Over half of American medical marijuana users in drive high – and they do it frequently, a new survey reveals.
There are over 2.1 million legal medical marijuana patients registered in the US, as of May 2018.
Medical marijuana has brought a welcome alternative relief for patients of chronic pain, nausea, anxiety, insomnia and more conditions.
But forms that include the psychoactive ingredient, THC, do come with a ‘side effect’: the high, which can slow reaction times and decision-making for drivers.
New research from the University of Michigan shows just how commonly that risk is taken, and underscores the need for regulation in order to make sure that medical marijuana is safe for its users and others with whom they share the road.
More than half of medical marijuana patients drive after using the drug and have felt either ‘a little’ or ‘very’ high while driving, a new University of Michigan study reveals
‘No one has asked people this before,’ psychologist, psychiatrist and lead study author Dr Erin Bonar told Daily Mail Online, referring to asking card carrying medical marijuana users about their driving habits.
‘So we didn’t know what to expect and we were really grateful that people were honest about it, because it’s not really something people want to readily admit to doing.’
She and her team surveyed 790 medical marijuana patients in Michigan (where there are almost 270,000 total users) about their driving and cannabis use patterns.
They asked if they had driven under the influence of marijuana – which they defined as being within two hours of use – and how often in the past six months.
Over 50 percent of respondents said they’d done so at least once in the last six months.
One in five admitted they had been ‘very high’ while driving in that time period.
More than half of the participants copped to driving ‘a little high.’
This gets to the crux of the problem of setting limits on marijuana consumption and driving. A ‘high’ for one person could come from a much smaller amount of marijuana or a less potent kind than for another.
And the feeling of being high hasn’t been well quantified.
However, some of its problematic effects for driving are fairly well demonstrated.
Marijuana consumption is known to slow reflex times, delay decision-making, disrupt attention span and impair short term memory.
‘It’s worrisome that we may have many people who might be on the road that might have many things affecting their driving’ in addition to marijuana, like distracted driving, weather and other driver, says Dr Bonar.
‘But we don’t have a gold standard yet for you we help people measure their use and determine impairment.’
Law enforcement agencies and researchers are working to develop both breathalyzer and behavioral tests for marijuana impairment, but neither screening system is fully-fledged.
But in the absence of these tests, state where marijuana is legal for recreational use, like Colorado, have seen an increase in accidents involving the substance.
And soon it will be recreationally legal in Michigan too.
‘I’m already a pretty nervous driver, so what’s concerning to me is that this is one of many variables that can be affecting people who are already distracted, or might be facing bad weather,’ says Dr Bonar.
‘So we need to draw more awareness to this already critical gap, because we don’t have guidelines to determine how impaired someone is.’
Because marijuana is not federally legal, there are also no FDA guidelines about dosing or warning labels about operating vehicles while using it.
‘Medical marijuana patients are not public enemy number one, getting out there saying “I want to be risky!”‘ notes Dr Bonar.
‘They want to alleviate their symptoms and live life and not have side effects [from marijuana] but this is one way in which it does.’