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The Growing Problem of Synthetic Cannabinoids
4 mins read

After investigating the 2014 fatal crash of a truck-tractor and passenger bus, the National Transportation Safety Board issued its official recommendation to the FMCSA:  start testing for synthetic cannabinoids.

Also referred to as synthetic marijuana, this increasingly popular drug was found to be a key contributor to the crash, causing the driver to leave the roadway, travel across an earthen median and strike a passenger bus – all without slowing down or taking other actions to prevent the collision.

What are Synthetic Cannabinoids?

Marketed under names such as K2 or spice, synthetic cannabinoids are a newer class of drugs made from shredded plant materials that have been sprayed with chemical compounds.  These chemicals are designed to replicate the psychoactive properties of marijuana, creating an illusion among many users that these drugs are a harmless and (sometimes) legal alternative to marijuana.  They are also not currently included on the DOT drug test, making it easier for motor carrier drivers to use these substances without detection.

The problem with synthetic cannabinoids is that the chemicals are always changing – leading to health effects that are wildly unpredictable and sometimes deadly.  According to the  American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC), these health effects can include:

  • Severe agitation and anxiety
  • Rapid heartbeat and increased blood pressure
  • Muscle spasms
  • Seizures and tremors
  • Intense hallucinations and psychotic episodes
  • Suicidal and other harmful thoughts and/or actions

Despite these dangers, the drugs continue to grow in popularity.  In fact, the AAPCC has reported 7,369 calls to poison control centers from synthetic cannabinoids in 2015 so far. This is already double the amount of calls that came in during 2014, when 3,680 calls were taken about the drugs.

Preventing Future Collisions

Although there is not enough research to determine how many motor vehicle drivers are currently using synthetic cannabinoids, it’s clear the federal government is beginning to pay attention to the dangers of these drugs.  Synthetic marijuana testing has been difficult in the past, but laboratories now have ways to test for the drugs – including Quest Diagnostics, the lab Foley Services uses to serve customers in our Drug and Alcohol program.  By continuously monitoring the changing compounds found in synthetic cannabinoids, they’re able to make changes to their drug test panels to more accurately detect these complex designer drugs.

It’s still unclear when – or if –the FMCSA will follow the NTSB’s advice and mandate testing for synthetic cannabinoids. That being said, fleet owners always have the ability to test for these drugs through a Drug Free Workplace program.  This program must be managed separately from your DOT program and needs to include:

  • A policy or amend of your current policy to include these new testing procedures.
  • A second pre-employment drug test (usually done before the DOT pre-employment test) to check for these synthetic drugs.
  • A separate random drug testing program to detect synthetic drug use (depending on the laws of your state).

If you have additional questions about synthetic marijuana drug tests, or would like to inquire about Foley’s Drug-Free Workplace Program, we welcome you to call us at (800) 253-5506.

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