According to the New South Wales Trade and Investment mine safety update, synthetic cannabinoids were detected in as many as one in 10 Western Australian miners last year.
Drug use in the workplace is certainly not limited to minesites and neither is it limited to synthetic cannabis use.
However, a pressing issue about synthetic cannabis use on minesites is it can pretty much go undetected by drug testing and it is understood retailers selling synthetic cannabis have been marketing it as a “legal high”
Occupational health and safety personnel soon caught on to the trend and minesites began requesting synthetic cannabis be tested along with the other mainstream drugs.
Synthetic cannabinoids function similarly to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), with users reporting feelings of euphoria and relaxation.
However, the lab-made product can cause adverse effects, with evidence pointing to anxiety, agitation, paranoia and severe hallucinations, which are symptoms not usually present with organic grown cannabis.
While WA and most other states moved to ban the popular substance Kronic when it became known for its use as a legal alternative to cannabis, just recently a new strain – dubbed Venom – came out on the market.
According to WA Police, one chemical compound in Venom is legal and one is not, bringing into question the legal status of the product.
While the WA government has listed 15 synthetic cannabinoids as banned substances under the (WA) Poisons Act, manufacturers at present can test, try and mix new strains that may not meet the banned substance list.
National Drug Research Institute director and professor Steve Allsop told MiningNewPremium there was a lack of knowledge surrounding synthetic cannabis drugs simply because they had only been around for about 5-6 years.
“The other problem is we don’t always know what’s in synthetic cannabis,” he said.
While Allsop said he was concerned about the use of synthetic cannabis, especially Venom being used in the workplace, he stressed there was no hard evidence to suggest use was widespread.
Allsop said anyone under the influence of these drugs while operating any type of machinery had serious potential to cause harm to themselves and others.
According to Allsop, another issue with synthetic cannabis was the use of the internet to market and supply the product.
Allsop said this factor combined with uncertainty surrounding the drug, due to the fact synthetic cannabis is relatively new and the speed at which new substances could come on the market presented new challenges for occupational health and safety in all workplaces.
The state government laboratory ChemCentre has measures in place to detect synthetic cannabinoid use, while companies like Kinetic Health sell useful testing equipment to equip companies with drug testing onsite.
While ChemCentre is not allowed to give out specific information on the number of requests it gets for synthetic cannabinoid testing and from which companies, a ChemCentre spokesman confirmed to MNP that it received requests from clients to test for synthetic cannabinoids
“It’s something that we incorporate into our normal workplace drug testing service,” the spokesman said.
The request takes 48 hours to process before it gets sent back to the client.
But there could be a more effective way of testing for synthetic cannabinoid use and it comes in the form of strips.
The Australian Drug Detection Agency recently announced synthetic cannabis could be accurately tested in Queensland workplaces.
ADDA chief executive Calum Davie said the method had been independently evaluated by an accredited AS/NZ4308 standard approved laboratory.
“This provides our clients and also the people undergoing the screening piece of mind in relation to the accuracy of the devices and their use,” Davie told MNP.
Davie said high demand for adequate testing of synthetic cannabis led to the creation of the testing kit.
“It has been largely prompted by client need for immediate onsite screening, especially by those who are involved in safety-critical industries such as mining, transport and manufacturing,” he said.
Davie said testing devices to detect synthetic cannabis use were still in their early stages since the lab-made drug hadn’t been around for long.
“The technology has taken some time to catch up, as will always be the case as new drugs evolve,” he said.
The availability of these strips proves timely, as evidence is showing that synthetic drug use is beginning to climb, Davie says.
A report released last month by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre found that 40% of drug users reported using a synthetic substances such as synthetic cannabis.
“With this new, accurate synthetic drug cannabis test now available, Queensland employers can be assured that testing at their workplace for synthetic cannabis is carried out to the highest possible standard,” Davie said.
While the service is limited to Queensland, which has a heavy-resource sector like WA, the testing equipment could soon become available for WA in 2013 when several ADDA branches are established.
While testing techniques to spot synthetic cannabis use are beginning to advance, Allsop said drug testing alone was not enough.
“You bring in advanced drug testing and some people will find more innovative ways to get around that,” he said.
“It means you need to build a safety culture, you need to educate, it means you need to provide treatment options for those that get into difficulty.
“That more comprehensive approach is likely to be more successful than relying on drug testing alone because people will just try and find ways around it.”
WA police organised crime squad chemical division detective sergeant Craig Annesley told MNP the police were intending to provide information via the Chamber of Minerals and Energy to educate employees “who may mistakenly believe that synthetic cannabinoids are not harmful or illegal”