Drug Testing

NEW! NORML presents an impairment-measuring iPhone App!

Update on our Impairment Measuring iPhone AppDear NORML Friends,

Walk or Drive is the new name for our CheckPlusBalance iPhone impairment-measuring app. We still help you decide whether or not to drive based upon objective evidence-based testing. Although sensitive to marijuana, it is sensitive generally to any impairing influence. We measure memory, balance, time perception, and reaction time, and compare it to your personal baseline. NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano helped with the development of the testing.

The app on iTunes is still called checkplusbalance, and the links from the websites all point there. We will be submitting Walk or Drive with substantial enhancements in the very near future! The current free version works fine, and shortly, Walk or Drive 1.0 will be better, and still free. Try the free download now. I believe you’ll be impressed. We remain open to input.

WalkorDrive (checkplusbalance if you search the iTunes store) remains a free app at this time. The link is at www.walkordrive.com. The free download link is right at the top of the page.

I am thrilled to say that we are working with National NORML and hope to have a NORML version of this app available quite soon. We are all looking forward to Walk or Drive 2.0 N and in the meantime, check out what is already a truly useful app. NORML can lead the way to responsible driving. This is a great opportunity for all of us.

Lenny Frieling, Colorado NORML



Study finds marijuana use lowers accident risk

By Chris Fowlie (Norml News Autumn 2009)

Testing urine for cannabis does not improve on-the-job safety. It not only fails to measure impairment, a new study confirms cannabis users have an even lower accident risk than straight people.

The entire reasoning for drug testing workers and drivers is based on the assumption that any use will cause impairment and therefore users would endanger themselves and others around them. Now a new study has undermined the rationale for drug testing workers, by showing that the use of cannabis actually reduced the risk of accidents.

Investigators at the Luasanne University Hospital in Switzerland assessed the association between the use of cannabis and/or alcohol and the risk of injury among 486 patients aged 16 and older treated for various injuries. They found alcohol use in the six hours prior to injury was associated with a three-fold elevated relative risk compared with no alcohol use, but cannabis use was inversely related to risk of injury, with only 0.33 the risk compared to no use. Cannabis users had less injuries and were actually safer than alcohol drinkers or even straight people. Despite the study’s relatively small sample size, investigators concluded: “The results for cannabis use were quite surprising. … The present study in fact indicated a ‘protective effect’ of cannabis use in a dose-response relationship.”

A prior case-control study conducted by the University of Missouri also reported an inverse relationship between marijuana use and injury risk, finding, “Self-reported marijuana use in the previous seven days was associated … with a substantially decreased risk of injury.”

According to data published online in the Journal of Addictive Diseases in February 2014, past use of cannabis – as identified by the presence of the inert carboxy THC metabolite on a standard urine test – is not positively associated with workplace accidents.

A 2010 review of 20 years of published literature pertaining to cannabis, drug testing, and workplace performance similarly concluded, “[I]t is not clear that heavy cannabis users represent a meaningful job safety risk unless using before work or on the job; urine tests have poor validity and low sensitivity to detect employees who represent a safety risk; … [and] urinalysis has not been shown to have a meaningful impact on job injury/accident rates.”

Drug testing in New Zealand & Your Employment Rights

Employers often say they have to drug test workers because of the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992, but they must also take into account the Privacy Act 1993, the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and the Human Rights Act 1993.

Under New Zealand employment law, testing is allowed for:
• Pre-employment
• Post accident/incident
• Just ‘cause’
• Follow-up (after a positive test)
• Random or periodic testing for safety-sensitive positions, as defined by the precedent set in the Air New Zealand Supreme Court case.

Urine testing still needs to be consented to in your employment contract, or it is voluntary. And no one ever has the right to watch you pee or look at your genitals.

New Zealand and Australia follow a common standard for urine tests (AS/NZS 4308:2008), which is based on the US Standard. It permits only two methods for analysing urine: EMIT or GCMS. No other type of urine test, and no other type of test such as hair, saliva or sweat, meets the standard because they are unreliable and have a high rate of incorrect positives and negatives. Only EMIT and GCMS urine tests can be used for evidential purposes, and any other type of test should be challenged.

EMIT tests are usually conducted at doctor’s surgeries or medical centres or places like MedLab.
GCMS tests are performed by the government-owned lab ESR, who have close ties with the police. ESR also use GCMS to analyse samples collected by NZ Drug Detection Agency Ltd, a privately-owned testing outfit run mostly by former cops.
On-site “screens” are sometimes used (often resembling a home pregnancy kit), but these are fairly inaccurate so must be confirmed with a proper lab analysis (either EMIT or GCMS).

Urine tests are made to detect the presence of THC-COOH, the non-psychoactive metabolite of THC that remains after use. A cut-off of 50ng/ml is allowed for onsite screens, and 15ng/ml for the more accurate lab tests. This is supposedly to allow for any second hand smoke, but is actually fairly arbitrary and based on little real science.

