As cannabis prohibition laws crumble seemingly by the day, it’s allowing more research to be performed on this psychoactive substance that has long been a part of the human experience.
The first study to analyze the effects of cannabis on driving performance found that it caused almost no impairment. The impairment that it did cause was similar to that observed under the influence of a legal alcohol limit.
Researchers at the University of Iowa’s National Advanced Driving Simulator carried out the study, sponsored by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, National Institute of Drug Abuse, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy
“Once in the simulator—a 1996 Malibu sedan mounted in a 24-feet diameter dome—the drivers were assessed on weaving within the lane, how often the car left the lane, and the speed of the weaving. Drivers with only alcohol in their systems showed impairment in all three areas while those strictly under the influence of vaporized cannabis only demonstrated problems weaving within the lane.
Drivers with blood concentrations of 13.1 ug/L THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana, showed increased weaving that was similar to those with a .08 breath alcohol concentration, the legal limit in most states. The legal limit for THC in Washington and Colorado is 5 ug/L, the same amount other states have considered.”
As expected, there was impairment in all areas when alcohol and cannabis were mixed. But cannabis itself, when taken in moderate amounts, seems to cause no significant driving impairment.
In fact, some would argue that it makes them drive safer or slower.
The study’s findings further illuminate the fact that alcohol is a much more dangerous drug than cannabis, and somehow the former is legal while the latter is not.
With cannabis being decriminalized across the country, law enforcement will be getting their “rules and regulations” in place for the driving masses. They should be based on science and not Reefer Madness mentalities.
Another important finding should deter any attempts to deploy instant roadside tests for THC-blood levels.
“The study also found that analyzing a driver’s oral fluids can detect recent use of marijuana but is not a reliable measure of impairment.
“Everyone wants a Breathalyzer which works for alcohol because alcohol is metabolized in the lungs,” says Andrew Spurgin, a postdoctoral research fellow with the UI College of Pharmacy. “But for cannabis this isn’t as simple due to THC’s metabolic and chemical properties.”
(Article by Justin Gardner; from The Free Thought Project)
One of the boogiemen of legalizing a previously banned substance is that fear that our streets will become populated by drug-addled drivers, plowing into family station wagons and school buses. Opponents to legalizing marijuana point to studies that show increases in drivers testing positive for marijuana while driving. Proponents of ending the prohibition on marijuana point to similar studies showing that these people testing positive for marijuana are usually in trouble because they are also drunk-driving. Radley Balko, over at the Washington Post has put together some interesting findings concerning driving fatalities in Colorado, since they legalized pot in 2012:
As you can see, roadway fatalities this year are down from last year, and down from the 13-year average. Of the seven months so far this year, five months saw a lower fatality figure this year than last, two months saw a slightly higher figure this year, and in one month the two figures were equal. If we add up the total fatalities from January through July, it looks like this:
Here, the “high” bar (pardon the pun) is what you get when you add the worst January since 2002 to the worst February, to the worst March, and so on. The “low” bar is the sum total of the safest January, February, etc., since 2002. What’s notable here is that the totals so far in 2014 are closer to the safest composite year since 2002 than to the average year since 2002. I should also add here that these are total fatalities. If we were to calculate these figures as a rate — say, miles driven per fatality — the drop would be starker, both for this year and since Colorado legalized medical marijuana in 2001. While the number of miles Americans drive annually has leveled off nationally since the mid-2000s, the number of total miles traveled continues to go up in Colorado. If we were to measure by rate, then, the state would be at lows unseen in decades.
That's good news. Even for people against the legaliztion of marijuana, they should be happy that fewer people are dying on the highways—even if this correlation is not a causation. Some people believe that there is a causation in these numbers as (proponents argue) the legal option of getting high on marijuana can replace, in some cases, getting high on alcohol, and driving while high is probably less dangerous than driving while intoxicated on alcohol.
No doubt there are myriad other reasons for the decrease in road fatalities—better cars with better safety features. The important point is that the numbers are down, and while these numbers may have nothing at all to do with the legalization of marijuana, the belief that marijuana legalization might lead to tons of terrible driving accidents, so far, is unwarranted.
VIA Daily KOS
An amazing study authored by professors D. Mark Anderson (University of Montana) and Daniel Rees (University of Colorado) shows that traffic deaths have been reduced in states where medical marijuana is legalized.
According to their findings, the use of medical marijuana has caused traffic related fatalities to fall by nearly nine percent in states that have legalized medical marijuana (via The Truth About Cars).
The study notes that this is equal to the effect raising the drinking age to 21 had on reducing traffic fatalities.
One key factor is the reduction in alcohol consumption. The study finds that there is a direct correlation between the use of marijuana and a reduction in beer sales, especially in the younger folks aged 20-29.
A drop in beer sales supports the theory that marijuana can act as a substitute for liquor.
The study also finds that marijuana has the inverse effect that alcohol does on drivers. Drivers under the influence of alcohol tend to make rash decisions and risky moves, whereas those under the influence of marijuana tend to slow down, make safer choices, and increase following distances.
Via Business Insider
It’s one our great debates – just how long does pot remain detectable in the body? A couple of weeks? A month? Three months? It’s an issue directly impacting drug testing for employment and determines whether a driver busted for a cannabis DUI can be legally regarded as being under the influence – even if sober when pulled over.
