Last updated: June 5, 2023
Even though it seems legalization happens somewhere with each passing election, marijuana is still a drug and it causes impairment. It’s for that reason that employers are choosing to keep the THC panel on the company drug test. THC metabolites remain in the system long after the drug’s effects wear off though. People who use the drug for medical purposes or recreationally don’t think that’s fair.
All but a dozen states allow medical marijuana use and the number of states that legalized recreational marijuana use continues to grow. As a matter of fact, the Delaware Senate passed two bills focused on recreational legalization just yesterday! It’s still up in the air as to whether or not Governor John Carney will veto the bill or not. He’s spoken out against recreational marijuana in the past.
Now that the marijuana industry is in full swing, there’s a growing concern regarding the strength of the THC in the plants. Growers, of course, are shooting for higher levels of THC so they reap more profit. Still, pot-related emergency room (ER) visits are on the rise for both seniors and youth. Whether or not someone winds up in the ER, they’re going to test positive for using days, weeks, and even months after they stop.
Why does the body retain THC metabolites?
It’s not that the THC metabolites are tenacious little rascals. However, they do store themselves in the body’s fat cells. They wind up in the hair follicles too where they fuse with the hair shaft. That means they grow out into the hair itself leaving a permanent record of drug use.
As far as fat cells go, we all know how hard it is to get rid of them! Over time, the THC metabolites are released into the urine. Until then though, anyone who is tested for marijuana is likely to test positive.
How often it’s used makes the difference
Most drugs clear the system rather quickly, however, the larger the dose and the frequency of use are key factors as to how long that takes. That’s no different with marijuana and now that the THC levels are rising so dramatically, it affects the detection period as well.
Currently, it’s reported that detection periods—if submitting a urine specimen for testing—range as follows:
- Occasional use—three days
- Moderate use, as in up to four times a week—five to seven days
- Chronic (daily) use—ten to fifteen days
- Chronic heavy (multiple times per day) use—more than 30 days
There have been reported cases of those who smoke multiple times every day still having THC metabolites in their system for up to 60 days after stopping use!
Other factors play a part
There are several factors that play into how long a drug is detected in the human body.
In addition to the dosage levels and frequency of use, we need to consider:
- Body Mass Index (BMI)—Overweight individuals may retain THC metabolites longer.
- Individual metabolic rate—Everyone’s body metabolizes substances at its own rate.
- Manner of ingestion—Edibles may cause longer retention.
Until there’s a test for current impairment
There are a few companies that claim to have created—or are testing—a device that detects current marijuana impairment by using breath technology. Time will tell if they are a reliable option for employers. When that happens, it will definitely be a game-changer!
Until then, employers continue to use what they have in place—even if they’re extremely unpopular for it. Why? Marijuana use causes serious side effects that could cause someone to either cause or be involved in an accident.
- An altered sense of time
- Changes in mood
- Difficulty thinking
- Inability to problem solve
- Impaired memory
- Hallucinations or delusions (high dosage levels)
- Inability to focus
- Coordination problems
- Anxiety or paranoia
There could be long-term effects too
There are mixed reviews on the few studies available on long-term marijuana use. That said, studies show that some people who use marijuana over the long-term are at increased risk of developing:
- Cognitive impairment
- Memory impairment
- Learning disabilities
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Respiratory illnesses, such as lung infections and chronic bronchitis
- Hallucinations and psychosis
Additionally, there have been some studies that show using marijuana while pregnant or breastfeeding causes a greater chance of the baby having birth defects or problems with brain development.
An employer’s main concern is whether or not they have provided a safe workspace for their employees. Drug testing plays an important role in making that happen. It’s a known fact that most people who use drugs shy away from places that drug test when looking for work. Moreover, it helps employers weed out any employees who think they can fly under the radar.
Until there’s a test for current impairment, keeping marijuana on the company drug test is a smart choice.