‘Stoner’ tropes — think the lazy, useless, slow-talking bro who has paraded across your screen for years now — are deeply implanted in the American psyche, but Hollywood caricatures bear little resemblance to reality.
That’s why a little noticed study published earlier this year in the journal Group and Organizational Management could upend business as usual for HR departments across the nation. Researchers from Auburn University and San Diego State found that while cannabis use exploded in the last decade, there was still no solid research examining how cannabis use impacts employee’s performance the next day.
“Although it is common for organizations to screen employees and applicants for substances including cannabis and for politicians and societal leaders to make sweeping claims about cannabis,” they write, “there is virtually no empirical research exploring cannabis use in relation to the modern workplace.”
So the researchers devised a study that, instead of simply asking people whether they use marijuana – or if they, say, had used it in the last week – would look at when they use cannabis in relation to work. They then had supervisors rate the daily performance of 281 marijuana users for an entire year. They found that cannabis use before or during work can have an effect on job performance, but they uncovered no such correlation with after-work cannabis use.
This has always been puzzling. Alcohol is widely accepted as a lubricant to help people wind down and take some stress off after rough workdays, in part because of the successful marketing campaigns from the nation’s liquor, beer and wine producers. Companies don’t view cannabis in the same way, even as millions of Americans now consume it for the same reasons. But HR departments and pesky bosses may need to throw out some of their old DVDs, because they’ve been reading the wrong script.
These researchers postulate that using alcohol often leads to hangovers, which can affect the next day’s work performance, even as people who use cannabis for stress or pain relief, or even as a sleep aid, don’t suffer the same, negative side effects associated with alcohol or other drug use.
“Other substances share parts of these benefits, yet also include key differences that may not benefit working individuals,” they note. “Common narcotic analgesics consumed to modulate pain, for instance, provide relief by attaching synthetic compounds to nerve receptors which ‘tricks’ the body into suppressing or delaying pain signals.”
Their conclusions echo a recent finding by University of British Columbia researchers, who found that most past studies on the impact of cannabis on job performance were often flawed and biased. A National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine review came to the same conclusions: Hollywood got it wrong again.
“Beyond offering empirical evidence with regard to a topic at the forefront of a national and international debate,” the authors write, “this study’s findings highlight the need to move away from broad historical conceptualizations of cannabis (e.g., “have you ever used cannabis”) in favor of more nuanced (e.g., trilateral) work-centric conceptualizations. We hope this research serves as a foundation for what could be a rich and long field of inquiry in the years to come.”
Corporations, smaller firms and the federal government still degrade and embarrass employees by forcing them to piss in cups, and just one positive from one of those dreaded “drug tests” has cost countless thousands of Americans their job, access to health care and economic security.
And it’s not just in prohibitionist states. It’s still legal to fire people for cannabis use in states that legalized recreational marijuana. In a case that made national news, Brandon Coats, a Colorado medical-marijuana patient, tested positive and was fired from his job at Dish Network. The state Supreme Court ruled in 2015 in favor of the employer, even though Coats’ use was at home. The state legislature, once again, killed a measure aimed at upending what many see as a relic of a bygone-era in this year’s session.
Other examples abound, too. It’s only since states began legalizing medicinal and recreational cannabis that companies began rethinking their decades’ old drug policies. Many companies, especially in the 11 states and the District of Columbia that had previously legalized recreational marijuana, have also been finding it’s harder to find good employees if they terminate anyone who tests positive for cannabis. The four new adult-use states that just approved it on Election Day will learn it soon enough.
That’s why this new research can go a long way in helping get the nation’s employers more in line with the nation’s increasingly pro-cannabis workforce — one that’s actually a lot more spry, peppy and effective then we’ve all been indoctrinated to believe.