By LeeWEpstein

September 4, 2020


Traditionally, musicians and artists used cannabis to boost their creativity. But how does the drug affect more conventional workers?

Studying the influence of cannabis on productivity 

With cannabis now legal in more places, including Canada and several U.S. states, research is underway to determine how it affects people’s productivity at work.

A recent study found that using the drug after work did not affect people’s performance or productivity the next day. Research has explored how cannabis use at different times of the day affects people’s ability to perform tasks and meet the demands of their jobs, as well as their behavior towards their co-workers and their attitude towards their work.

Post-work cannabis use did not affect any of the measures of job performance.

However, when people used cannabis before and during work, they did not fare as well. Cannabis interfered with their ability to perform tasks, affected their concentration, and reduced their problem-solving skills. It hurt people’s “citizenship behavior” – their likelihood of helping colleagues or working in teams. And it has also increased people’s propensity to engage in counterproductive behavior, such as daydreaming at work and taking excessive time to complete a task.

Cannabis, better than alcohol? 

As with alcohol – where the consumption of a spirit compared to a beer affects not only the speed of intoxication but also the impact it has on functioning – the effect of cannabis will vary according to the product.

The study does not provide much detail about the amount of cannabis consumed by the participants – just that they used it before, during, or after work. We, therefore, know little about whether cannabis use begins to affect work performance negatively.

Nevertheless, it challenges the stereotypes of cannabis users as lazy and unmotivated. Research on the effects of alcohol on work performance is much more extensive. It shows how alcohol consumption after work and, in particular, heavy drinking affects work negatively in many ways. These include reduced productivity, higher levels of absenteeism, inappropriate behavior, and worse relationships with co-workers.

Beyond prejudices 

This new research on cannabis and productivity, although limited, is an important step forward in the study of the effects of the drug on society.

It goes beyond the historically crude assessments of cannabis use, which would ask participants whether or not they had ever used cannabis and then draw conclusions based on this simplistic grouping.

This study lacked information on different doses and frequency of use. Research in this area is, however, delicate, as people who use cannabis are likely to use other substances, such as alcohol, as well or have a history of use. It is, therefore, impossible, or even difficult to determine which substance may be responsible for an effect on performance in some cases.

Implications for drug testing

Cannabis use is not a niche activity. Estimates suggest that 20% of Americans have used it, while in Europe, it remains the most popular drug after alcohol, whether legal or not. Cannabis is well known to reduce stress and help people relax, so it is likely to be an attractive antidote for a stressful working day.

If companies have drug policies, they should be evidence-based and tailored to the needs of the job. The effect of cannabis on coordination is an area of most concern.

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