Medical marijuana a reality in the workplace

Christina Martens/Wetaskiwin Times

As medical marijuana use becomes a
more common treatment for many ailments, employers and supervisors need
to be aware of its use among employees.

Last week, the Private Motor Truck Council and Wetaskiwin Home
Hardware’s Western Distribution Centre hosted a seminar with Dr. Barry
Kurtzer, medical director and Chief Medical Review Officer of
Drivercheck Inc., which provides workplace drug testing and assessments.

The Ontario doctor told attendees that society has to change how it
views marijuana use, that people who use medical marijuana don’t fit the
pot head stereotypes of illegal marijuana users.

“This is a rapidly evolving issue both in the domain of medicine and the domain of law,” he said.

As Health Canada, the Canadian College of Family Physicians and the
federal government work to put guidelines and policies in place,
employers need to start thinking about medical marijuana use among their
employees and how it affects workplace health and safety.

“Medical marijuana is now a viable, beneficial form of treatment,”
said Kurtzer. “The rest of the world is watching Canada as we develop
medical marijuana laws.”

Explaining that marijuana has been used around the world for
thousands of years, if used in a medically controlled treatment plan it
can be “benign and helpful” with little chance for overdoses or lethal
toxic effects because it does not impact the respiratory system the way
opiates do.

“Side effects can be managed by dosage adjustment,” he said.

Cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are the two main ingredients in the marijuana plant.

While it is the THC is marijuana that causes the high, in medical
marijuana strains the focus is on CBD levels which doesn’t make users
high or anxious and can be used to treat and number of illnesses, like
HIV/ AIDS, epilepsy, Multiple Sclerosis, nausea from chemotherpahy,
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, arthritis, insomnia and anxiety.

Side-effects can include getting high, anxiety, changes in short-term
memory, sensory perception and mood changes, cognitive functions,
gastrointestinal and cardiovascular issues and can also trigger episodes
in schizophrenics or patients with biploar disorder, Kurtzer said those
can be dealt with by a doctor’s monitoring and can be managed.

“This is why proper history and follow-up is vital,” he said.

Being used under a doctor’s care, Kurtzer said medical marijuana is
no different, for example, than Tylenol 3 where some people can take the
recommended dose and feel no side effects while others only take one
and can’t function.

A significant number of people, however, are still opting to get
their drugs from the streets because it’s easier than dealing with the
government’s complicated approvals process, he said.

A recent poll showed there are at least 2.4 million marijuana users
in Canada. That 1.6 per cent are recognized medical marijuana users,
16.1 per cent are non-recognized users and 82.3 are illegal users.

In addition to medical follow-up, employers and supervisors need to
be aware of who is using medical marijuana and keep and eye out for
changes to behaviour, moods and abilities.

“Be aware of the warning signs,” he said. “It’s not up to you to be a
diagnostician but you do need to be aware if someone is off their

That means also have an action plan in place to deal with health and
safety issues and drug testing so as to minimize Worker’s Compensation
Board preventable cases, prevent General Disability incidents, protect
the business’s image while complying with ever-changing regulations.

Following his presentation, Kurtzer helped those in attendance develop action plans for their workplace. 
“Medical marijuana a reality in the workplace” is replublished article