Category Archives: Drug Testing

Rationale for urine testing flawed – study finds marijuana use lowers accident risk

Testing urine for cannabis does not improve on-the-job safety. It not only fails to measure impairment, a new study confirms cannabis users have an even lower accident risk than straight people.

The entire reasoning for drug testing workers and drivers is based on the assumption that any use will cause impairment and therefore users would endanger themselves and others around them. Now a new study has undermined the rationale for drug testing workers, by showing that the use of cannabis actually reduced the risk of accidents.

Investigators at the Luasanne University Hospital in Switzerland assessed the association between the use of cannabis and/or alcohol and the risk of injury among 486 patients aged 16 and older treated for various injuries. They found alcohol use in the six hours prior to injury was associated with a three-fold elevated relative risk compared with no alcohol use, but cannabis use was inversely related to risk of injury, with only 0.33 the risk compared to no use. Cannabis users had less injuries and were actually safer than alcohol drinkers or even straight people. Despite the study’s relatively small sample size, investigators concluded:

“The results for cannabis use were quite surprising. … The present study in fact indicated a ‘protective effect’ of cannabis use in a doseresponse relationship.”

A prior case-control study conducted by the University of Missouri also reported an inverse relationship between marijuana use and injury risk, finding, “Self-reported marijuana use in the previous seven days was associated … with a substantially decreased risk of injury.”

Drug testing in New Zealand

Employers often say they have to drug test workers because of the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992, but they must also take into account the Privacy Act 1993, the New Zealand
Bill of Rights Act 1990 and the Human Rights Act 1993.

Under New Zealand employment case law, testing is allowed for:

• Pre-employment
• Post accident/incident
• Just ‘cause’
• Follow-up (after a positive test)
• Random or periodic testing for safety-sensitive positions.

New Zealand and Australia follow a common standard for urine tests (AS/NZS 4308:2008), which is based on the US Standard. It permits only two methods for analysing urine: EMIT or GCMS. No other type of urine test, and no other type of test such as hair, saliva or sweat, meets the standard because they are unreliable and have a high rate of incorrect positives and negatives.

Only EMIT and GCMS urine tests can be used for evidential purposes, and any other type of test should be challenged.

  • EMIT tests are usually conducted at doctor’s surgeries or medical centres or places like MedLab.
  • GCMS tests are performed by the government-owned ESR, who have close ties with the police and who also analyse samples collected by NZ Drug Detection Agency Ltd, a privately-owned testing outfit run by former cops.
  • A simple on-site “screen” is sometimes used (that often resembles a home pregnancy kit) but these do not meet the standard and must be confirmed with proper lab analysis.

Urine tests are made to detect only the presence of THC-COOH, the non-psychoactive metabolite
of THC. A cut-off of 50ng/ml is allowed, supposedly to allow for any second hand smoke, but that figure is actually fairly arbitrary and based on little real science.

Evidence-based testing

Drug testing advocates claim it is about safety, but they only look for the inactive metabolite that remains after someone straightens up. THC from marijuana is converted to THC-COOH, which is fat soluble and can stay in the body for several months after use. Because urine analysis does not measure the presence of THC it cannot indicate when cannabis was inhaled or ingested, or whether a person is impaired.

If testing really was about on-the-job safety, as they claim, testers could just as easily look for the presence of THC itself, which is present while a person is high. Testers could set a limit for THC based on actual impairment.

In 2007 a research team led by Franjo Grotenhermen at from the Nova Institute in Germany showed a THC level in blood of 10ng/ml was equivalent to the legal drink-driving limit of 0.05. The study found that a level below this was not associated with an increased risk of injury.

Setting an THC level that is based on evidence and comparable to alcohol impairment would be more effective, just, and more widely accepted by workers and smokers.

Beating the test

The biggest question on the lips of most pot smokers is how long they have to stop in order to give a clean urine test. In anecdotal reports people say it takes anything from 2 days to 6 weeks to be clean, but there has not been a lot of actual research on the subject.

