Ganja use and performance at work

Dr Derrick Aarons

Sunday, February 18, 2018

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IN Jamaica, ganja is currently being used for recreational purposes, its purported medicinal value, and in religious practices.

As its use has been widespread, the use of two ounces or less of ganja has been decriminalised in this country so that individuals found to be in possession of that amount will only be subjected to the penalty of a fine (civil penalty), rather than being charged with a criminal offence.

A criminal conviction would mean a permanent record in the law books that might affect the user obtaining a visa to countries of the global north, or exclude them from certain jobs in society.

However, since ganja (marijuana, cannabis) is a psychoactive substance (that is, having a significant effect on mental processes), it should never be used in situations where alertness, focus and sharp reflexive responses are required. Specifically, ganja should not be smoked or consumed prior to driving a motor vehicle, manoeuvring mechanical implements, or doing work that requires concentration, mental application or addressing challenges.

Effects on the body

While not all individuals will experience every effect simultaneously, research has confirmed that ganja causes the following effects in the body:

• Short-term memory problems;

• Impaired thinking and delayed decision-making;

• Loss of balance and coordination;

• Decreased concentration;

• Changes in sensory perception and distortion of time;

• Impaired ability to perform complex tasks;

• Decreased alertness;

• Decreased reaction time;

• Paranoia (delusions);

• Drowsiness;

• Increased appetite; and

• Impaired tracking ability.

Consequently, ganja should never be smoked in any public area, since innocent bystanders would be subjected to the harmful effects of second-hand smoke as well as its psychoactive effects without their agreement.

If smoked at the workplace, colleagues (or customers) may notice that the affected person may appear to have a memory problem shortly thereafter, be slow in decision-making, unable to concentrate, may be drowsy, have congested (red) eyes, may have a reduced reaction time.

Good and bad chemicals

Ganja contains over 400 different chemicals, 61 of which are unique to the ganja (cannabis) plant and are called cannabinoids.

With several active agents contained therein (some potentially helpful, some harmful), the use of the whole ganja plant will consequently produce varying effects on the human body.

Ideally therefore, the chemicals that carry potential benefit should be extracted for human use (medicinal marijuana extract), leaving behind those that are harmful. Thus far, beneficial extracts have included cannisol to treat increased pressure in the eye (glaucoma), and asmol to treat asthma.

Medicinal marijuana is also being used to treat nausea and vomiting, lack of appetite (anorexia) — which is a major challenge in many patients with cancer, some forms of epilepsy, and is used in assisting to relieve suffering in intractable pain.

Further research

Research into other possible beneficial uses is ongoing. Until these outcomes are known, however, we should limit our use to those extracts that are proven beneficial and not use the whole plant, which contain many potentially harmful chemicals.

To underscore this, in an article entitled 'Marijuana as medicine: Consider the Pros and Cons', the Mayo Clinic (world-famous non-profit medical practice and research hospital, based in Minnesota, USA) published that marijuana smoke contains 50-70 per cent more cancer-causing hydrocarbons than does tobacco smoke, and so has the potential to cause cancer of the lungs and respiratory tract.

The Mayo Clinic is currently rated the number one hospital in the USA. It employs 4,500 physicians and scientists who work on the cutting edge of science, and it spends over US$660 million each year on research.

The research publication by Mayo Clinic further stated that marijuana smoke is commonly inhaled deeper and held for longer than is tobacco smoke, thereby increasing the exposure of the lungs to the cancer-causing agents (carcinogens).

Time in the body

Research has also shown that marijuana (ganja) can stay in a person's system from 24-48 hours after casual use, and up to a month if the person is a chronic smoker. And so, the question may arise as to whether a person's job performance may still be impacted even if the person has not taken the substance recently. In some jurisdictions where drug testing is mandatory for work, a positive marijuana test is often used as an indication of impairment.

As ganja use is not only prevalent among adults but also increasingly being used by young people below the legal age in Jamaica, we all need to be familiar with both the potential benefits as well as negative effects that may be caused from the use of the substance. To be warned is to be armed, as we all are a part of the social fabric of Jamaica and are impacted by the indulgences of our brothers and sisters.

Dr Derrick Aarons MD, PhD — is a consultant bioethicist/family physician; a specialist in ethical issues in health care, research, and the life sciences; and is the ethicist at the Caribbean Public Health Agency — CARPHA. (The views expressed here are not written on behalf of CARPHA).




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