The Cannabis Act came into effect this week, making recreational cannabis legal for all Canadians. While the Act contains some rules and restrictions, much has been left to private companies and individuals to determine their own cannabis policies.
Recently, many employers have issued policies regarding the use of cannabis in the workplace. Several of the most restrictive are coming from police forces across the country, which is kicking up controversy. Some police forces have adopted relatively reasonable policies, such as the Montreal Police Force restricting use for on-duty officers.
One of the most controversial policies has been the Toronto Police Service’s recently announced policy. The TPS has decided to adopt a policy restricting usage for officers on active duty. Under this policy, TPS officers can’t use cannabis within 28 days of working.
This policy was adopted because of concerns about how long cannabis stays in the body. It and other policies like it, however, suggest there’s some serious confusion about cannabis impairment.
How Does Cannabis Work?
The first thing to understand is how cannabis actually acts on the body. The active substances in cannabis are called cannabinoids. These substances, like THC and CBD, bind to receptors located in the human body’s endocannabinoid system.
Through this process, cannabinoids cause different effects. THC, in particular, can cross the blood-brain barrier, resulting in psychoactive effects. Other cannabinoids, like CBD, appear to be non-psychoactive.
Different cannabinoids appear to have different effects, and the effects are tempered by how much of the cannabinoid you take in.
How Long Is Cannabis Active in the Body?
The effects of cannabis usually last between four and six hours, although they can take an hour or two to set in. After this time, most people will return to a normal state. While cannabis is active, people may be somewhat impaired, thanks to some of cannabis’s effects.
Cannabis can cause an altered mental state. Some people experience euphoria, while others will feel relaxed and drowsy. Some people may even fall asleep. Much of what you experience is influenced by strain and dose. Some strains of medical marijuana are designed to help people get to sleep sooner, while others help them stay awake and feel more energetic.
It’s important to recognize that once you’ve used cannabis, you will likely experience at least some impairment during the next four to six hours. It’s wise to schedule cannabis use during your downtime, when you can relax and unwind.
Cannabis Stays with You after Use
This is where the confusion comes in. Although the effects and potential impairment of cannabis last only a few hours, cannabinoids can be stored in the body for weeks after use.
Cannabinoids are extremely fat soluble, which means they’re then stored in the body’s fat reserves. Eventually, the substances are broken down and removed from the body as waste. This process can take three to four weeks.
Why the 28-Day Window?
It’s likely the TPS adopted the 28-day policy for the purposes of drug testing their officers to ensure they haven’t recently used cannabis. Cannabis use is determined by testing for metabolites, the broken-down versions of cannabinoids, in fluids like blood.
Unfortunately, there’s no reliable way to tell if someone with metabolites in their bloodstream used cannabis 30 days ago or within the last few hours.
This policy is likely driven by liability, not science.
Does the TPS Policy Make Sense?
It’s easy to see the logic behind the new policy for the Toronto Police Service, but ultimately, it doesn’t make sense. For some people, cannabinoid metabolites may show up in drug tests beyond a 30-day window.
The policy will also effectively prevent officers from using cannabis at any time during their service. Concerns about impairment should be corrected by getting the facts.