In a new study by the US National Institute on Drug Abuse in Maryland, USA, 60 regular cannabis users were monitored during 30 days of abstinence. Their urine was tested for the presence of THC-COOH, the non-psychoactive metabolite of THC. Surprisingly, researchers found there were considerable fluctuations between days with a positive urine test and days with a negative test during this period, rather than a constant decline in THC-COOH concentrations. The average number of days until the first negative test (THC-COOH below 50 ng/ml) was 3.2 days, while the average number of days until the last positive test was 15.4 days.

If you can’t wait that long, many stores now sell products designed to beat urine tests and maintain your privacy. But just as there are two officially sanctioned types of urine test, and others that are not approved, there are specialised products designed to work for each one. Make sure you get the right product for the test you are taking, or it may not work. One of the most widely used products is synthetic urine, that comes with a heating pad and pouring spout. It’s unisex, completely undetectable, and beats all types of urine test.

Sources: Goodwin RS, et al. J Anl Toxicol 2008;32(8):562-9; Gmel G, et al. BMC Public Health 2009;9(1):40. Grotenhermen, F., et al, (2007), Developing limits for driving under cannabis. Addiction, 102: 1910–1917. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2007.02009.xVinson DC, Marijuana and other illicit drug use and the risk of injury: A case-control study. Missouri Medicine [2006, 103(2):152-156]

Declaration of interest: the author is the manager of The Hempstore.

Judging great hash

Assessing the quality of great hashish is not as simple as marijuana. You can use a loupé or magnifying glass but you can’t always tell what you are looking at. Adulterants are commonly added. But there are a few simple tricks.

Unfortunately “is it hard or soft” is no longer one of them, because dodgy suppliers have worked out how to add whatever it takes to make a hard hash soft or vice versa. There are labs in Amsterdam that boast they can take a hash from anywhere in the world and turn it into whatever type you want it to be. That means coffeeshops can still sell popular types even if they can’t get any! If you come across some hash, check how it sounds when you drop it.

Has it got “clack”? That’s how good hash sounds. Not click or clunk or dink or donk.

The next question is, has it got snap? When you pull it apart does the hash ‘snap’ leaving a tail? Poor quality hard hash cannot be pulled apart, while mediocre soft hash will stretch and crumble.

Finally, does it bubble? When you put a flame to it, does it fizz, melt and bubble? That’s what the best hash should do.

As I found, there are very few hashes these days that pass all of these tests, even in Amsterdam and even at the Cannabis Cup. I was lucky enough to check out all the entries for the Import Hash Cup.

After the cup was over, our inside lady in the Temple Dragon Crew, the cup organising committee, took me and Rob to check out what was left of the entries. Surprisingly, there was a lot left, although all of the local ice hashes had been consumed. The hotel was littered with ashtrays overflowing with roaches bigger than thumbs.

Of the 20 or so import hashes, we picked 5 that we thought would be worth smoking and took away hefty lumps of each. Only one passed the all the tests, and it was very tasty indeed (‘Aalin Grano Cru’ from Boerejonens Coffeeshop). It had snap, clack and bubble and oh my gosh did it do the business.

Rob and I raced to finish it, but the others – and these were the best of the cup entries – were a bit disappointing. A couple fizzed slightly but after half a toke just tasted of carbon.

The best hash finished nowhere in the cup, probably not helped by being entered by an little-known coffeeshop. The winners were rather predictably Barney’s Farm and Green House Seeds, the two most-promoted brands in Amsterdam.

Disclaimer: This post like others on this site is for information and education only. Marijuana and hashish are legal in Amsterdam but not in New Zealand. Check your local laws.

Synthetic cannabinoids in herbal incense not controlled by law

Synthetic cannabinoids designed to research the health effects and medical applications of cannabis are being sold as legal highs.

