Studies Show Millions of Americans Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana
January 13th, 2020
App, Exclusive, News, Top News
As many states have legalized marijuana in some form, the safety concerns surrounding cannabis-impaired driving are growing. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recent national estimates of drivers who operate a car under the influence of marijuana are in the millions. CNN discussed these findings in an article, highlighting the fact that about 12 million American adults reported driving under the influence of cannabis, while 2.3 million reported driving under the influence of other illegal drugs. That 12 million number means that 4.7 percent of American adults drive under the influence of marijuana, and 0.9 percent drive under the influence of other drugs.
As a result, marijuana breathalyzer-type devices that could aid police enforcement are in various stages of development. There are significant hurdles, however.
Testing for impairment with alcohol is fairly straightforward, as human bodies process and metabolize alcohol in consistent and definable ways. With cannabis, it’s complicated. THC, the intoxicating ingredient in cannabis, is metabolized by the body into a variety of forms. These metabolites can be found in the body long after the intoxicating effects wear off. Further complicating the picture is that there is no consensus on how much of which kind of THC in the body definitively prove impairment. Lack of scientific knowledge is really the crux of the issue, as the plant’s illegal status has effectively eliminated research for the past 80 years or so.
Research on the way
Fortunately, companies and regulators are recognizing cannabis-impaired driving as a major public safety issue and are actively pursuing solutions. For example, the state of California recently passed legislation to fund research efforts by the California Highway Patrol. The plan is to test drivers in a controlled environment, on CHP property, with the hopes of attaining a clearer picture of what constitutes cannabis impairment.
Cannabix Technologies Inc. (CSE: BLO) (OTC: BLOZF) is approaching the problem from the other end, and its research could help inform public policy along the way. The company is developing marijuana breathalyzer devices with the objective of introducing accurate and convenient tools for measuring THC in the breath for both law enforcement and workplace applications.
According to Cannabix, breath is a better indicator of impairment than saliva, blood, or urine because THC only remains in breath for short period of time (2-3 hours) before becoming virtually undetectable, whereas it can remain in other body fluids for many hours, days, or even weeks after smoking. This short time period of detection in breath aligns with the peak impairment window.
Recently, Cannabix was mentioned in a CNN article discussing the obstacles to and potential solutions for the development of a reliable cannabis testing system. The company also recently announced significant improvements in the performance of its FAIMS technology, showing a 6-fold increase in the sensitivity of the THC detection device. Cannabix is developing a more robust device designed for roadside use by law enforcement while simultaneously developing a smaller, more affordable version for home or workplace markets.
Serious Public Safety Issue
A recent survey by AAA indicates that Americans have a fairly casual attitude toward driving while high on cannabis. About 70% of respondents think it’s unlikely that stoned drivers will be caught, which makes sense considering the lack of tools currently available to law enforcement. More concerning is the estimated 14.8 million drivers who reported driving within one hour of cannabis use in the last 30 days. On top of that, 7% of respondents thought it was acceptable to drive after using the drug (compared to 1.6% who approved of drinking and driving).
With the recent rise and spread of cannabis legalization, law enforcement agencies have been tasked with the massive project of educating the public about the dangers of driving high, while simultaneously developing procedures to get impaired drivers off of the streets. At this point, judging by the AAA survey, the education is going slowly and the public has no confidence in the ability of officials to enforce the laws on the books.
Various jurisdictions and organizations are starting to allocate resources to study the thorny question of what constitutes cannabis impaired driving. That type of research could lead to a clearer definition of cannabis impairment. Concurrently, the R&D being conducted by Cannabix Technologies could lead to an accurate and convenient roadside test that can be used to better identify THC in a person’s system during the peak impairment window.
This is a sort of positive feedback loop, created by long-suppressed scientific research made possible by the wave of cannabis legalization sweeping across the continent. Just as scientists are studying the potential medicinal effects of the plant after many years of prohibition, researchers are catching up on the potential downsides of cannabis use in everyday life. No, it’s not Reefer Madness with hallucinations, insanity, and killing. But driving under the influence is a serious public safety concern that is finally being addressed through the proper channels of scientific understanding. It’s about time.
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