Research/studies Drugs

Supervisors and people in safety-sensitive jobs using cannabis at work, researchers find

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Toronto — Workers who reported using cannabis before or during a shift – including supervisors and people in safety-sensitive jobs – had jobs and work environments in which detection was less likely, according to the results of a recent study out of Canada.

Researchers from the Institute for Work and Health surveyed 1,651 Canadian workers in June 2018 – months before the country legalized recreational use of cannabis – to examine factors associated with cannabis use at work. Results show 1 out of 12 respondents reported at-work consumption (defined as using within two hours before or during a shift, or during a break) within the past year.

According to an IWH press release, the researchers anticipated many of the job and workplace factors linked to at-work consumption, such as being in environments with fewer onsite smoking restrictions, working for supervisors perceived to be less skilled at identifying drug and alcohol use, and working in roles away from others. However, they were surprised to find that positive responses about at-work use also came from supervisors and workers in safety-sensitive jobs, along with workers whose employers have a drug-testing program.

In the release, Nancy Carnide, an IWH associate scientist who led the study, offers one potential explanation for cannabis use among workers in safety-sensitive jobs: They may be trying to cope with stress or pain. About the supervisors, Carnide asked, “Could it be that people in supervisory roles feel their use will likely go undetected? Could it be a way of coping with the stress and work demands involved in their job?”

As for the finding about drug-testing programs, Carnide reasoned that their presence may simply reflect the very reason an employer may want such a program. “It may be the case that companies with drug-testing programs were those that already knew they had a substance use issue in their workplace and wanted to address it,” she said.


Whether they used cannabis on the job or not, workers who reported use in the past year tended to have lower incomes and be younger, male, less educated, and more likely to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol more frequently than workers who didn’t report cannabis use in the past year.

In a follow-up, the researchers found no increase in at-work or daily use of cannabis after legalization in Canada.

The study was published in the January issue of the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

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