globe and Mail are partnering to explore the relationship between career success and cannabis use. Employers and employees (both recreational and medical cannabis users, as well as non-cannabis users) are invited to participate in this study. (Employees interested in taking the survey can click on this link. Employers interested in taking the survey can click on this link.) The data from these surveys will be aggregated and used to conduct analysis and create a report that will be presented Oct. 15, 2019, at a conference at The Globe and Mail Centre in Toronto.

Bill Howatt is the head of research, workforce and productivity at the Conference Board of Canada. Melissa Snider-Adler is the chief medical review officer of DriverCheck Inc., which provides workplace medical testing and assessments.

Cannabis is becoming more accepted in many places, and the variety of products available has grown quickly. This includes edible food and drink, oils and tinctures, and concentrated extracts and topical products.

While it is still illegal to sell many of these products in Canada, three new types of products will be available later this year. Edibles, cannabis extracts and topical products will become legal this year on Oct. 17 and available in stores by mid-December at the earliest (licensed producers must wait 60 days before bringing any new products to the market).

If recent stats are any indication, new products are likely to garner additional interest, from both experienced and inexperienced users. It’s important for people to understand how the different ways of consuming cannabis will affect their experience.

AWARENESS

The experience of eating cannabis is different from smoking or vaporizing it. It can take longer to feel the effects of ingested cannabis. The feeling of euphoria (or “high”) may differ and can last much longer.

When eaten, it can take anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes for the active ingredient in cannabis, THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), to reach the blood and brain. The effects from smoking or vaporizing cannabis can be felt almost immediately. THC is absorbed through the digestive system slowly and unpredictably. The time it takes to feel the effects can vary greatly between individuals and from one experience to another. This variation is because of many factors, including the amount of food in the stomach and digestive system, the type of food that is present (fatty vs. low-fat foods), how quickly the body moves stomach contents through the digestive system, and individual differences in how the liver breaks down food.

It’s easy to unintentionally overconsume edible cannabis products. The delay between eating it and feeling its effects means people may mistakenly consume more cannabis before they feel the earlier dose. The effects of an excessive dose can create a very unpleasant experience, which can include panic, paranoia, greater cognitive and motor impairment, extreme sedation, agitation, anxiety, cardiac stress and vomiting. Individuals who use cannabis with high-dose THC sometimes experience temporary psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions and severe anxiety.

Impairment from edibles can also last significantly longer than from smoked or vaporized cannabis. The initial high may last from 12 to 24 hours or more, while the effects from inhaled cannabis can start to diminish in as few as three hours.

ACCOUNTABILITY

Those who consume edible cannabis should understand that the effects take longer to feel, they will last longer and the risks of overconsumption can be serious. This is particularly important for employees in safety-sensitive workplaces. What these workers do on their own time, like the night before work, could affect their ability to be safe on the job.

If your workplace conducts alcohol and drug testing, you should know that ingested cannabis can be detected by urine and oral fluid tests. Edibles tend to produce positive urine tests for longer periods than smoked or vaporized cannabis. Employees should be aware of their company’s policy on being fit for work and substance use, as well as when and why drug testing is conducted.

ACTION

Before experimenting with edibles, consumers should exercise caution and know what to expect. To decrease the risk of overconsuming, be aware of what you are ingesting. When edible cannabis products are available for purchase online and in stores they will have information on the packaging about how much THC is present, so that should help you make informed choices. Start low and go slow – start out with a small dose of THC and be patient to avoid overconsuming.

Choose when to consume edibles carefully. Long-lasting impairment could prevent you from being fit to operate a vehicle or perform your duties safely at work. This is especially important for those in safety sensitive workplaces. Just because cannabis is legal does not mean it is without risk. Be knowledgeable, understand what you are ingesting and stay safe.

Dr. Bill Howatt

Chief of Research, Workforce Productivity

Dr. Melissa Snider-Adler

Chief of Medical Review Officer of DriverCheck Inc.

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