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October 18, 2001

Drug Testing Should Focus on Chronic, Not Casual Drug Users, Study Says

Miami, FL: Casual drug use has no significant impact on employment status and therefore should not be the focus of workplace drug testing programs, according to a study published this week in the Southern Economic Journal.

"Nonchronic drug use was not significantly related to employment or labor force participation," researchers at University of Miami's Health Services Research Center found. "These findings suggest that workplace policies for illicit drug use should consider chronic or problem drug users apart from light or casual users."

Authors did conclude that chronic illicit drug use contributed negatively to workplace performance. They suggested that ideal workplace drug testing procedures should focus chiefly on problem users similar to the way many offices differentiate between casual drinkers and alcoholics. According to the federal Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), seventy percent of illicit drug users age 18 to 49 are employed full time.

The Miami study is one of several calling into question the effectiveness of standard drug testing programs - primarily urinalysis - that detect the presence of nonpsychoactive drug metabolites (mostly for marijuana), but not impairment.

A 1994 study by the National Academy of Sciences concluded, "If an organization's goal is to avoid work decrement (e.g. accidental injuries, performance level) due to impairment, then research should be conducted on the utility of performance tests prior to starting work as an alternative to alcohol and other drug tests." Researchers further added, "Despite beliefs to the contrary, ... [there exists] no evidence from properly controlled studies that employment drug testing programs widely discourage drug use or encourage rehabilitation."

In addition, a 1998 study by the Le Moyne College Institute of Industrial Relations of 63 "high-tech" firms found that pre-employment and random drug screening procedures resulted in a significant loss of worker productivity and appeared to create "a negative work environment" for employees.

Recent drug testing data compiled by Quest Diagnostics indicate that more than 60 percent of all positive workplace drug tests are for marijuana only. Because urine tests detect a metabolized by-product of marijuana and not the drug itself, pot-smokers may test positive days or even weeks after using it. By comparison, cocaine - the second most commonly detected drug - typically will wash out of the system within 48 hours.

An abstract of the study may be read online at:

For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre or Paul Armentano of The NORML Foundation at (202) 483-8751.

No Difference in Cognition Among Long-Term Pot Smokers, Control Group, Study Finds

Boston, MA: Long-term marijuana smokers who abstain from the drug for one week or more perform no differently on cognition tests than nonusers, according to findings published in the current issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Researchers said that test subjects comprised of long-term daily smokers "showed virtually no significant differences from control subjects (those who had smoked marijuana less than 50 times in their lives) on a battery of 10 neuropsychological tests. Former heavy users, who had consumed little or no cannabis in the three months before testing, [also] showed no significant differences from control subjects on any of these tests on any of the testing days."

Authors did claim that current heavy smokers tested more poorly than controls for up to seven days after discontinuing the drug on one test measuring "memory of word lists."

A previous study by researchers at John Hopkins University of the potential effects of long-term pot smoking found "no significant differences in cognitive decline between heavy users, light users, and nonusers of cannabis" over a 15-year period in a cohort of 1,318 subjects.

According to NORML Board Member Dr. John P. Morgan, author of Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts: A Review of the Scientific Evidence: "There is no convincing evidence that [even] heavy long-term marijuana use impairs memory or other cognitive functions. ... During the past 30 years, researchers have found, at most, minor cognitive differences between chronic marijuana users and nonusers, and the results differ substantially from one study to another."

Full text of the study may be accessed online at the Archives of General Psychiatry website at:

For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre or Paul Armentano of The NORML Foundation at (202) 483-8751.

British House of Commons to Debate Bill Legalizing Pot

London, England: Legislation seeking to "legalize the sale, supply and use of cannabis for recreational and therapeutic purposes" is scheduled to be debated by London's House of Commons next week. The bill, sponsored by former Labor and Welsh Health Minister Jon Owens Jones (Cardiff Central), is backed by MPs from all three main political parties but is not expected to become law.

Owens said that it's clear "that cannabis use is a fact of life and trying to deal with it through the criminal justice system is absurd."

In July, the House of Commons agreed to begin a formal inquiry on the decriminalization of marijuana.

For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre or Paul Armentano of The NORML Foundation at (202) 483-8751.

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