Skip to main content

The Conference Board of Canada and The Globe and Mail are partnering to explore the relationship between career success and cannabis use. Employers and employees (both recreational and medical cannabis users, as well as non-cannabis users) are invited to participate in this study. (Employees interested in taking the survey can click on this link.; Employers interested in taking the survey can click on this link.) The data from these surveys will be aggregated and used to conduct analysis and create a report that will be presented Oct. 15, 2019 at a conference at The Globe and Mail Centre in Toronto.

Any medication, supplement or vitamin might have negative side effects. Cannabidiol (CBD) products, which are derived from the cannabis plant, are no different. Employees who have safety-sensitive duties should be cautious when considering using products containing CBD, despite it being dubbed the non-impairing cannabinoid.


The cannabis plant contains over 100 different phytocannabinoids (plant-based active constituents of cannabis), with the two best known being tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and CBD. While CBD is considered the non-psychoactive cannabinoid, it’s more accurate to say it doesn’t result in a high.

CBD oils and products purchased outside the legal markets in Canada are unregulated, with no quality control or oversight. Why does this matter? CBD oil purchased from unregulated sources often contains more than what’s stated on the label, according to research funded by the Institute for Research on Cannabinoids, based in Colorado Springs, Co.

Nearly 70 per cent of the samples tested in a recent study had either less or more CBD than the label claimed. Most concerning was that THC – the cannabinoid that does cause psychoactive effects and impairment – was detected in about 20 per cent of samples, despite many of these products being labelled “THC free.”

These products need regulation and quality control so people can be sure of what they are purchasing. Without these controls, people using what they believe to be pure CBD oil as a medicine may be unknowingly consuming small amounts of THC. This is a problem for employees working in safety-sensitive roles, especially if their workplace conducts alcohol and drug testing.

There is also concern that CBD may have other impairing effects that could affect safety in the workplace. One example is Epidiolex, a new CBD-based drug for types of epilepsy, primarily in children, that are difficult to treat. One of the main side effects of this prescription is drowsiness. Although it may not make people high, any medication that causes sleepiness is a concern in safety-sensitive work and could make someone unfit for duty.


Legally purchased CBD products contain small amounts of THC and other parts of the cannabis plant that can cause impairment.

Although advocates of CBD products speak about it as a benign product without any risks, it could interact with other medications. Some of these interactions may lead to side effects that could be risky in safety-sensitive workplaces.

A World Health Organization (WHO) report about CBD concluded that CBD does not appear to be addictive. The report talks about the potential therapeutic effects of CBD, stating that “it is generally well tolerated, with a good safety profile.”

CBD has quickly become one of the biggest medical infatuations. Online articles claim it to be a cure-all for a number of ailments, such as acne, cancer, and Parkinson’s. While there is some research looking at how CBD could help certain medical conditions, the findings so far are limited.


Regulators need to educate Canadians about the difference between legal CBD products and what’s readily available elsewhere. While products purchased from a Health Canada-licensed producer, as well as those purchased through legal markets, already require accurate testing and consistent reporting of CBD and THC quantities, the markets for other CBD products in Canada have not caught up.

Individuals who use CBD products, or those considering using them, should ask questions about the product, learn about its risks and benefits, and ensure they understand how it could affect safety.

It’s imperative to consider this information before assuming that CBD products are safe for those working in safety-sensitive workplaces. CBD products with minimal THC will have less of an impact than those with a high percentage of THC. However, we don’t understand cannabis well enough to be sure if someone using CBD products would be safe at their job.

Safety is paramount. Until we have more research looking specifically at CBD products, it’s difficult to say they’re safe for use the workplace. If you work in a safety-sensitive job and feel that you need to use CBD for your medical condition, consider speaking to your employer so that you remain fit for duty.

Bill Howatt is the chief of research for work force productivity at the Conference Board of Canada.

Melissa Snider-Adler is the chief medical review officer at DriverCheck Inc., a medical testing and assessment services company.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe