Education the best defense against pot’s medical hazards, says expert

by Leo Almazora05 Sep 2018

As the floodgates open for recreational use of marijuana, employers and insurers can no longer hide behind policies that exclude the substance from claims applications and workplaces completely. It’s time to introduce insurance plans and employee guidelines that address real risks — and that means knowing the science and evidence regarding the effects of cannabis.

“According to the National Cannabis Survey for the first quarter of 2018, 4.2 million or 14% of Canadians aged 15 years and older reported some use of cannabis products for medical or non-medical use during the period,” said Dr. Marcos Iglesias, senior vice president and chief medical officer at Broadspire. “Within the changing legislative framework in Canada on the matter, information on the effects marijuana has on an adult should be shared in order to be able to address and safeguard against potential risks in the workplace.”

A leading expert in occupational medicine and disability management, Iglesias said the popularity of pot use in North America may be leaving patients, physicians, and the broader public with misconceptions about its safety and efficacy. While marijuana may help in certain cases of chronic pain, for example, the findings from research are difficult to apply clinically; studies have used methodologies that vary by dosage, route of administration, and target population, among other factors.

“Marijuana may have adverse effects that include negative effects on learning, memory and attention, in addition to being dangerous to the developing brain in individuals under the age of 25,” he added.

As for the notion that THC in the blood indicates impairment — 5 ng THC per mL of blood is the red-flag level suggested by some studies — Iglesias noted that other biological and psychological factors also feed into ability or inability to withstand its influence. Psychomotor testing by measuring reaction times and coordination is the best way to assess for impairment, he said.

The question of impairment is important for insurance professionals and employers, especially in determining whether people are fit to drive vehicles or operate heavy machinery. According to Iglesias, people should generally refrain from such activities for 6 hours after smoking or 8 hours after ingesting marijuana.

Impairment could also affect a person’s fitness to perform their duties at work. Fitness can be assessed medically through psychomotor testing, though this method is likely not available to employers as of yet.

“It is of importance for an employer to know of and be able to recognize the signs of impairment for detection purposes,” Iglesias noted. Among the useful potential signs of cannabis use, employers can look out for employees with bloodshot eyes, a strong odour, a fast heart rate, and sleepiness or lethargy.

Iglesias will be holding a free webinar for employers and insurance professionals on the effects of marijuana use on adults, as well as the varied degrees of impairment and how to assess fitness of duty. Those interested to attend the webinar, to be held on September 12 at 1 PM ET, are invited to register via this link.


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