New Fed Study Shows Alcohol Impact Greater Than Cannabis While Driving
The federal government partially funded a recent study that lead researchers to the conclusion that alcohol has a much bigger impact on driving than cannabis. The study was funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (a federal safety regulator) as well as the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Office on National Drug Control Policy. Researchers found that alcohol ‘significantly increased lane departures/minimum and maximum lateral acceleration; these measures were not sensitive to cannabis’. Researchers went on to say that drivers under the influence of cannabis ‘may attempt to drive more cautiously to compensate for impairing effects, whereas alcohol-influenced drivers often underestimate their impairment and take more risk’.
The testing took place in Iowa City and consisted of 13 men and 6 women who, on average, consumed cannabis 3-10 times per month. Test subject were provided with alcohol, a cannabis vaporizer or a placebo; with the level of alcohol and cannabis scientifically measured in hopes to simulate comparable levels of intoxication. Each participant was then placed behind the wheel of a 1996 Malibu sedan which had been outfitted as part of the ‘most sophisticated driving simulator of its kind to mirror real life situations’ according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This simulator provided researchers the vessel to test patterns in steering, braking and accelerating as well as response to realistic sound cues.
Alcohol and cannabis consumption both resulted in a similar level of ‘in-lane’ weaving. However, alcohol alone, not cannabis, was proven to increase the amount of times cars would actually exit the lane, in addition to the speed in which they would weave and swerve. Overall, the study concluded that cannabis had a significantly lower effect on drivers than alcohol. Cannabis came with its own drawbacks as the study also proved the drug can cause tunnel vision through reduction in peripheral vision.
Alcohol and cannabis consumption both resulted in a similar level of ‘in-lane’ weaving. However, alcohol alone, not cannabis, was proven to increase the amount of times cars would actually exit the lane, in addition to the speed in which they would weave and swerve.
Test subjects who vaporized cannabis reached a comparable level of intoxication as one would see with alcohol. Research shows the effect on a driver with a THC concentration level of 13.1ug/l is similar to a driver blowing a 0.08 Breathalyzer test. This is vital information moving forward as, to this day, no methods exist to rapidly and accurately test for cannabis intoxication. Currently, the speediest testing process is done through blood collection, which can take hours to facilitate and then weeks to process.
Cannabis is medically legal (in some form) in 23 US states as well as in Washington D.C., in addition to being recreationally legal for adults in 4 US states. While more research is necessary and forthcoming, this is a very positive step in the right direction for the cannabis industry. For the first time in a long while, the federal government is taking a good hard look at the effects of cannabis. Once the effects of cannabis intoxication are proven through federally funded studies like this one, a more instantaneous testing system can be put in place and proper regulation and law enforcement can continue to advance. This testing, in conjunction with medical advancements, should lead to a more immediate declassification of cannabis as a Schedule 1 substance.
“Marijuana is far less harmful than alcohol, and like alcohol it should not be included in federal drug schedules.” – Director Dan Riffle, Marijuana Policy Project
What do you think about these test results? Is it a good sign that the federal government is funding these studies? Join the conversation and comment below!
Photo Credit: Joshua Sortino