THE uptake in use of synthetic cannabis in the mining and construction industries, and the difficulty of testing against the ever-evolving product was increasing the risk of death or serious injury in the workplace, according to a leading supplier of drug and alcohol screening programs.
Medvet Laboratories said up to a third of Australians working in safety sensitive industries were getting away with smoking synthetic cannabis products known as Kronic, legal weed, K2, Spice and Kaos.
And it's here in Emerald.
Police this week issued a warning for residents to be aware the use of synthetic cannabis will be treated as illegal.
"Anyone found in possession of such drugs will have them confiscated to be analysed and if found to contain illegal drugs or poisons, the person will be charged with possession of dangerous drug," Sergeant Terry McCullough said.
"We are finding plenty of K2, and hearing talk of it on a fairly regular basis in Emerald.
"There is court action pending against one male person, and police have made several seizures from persons in town."
Manufactured to mimic the effects of cannabis and often touted as 'legal weed', synthetic cannabis, which comes in a raft of names and varieties, has hit the underground market in Australian mining towns in a big way.
In June the State Government made moves to ban the use and sale of synthetic cannabis after becoming aware of its prevalence, but Medvet national operations and technical manager Steve Korkoneas said the constant tinkering of the products' chemical make-up made it difficult to control.
"While synthetic cannabis has been banned in 16 countries and is illegal in Australia, regulation and control is limited, and legislation only outlaws specific compounds," Mr Korkoneas said.
"People are subsequently creating new, modified compounds in order to dodge the system and legally sell the product on the street and in retail outlets such as delis.
"As synthetic cannabinoids do not contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical present in real cannabis, it cannot be detected by commonly used, on-site urine and oral fluid tests."
He said organisations needed to vigilantly monitor the introduction of drugs and create drug testing policies that could quickly adapt to new products as they became available.
Mr Korkoneas added that in the push to stay ahead of testing regimes, producers of synthetic cannabis were increasingly using more dangerous chemical combinations.
In July, several people in Perth were hospitalised with heart palpitations and high blood pressure after reportedly smoking 'Kronic Black Label', a product that claimed to beat the ban on synthetic cannabis through the use of different chemicals.
Cannabis versus synthetic cannabis
Synthetic cannabis is a herbal and chemical product that imitates the effect of real cannabis.
It is more commonly known as Kronic, K2, legal weed, Spice and Kaos and is now illegal in Australia.
Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug in Australia.
No official studies have been conducted on synthetic cannabis and its effects, however extremely large doses may cause negative effects not seen in cannabis users.
Other effects include feelings of euphoria and relaxation, heart palpitations, hallucinations and psychosis.
Users can become addicted to synthetic cannabis.
How do drugs and alcohol affect your workplace?
It is estimated the use of drugs and alcohol in the workplace costs businesses $3.7 billion per year.
Employees with drug problems are:
3 times more likely to be late for work.
2.2 times more likely to require early dismissal.
3 times more likely to abuse sick leave.
20 - 25% less productive.
3.6 times more likely to be involved in an accident.
5 times more likely to file a worker's compensation claim.
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