A workplace drug and alcohol testing company has introduced a test for synthetic cannabis after being told of widespread conversion to the legal drug by workers to avoid detection of plant-based cannabis.
The synthetic drugs, of which there are several versions, are made in a laboratory and added to herbs for smoking.
They produce similar effects to traditional cannabis, such as euphoria and hunger, but are said to be more potent.
A national company, The New Zealand Drug Detection Agency (NZDDA), said yesterday it was now able to do work-place testing for two types of so-called synthetic cannabinoids, the first in New Zealand to offer the service.
The laboratory testing would be done in the United States from urine samples and would cost about $200 per test. "There will be huge demand," said managing director Kirk Hardy. "We're doing around 4000 tests per month. We already know, anecdotally, that people have switched from cannabis to the synthetic cannabis in order to try and get around being tested positive at work.
"It causes the same, if not worse, problems in workplaces in terms of impairment."
He said evidence of synthetic cannabis was detectable for the same period as plant-based cannabis - up to 72 hours after a person used it.
KiwiRail, whose drug and alcohol testing is done by Mr Hardy's company, said it was interested in the synthetic cannabis test.
"We take drug testing very seriously and will work with our people on assessing whether we will introduce this particular test on top of our current regime," a KiwiRail spokeswoman said.
"Approximately two-thirds of our employees work in what we assess as safety critical areas, but all our employees have to comply with our drug and alcohol policy."
She would not say how many drug tests were done for KiwiRail.
Air New Zealand declined to answer questions about its drug and alcohol testing because it had "not yet sighted" the new product.
Unionists interviewed were unenthusiastic about random drug and alcohol testing. However, Rail and Maritime Transport Union organiser John Kerr was supportive of testing that could detect workers who might be impaired by drug or alcohol use and was aimed at rehabilitation.
"Workers who work in safety critical areas don't want to work alongside people who are impaired," he said.
Fritz Drissner, the health and safety co-ordinator of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, said that under court rulings random testing could be done only on staff who worked in safety-sensitive areas or roles.