Evidence-based testing

Drug testing advocates claim it is about safety, but they only look for the inactive metabolite that remains after someone straightens up. THC from marijuana is converted to THC-COOH, which is fat soluble and can stay in the body for several months after use. Because urine analysis does not measure the presence of THC it cannot indicate when cannabis was inhaled or ingested, or whether a person is impaired.

If testing really was about on-the-job safety, as they claim, testers could just as easily look for the presence of THC itself, which is present while a person is high. Testers could set a limit for THC based on actual impairment. In 2007 a research team led by Franjo Grotenhermen at from the Nova Institute in Germany showed a THC level in blood of 10ng/ml was equivalent to the legal drink-driving limit of 0.05. The study found that a level below this was not associated with an increased risk of injury. (Gmel G, et al. BMC Public Health 2009;9(1):40.)

Setting an THC level that is based on evidence and comparable to alcohol impairment would be more effective, just, and more widely accepted by workers and smokers. NORML has developed a model workplace policy for off-the-job cannabis use in order to help employers implement a more tolerant and enlightened workplace drug policy.

Current testing methods can be beaten!

The biggest question on the lips of most pot smokers is how long they have to stop in order to give a clean urine test. In anecdotal reports, people say it takes anything from 2 days to 3 months to be clean, but there has not been a lot of actual research on the subject.

The best way to pass is to stop using cannabis. Generally speaking, most light cannabis users (once a week or less) could test positive for perhaps 3-10 days for an EMIT test, or 7-14 days for a GCMS test. Heavier users might test positive for 10-21 days for an EMIT test or 14-90 days for a GCMS test (the record is over 4 months).

But it’s not as straightforward as that. It’s impossible to detox instantly, because of the way the cannabis metabolites are stored in fat cells and then gradually released over time. And some days more ends up in the urine than on other days. In a new study by the US National Institute on Drug Abuse in Maryland, USA, 60 regular cannabis users were monitored during 30 days of abstinence. Their urine was tested for the presence of THC-COOH, the non-psychoactive metabolite of THC. Surprisingly, researchers found there were considerable fluctuations between days with a positive urine test and days with a negative test during this period, rather than a constant decline in THC-COOH concentrations. The average number of days until the first negative test (THC-COOH below 50 ng/ml) was 3.2 days, while the average number of days until the last positive test was 15.4 days. (Goodwin RS, et al. J Anl Toxicol 2008;32(8):562-9)

If you can’t wait that long, many stores now sell products designed to beat urine tests and maintain your privacy. Some rely on little more than dilution from drinking water with the product. And just as there are three officially sanctioned types of urine test, and others that are not approved (such as hair or saliva testing), there are specialised products designed to beat each one. Make sure you get the right product for the test you are taking, or it may not have the intended result. Follow the instructions carefully. Flushes and detox drinks or capsules that are drunk or swallowed are usually only sufficient to beat EMIT tests. Products designed to beat GCMS tests use special chemical adulterants that bind to drug metabolites. One of the most widely used products is synthetic urine. The fake pee comes with a heating pad and pouring spout. It’s undetectable, and beats all types of urine test.

If you don’t want to go that route, drinking lots of water can help by flushing out the system, but if done on the day of the test your urine will be ‘too dilute’ and a re-test will be needed. Likewise, exercise can burn up fat cells, which will get rid of more stored THC-COOH, but if done on the day of a test it could elevate levels in the urine. Alcohol, fatty foods and acidic foods should be avoided in the 48 hours before a test. Your first piss of the day is the strongest so don’t give that one. Give a sample ‘mid stream’ for the best result.

In summary, your best bet is to not consent to being tested in the first place. If it does happen, make sure they follow the rules and respect your rights (which you may have to stick up for!). Try to ensure they use EMIT testing which does not detect the metabolites for so long after use, or even better, adopt Norml’s model workplace policy. Get the support of your fellow workers and talk to your union, and you may not have to do a test at all.

More information:

Declaration of interest: the author is the manager of The Hempstore, which sells products intended to beat urine tests.



Police can stop any car at any time to check the driver’s licens and the car registration and warrant of fitness. They can detain drivers for up to 15 minutes to check their details. Police can search any vehicle without warrant for “stolen property”. They must have a warrant or invoke the Misuse of Drugs Act s18 to search for drugs.

Any driver can be breath-tested for alcohol. If the driver appears intoxicated and passes a breath test, the police officer can order the driver perform a Roadside Field Sobriety Test, which involves tasks such as balancing on one leg, walking a straight line, accurately estimating when 30 seconds have elapsed. Officers also measure pupil dilation and reaction to bright light.

If in their opinion a driver has failed this series of ‘tests’, the officer can detain them to take a blood sample. The presence of any amount of illicit drugs is an offense.

THC will remain in the blood for 2-3 hours after use – so wait 3-4 hours before driving. Use the NORML-developed iPhone App to check if you are impaired. Unfortunately heavy or regular users may always have some THC in their blood even if not under the effect.


updated October 2013

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