The use of medical marijuana has become increasingly prevalent in Australia. As cannabis laws have begun to relax, employers and workplace health and safety officials need a better understanding of the laws surrounding its use and how best to manage the issue of its use at the workplace.
With its many health benefits, including the relief of chronic pain and other illnesses, the use of the once-illicit drug for medical purposes has increased in recent years. The number is only expected to grow in the years to come.
Here’s what you need to know about medical marijuana or medical cannabis.
History of cannabis in Australia
Marijuana originates from a plant called hemp (scientific name cannabis sativa) and is Australia’s most widely consumed illicit drug. Hemp and eventually, marijuana first came to Australian soil in the late 1700s when Sir Joseph Banks wanted to utilise Australia’s vast land for Britain’s commercial production of hemp.
Residents at the time would consume cannabis for medicinal and recreational purposes during this time with claims that it would potentially relieve symptoms of coughing, influenza and even asthma.
The production of the substance continued until 1926, when the Australian Capital Territory became the first state government to outlaw all forms of cannabis and hemp. Victoria followed in their footsteps the following year. Tasmania was the last to outlaw all forms of cannabis and hemp in 1959.
After much research and lobbying, state governments slowly began relaxing or decriminalising minor cannabis offences.
The Australian federal government legalised marijuana in 2016 for medical use and it has brought in millions of dollars in revenue and is expected to show an annual growth rate of 14.33% which will result in a market volume of US$345.5m by 2027.
Ironically, just as the ACT was the first state to outlaw marijuana in 1926, they became the first state to prohibit recreational cannabis for consumption, possession and even cultivation (following guidelines pertaining to the quantity of possession) in 2020. Failure to abide by these guidelines will result in a fine, not criminal charges.
However, it’s still illegal to buy and sell cannabis in ACT.
Dangers and benefits of medical marijuana
Just as people in the past would consume marijuana to alleviate illnesses and chronic pain, medical marijuana is found to have some health benefits and can be used to treat illnesses such as:
- Eating disorders
- Muscle spasms
- Reduction of inflammation
Cannabis is able to aid these conditions and more because it contains natural compounds called cannabinoids that interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system that plays a role in regulating many bodily functions including pain sensation, mood and immunity. It’s worth noting that research on a lot of the benefits to the conditions above from medical marijuana use is still ongoing, and many of them do not have conclusive evidence except for a few.
Dangers of medical marijuana
However, different people may react differently to the use of marijuana and it may not be an appropriate means of treatment for everyone. Despite being medically prescribed, marijuana can have adverse health effects and cause impairments.
The presence of THC in one's system is found to interfere with cognition and motor skills and is also likely to interfere with driving competencies. Two large European studies have also found that drivers with THC in their blood were twice as likely to be culpable to fatal crashes than sober drivers.
Like alcohol, individuals that have consumed their prescribed medical cannabis should refrain from driving as the probability of accidents happening will be heightened.
Apart from the increased likeliness of road collisions, the use of medical marijuana can result in the following:
- Slower reaction times
- Increased appetite
- Impaired cognition and memory
- Increased heart rate
- Potential for addiction
- In some people, hallucinations
- Increased chances of developing mental illnesses
It's worth noting that since medical marijuana has been used to treat certain health issues that cannot be easily tested for by doctors (such as insomnia or migraines), the chances of individuals abusing medical cannabis increases.
The use of medical marijuana should be under the guidance of a qualified health professional to ensure safe and healthy administration.
Challenges in the workplace
Marijuana is one of the most common drug types that are detected by drug test kits and whether or not they are used for medical or recreational purposes, an employee can be found guilty. With that, medical marijuana use in the workplace can present some challenges, including:
- Workplace policies: Many workplace drug and alcohol testing policy prohibits the use of any drugs, and that may also include medical marijuana while on the job.
- Safety concerns: Employees using medical marijuana at the workplace could pose a safety risk to themselves and the surrounding people, especially if their job involves operating heavy machinery.
- Accommodating requirements: Employers might be required to make accommodations for employees using prescribed medical marijuana, such as modifying work schedules or job duties. This can prove to be challenging as it may disrupt the workflow and require extra resources.
- Stigma and discrimination: Some employees may face stigma and discrimination from their co-workers or management due to their use of medical marijuana. This can create a hostile working environment.
Despite the legality of marijuana for medical purposes, this does not give employees a pass to use marijuana at the workplace, especially in occupations that are safety sensitive.
To ensure the safety of people at work, employers need to understand the prescriptions taken by their employees and be aware of the adverse effects that may arise from it.
Browse through Andatech’s range of urine and saliva drug test kits to ensure that your workplace stays safe. You can also contact Andatech for on-site testing and professional advice on dealing with medical marijuana use at the workplace.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for general reference only. Please seek advice from professionals according to your business’s needs.
Written by Jaka Exstrada