Drugs at work FAQs

Drugs, the law and work.

The law is not a good guide when it comes to the safety of drugs. Some drugs like alcohol and tobacco are very dangerous yet legal while others that appear less harmful are illegal. But the key point is: all drugs whether legal or illegal, whether prescribed by your doctor, bought in a supermarket or on the street, are potentially dangerous if misused and all have side-effects. 

What illegal drugs do I need to know about?

Cannabis (or weed) can be very relaxing. But even short-term use can cloud the mind and increase anxiety – neither are good things at work. Long-term use has been linked with mental health problems. Smoking the drug with tobacco means you’re exposed to all the dangers of smoking too. 

The discussion about cannabis is confused because it can help people with certain painful medical conditions.

Cocaine can make you feel very happy but increase your willingness to take risks. This can lead to dangers both at work and leisure. It is also highly addictive and easy to overdose on leading to a heart attack. 

Stimulants – and this includes amphetamines, amphetamine-like drugs such as mephedrone (meow) and ecstasy (MDMA) – may make you feel more ‘alive’ but also more anxious. They may overstimulate your heart causing a heart attack. On coming down, insomnia and depression are common. Amphetamines are highly addictive. Ecstasy can be too.

Mixing drugs with each other and/or alcohol tends to make things worse – especially if you later need hospital treatment and are unable to explain what you’ve taken.

What about legal highs?

Just because something is legal does not mean it is safe. It may be legal as plant food or for putting in your bath but that doesn’t mean you want to put it in your mouth. 

Some legal highs are highly addictive. Names and ingredients change all the time so it is difficult to be certain what you’re taking. Moreover, what is legal and what isn’t changes too. Meow used to be legal. It isn’t now.

Why about drug-testing at work?

Drug testing is common in safety-critical industries such as transport, engineering, construction etc. It’s not done to spoil your social life but to ensure that you, your colleagues and the public are safe. That’s why the principle of drug-testing at work is backed by the trades unions.

Different companies will test for different drugs but most use a urine test to check for cannabis, cocaine, amphetamine, methamphetamine, benzodiazepine (tranquilisers) and opiates (heroin, morphine and morphine-like drugs). 

For how long do drugs remain detectable?

Hard to say. It depends what you take, how much, for how long and what sort of drug testing is used. As a rule of thumb:

  • Amphetamine/crystal meth: 1-5 days
  • Cannabis: 2-3 days for one-off use (up to 2 months for long-term)
  • Cocaine: 1/2 day–3 days 
  • Ecstasy (MDMA): 1-4 days
  • Ketamine 2-4 days
  • Heroin/Methadone 2-5 days
  • LSD: 1-3 days
  • Magic Mushrooms (Psilocybin): up to 8 hours

Sometimes further tests are needed: a positive result for opiates may be from heroin or from a headache remedy that included codeine or similar.

Although the possession of certain drugs is illegal, a person cannot be charged simply because they test positive after a drugs test.

Is it safe to buy drugs online?

Not unless you've a prescription. See the internet and health.

I’ve got a drugs problem

Admitting you’ve a problem is the hardest part. You could talk to your GP or local drug treatment service (most accept self-referrals). There’s information on the Frank website or helpline 0300 123 6600.

Date published 04/05/16
Date of last review 04/05/16
Date of next review 04/05/19


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