Brands such as Spice, Dream, Aroma, Space and possibly others have the cannabinoids, which have cannabislike effects but are usually not listed on the packets. Spice comes in several varieties and has been sold in New Zealand, Europe and Canada since 2002, while other brands have appeared more recently. The active ingredients are sprayed onto a base of herbs such as baybean, blue lotus, scullcap and lion’s tail. The products are often labelled as “incense” but are typically smoked. Anecdotal reports suggest they can also be used in a vaporiser.

Last year authorities in Germany asked a company called THC Pharm, which extracts natural cannabinoids and other psychoactive ingredients from plants, to find the active ingredient in
Spice. In December they announced they has isolated a “cannabimimetic” called JWH-018.

Then on 19 January 2009, the University of Freiburg in Germany announced that the other main active substance in Spice is related to a synthetic cannabinoid called CP 47,497. Different ratios of the two cannabinoids have apparently been used in the different varieties of Spice. US Customs was reported to have seized 100 pounds of Spice containing another potent synthetic cannabinoid called HU-210, but this has not been confirmed.

The synthetic cannabinoids activate cannabinoid receptors, causing similar effects to THC. More than one hundred synthetic cannabinoids already have been designed, many by researchers wanting to investigate the medicinal applications or health effects of cannabis, but who were stymied by anticannabis attitudes and overly restrictive government policies.

The irony is that these chemicals have crossed over onto the legal high market, also as a way of getting around cannabis prohibition. The synthetic cannabinoids in Spice do not resemble illegal cannabinoids, and therefore are not subject to laws restricting drug analogues. Analogues
must have similar molecular structures, and this is not the case.

Germany and Austria quickly banned Spice, but the products remain legal elsewhere. The problem for authorities is that because many more cannabinoids can be easily synthesized, the detected substances could easily be replaced by similar substances.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spice_(drug)
Sources: CBP, AP.

(Originally appeared in NORML News Autumn 2009)

Drug Warriors invade the classroom

As well as being ineffective, drug testing school children is a draconian invasion of privacy, writes CHRIS FOWLIE

A recent conference held by the School Trustees Association has raised the ugly spectre
of drug testing extending even into primary schools.

Trustees and principals claimed that children as young as 5 had been caught taking drugs including cannabis to school, and some – including Otamatea High School principal Haydn Hutching – said testing the entire school population was the answer.

Some principals even said they would not seek the permission of – or even inform – parents before testing their children, claiming it was purely an educational or disciplinary matter.

Several schools are even sending drug-sniffing dogs on patrol in the classrooms. Palmerston North Boys’ High School conducts up to seven sniffer-dog searches a year, at a cost of $1500 each time. They receive no additional funding for this, so the money is taken from somewhere else – perhaps education resources or teacher’s wages.

The Ministry of Education doesn’t endorse drug searches in schools, spokesman Vince Cholewa told the Manawatu Evening Standard. He advises schools to seek legal advice if they do decide on searches. Mr Cholewa said only police have a right to search a school if drugs are suspected.

“Teachers aren’t above the law,” he said.

Student drug testing is not without its opponents, who insist research does not show drug testing policies make any difference to whether young people use drugs. A 2003 study sponsored by the US National Institute on Drug Abuse that included 94,000 students in 900 American schools, half with a drug testing policy and half without, found there was no difference in illegal drug use among students.

Drug tests violate students’ privacy, and could wrongly turn students into suspects if they refuse. As the programs expand, children may find their ability to object to the tests eroded. Tests could open the door to lawsuits. Most tests are imprecise and can show “false positives” as well as “false negatives”.

Only the GCMS test is truly accurate, but at a cost of at least $100 per test this is unlikely to be used by many schools, who will likely use the cheaper and less accurate screening cards (similar to a home pregnancy test).

Advocates of testing do not appear to have considered the consequences of violating the privacy of a child as young as 5 by forcing them to pee into a cup. At the very least, it could raise awareness of drugs in a child who until then had never thought about them.

What happens after a positive result is another concern. Many schools simply expel the student, which creates additional problems with alienation, delinquency and crime. Then again, these outcomes must by now be familiar to all prohibitionists.

(NORML News Winter/Spring 2006)