Most states in the US and seven European nations have set legal limits for blood cannabinoid concentrations; if drivers exceed it, they could be convicted. Of course, that doesn’t always accurately reflect current pot use.
Metabolites, small molecules that are intermediaries and products of metabolism of marijuana’s chemical compounds, are what remain in the body and can be detected by testing. After a person consumes pot, the psychoactive compound THC is metabolized via the liver by select enzymes, first into the active Hydroxy-THC, then transforming to the non-psychoactive THC Carboxylic Acid (THC-COOH), a fat-soluble metabolite that exits the body slowly. Pot enters the bloodstream in minutes when smoked and takes 20 minutes or more when orally ingested, and can leave the blood within 24 hours – but not always (more on that below). While pot is detectable in urine longer than in blood, this only reveals recent use, never intoxication. Some THC metabolites have an elimination half-life (the time it takes for them to lose half their pharmacologic activity) of 20 hours. THC-COOH has the longer elimination half-life of 13 days, generally regarded as the threshold for detecting cannabis in urine.
However metabolites have reportedly been detected in urine tests of heavy users for over three months. A 2009 published study of a pregnant Norwegian woman, who chronically smoked cannabis, found THC-COOH in her urine for 84 days after she finally gave up smoking (she was threatened with forced hospitalization if she didn’t quit, permissible under Norwegian law). Another ‘09 study, “Do (THC) Concentrations Indicate Recent Use in Cannabis Users,” published in the journal Addiction, assessed the whole blood THC concentrations of 25 frequent cannabis users who were confined to a secure research facility during a weeklong span of pot abstinence. The results revealed whole blood THC concentrations that were highly variable among participants, with nine having no quantifiable THC at any time. However, six subjects displayed substantial THC concentrations in their blood even after seven days of cessation from cannabis. These findings further substantiate that issuing marijuana DUI’s in one-third of America – a dozen states have zero tolerance for pot metabolites in the blood – is actually punishment for being a stoner, not for being stoned while driving.
Via High Times
Pot Smoking Could Affect Driving For Weeks, Researchers Suggest
Does marijuana affect driving safety, and if so, how dangerous are pot-smoking drivers?
There’s definitely evidence to suggest recent use might, even at somewhat low levels, increase the chances of an accident. But with recreational use now legal in Colorado and Washington, and medical use now allowed in a number of other states, what are ‘safe’ driving levels of THC (the active ingredient), and for how long after smoking should one be considered impaired?
According to new research appearing in Clinical Chemistry (full study), the journal of the American Association of Clinical Chemistry (AACC), cannabis can be detected in the blood, at a level that might affect driving, for weeks after the last 'intake.'
“Our results demonstrate, for the first time as far as we are aware, that cannabinoids can be detected in blood of chronic daily cannabis smokers during a month of sustained abstinence,” said the paper’s conclusion statement. “This is consistent with the time course of persisting neurocognitive impairment reported in recent studies.”
This underlines a point, that while marijuana legalization has been moving rapidly, there’s been very little research done about the effects of daily smoking on driving safety--or on ways that law enforcement might expedite testing.
How much daily smoking can go with daily driving, if at all?
Part of the problem is that with regular consumption, the active ingredient in cannabis (THC), is present in the blood in variable concentrations that don’t necessarily decrease predictably like blood-alcohol.
Washington state set an official threshold of 5 nanograms of THC per millimeter of blood, although some have claimed that amount to be arbitrary. And 14 other states have set limits on plasma or serum THC concentration as indicating driving impairment.
Meanwhile, a recent informal (yet very amusing) test of pot-smoking drivers done by CNN found several subjects with levels well above those limits to be, anecdotally, more functional than drunk drivers would be at several times the legal limit, for sure.
According to a 2007 National Roadside Survey (NRS), which investigated the prevalence of drug-involved driving based on a real-world sampling, more drivers tested positive for drugs than alcohol—although that included illegal drugs as well as legal drugs that might influence driving safety, such as prescription painkillers, antidepressants, sleep aids, and ADHD medications.
The new research, based on a method in which THC-positive subjects were studied with daily blood samples for 30 days, finds that throughout a month of abstinence, cannabinoids can be detected in the blood of so-called 'chronic daily smokers.’
Yes, surprisingly, not even this had been done before, scientifically.
“Acute impairment is well documented for hours after cannabis intake, whereas the persistence of chronic impairment is less clear,” the authors state, also noting that cannabis is second only to alcohol for impaired driving and motor-vehicle accidents.
Safer relative to drunk, perhaps, but riskier than sober
To help keep it all in perspective, drunk drivers are ten times more likely to be the cause of fatal car accidents than stoned drivers. Yet results from a 2005 study in the journal Addiction found that regular cannabis smokers had about ten times the level of car-crash injuries when compared with those who abstained or used infrequently.
What this calls for—at least as a release accompanying the new results suggests—is a unified 'per se' drugged driving policy—meaning that any detectable amount of a controlled substance could potentially be grounds for finding the driver guilty of impaired driving.
Do you think that's fair—or for legal ‘users’ do you think it's worth sticking to a legal limit for impairment? Let us know in your comments below.