06 December 2021 |

Cannabis Impairment Tests Are Broken

By Matthew O'Brien

Cannabis Impairment Tests Are Broken

Breaking down the need to re-examine how we test for cannabis intoxication…

Should someone drive when under the influence of cannabis?

While the answer to this question is most definitely no — how exactly we identify when someone is impaired from consuming cannabis is a more complex question.

Cannabis vs alcohol…

In order to identify when someone is driving under the influence of alcohol, a law enforcement officer will ask the individual to complete a breathalyzer test.

Invented in 1954, alcohol breath-testing devices use the amount of alcohol in exhaled breath to calculate the amount of alcohol in a person’s blood, also known as blood alcohol concentration (BAC).

The assumption here is that someone’s blood alcohol concentration is directly correlated to their level of impairment — as many studies have shown.

When it comes to cannabis this method of identifying someone’s level of intoxication does not hold up.

The data…

Researchers at the University of Sydney’s Lambert Initiative have analyzed all available studies on the relationship between driving performance and concentrations in blood and saliva of THC.

The results?

The amount of THC in our blood and oral fluids aren’t the right metrics we should be using to measure people’s impairment from consuming cannabis.

“Higher blood THC concentrations were only weakly associated with increased impairment in occasional cannabis users while no significant relationship was detected in regular cannabis users.” — Lead author Dr. Danielle McCartney said.

Why is this the case?

When someone frequently consumes cannabis they develop a tolerance to cannabinoids such as THC.

This results in the need to increase the quantity of THC being consumed to produce the same outcome.

This tolerance is the direct result of the downregulation of our CB1 receptors where fewer of the receptors cannabinoids such as THC binds with remain available.

Consequently, the quantity of THC needed to reduce someone’s ability to drive continues to increase as the person continues to consume cannabis — without taking tolerance breaks.

For a medical patient who consumes cannabis daily, it becomes clear why we cannot subject these people to the same standards that have allowed us to identify when people are under the influence of booze.

The implications….

The research raises very valid questions about the validity of adopting the same approach we use to identify alcohol impairment for cannabis impairment.

“Our results indicate that unimpaired individuals could mistakenly be identified as cannabis-intoxicated when THC limits are imposed by the law.”

The researchers also found that the subjective state of intoxication ie. how high someone feels was also only weakly associated with actual impairment.

Our Take

This is one of the most interesting problems in the cannabis industry today.

The assumption that the quantity of THC consumed is directly correlated to the level of impairment we experience is flawed, and there is an immediate need to create a new solution.

Keep an eye out for the work Michael Milburn is doing with DRUID.

Supporting Cannabis Research

The DEA supports increasing cannabis & psychedelics research…

The DEA & the National Institute On Drug Abuse in the U.S are in favor of a proposal to streamline the process of researching cannabis and certain psychedelics.

In summary, the white house administration is seeking to reduce the research requirements for Schedule I drugs like cannabis to match Schedule II drugs.

Current scheduling…

Cannabis is currently a Schedule I drug in the United States.

Schedule I drugs are substances or chemicals that have no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.

The war on drugs…

This is a consequence of the war on drugs where politicians such as Richard Nixon waged a new kind of war against specific communities.

“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin.

And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities”

“We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news.

Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course, we did.”

— John Ehrlichman, Richard Nixon’s Domestic Policy Chief.

Progress…

Currently, each researcher involved in a Schedule I drug study has to obtain a specific DEA registration whereas with these changes multiple researchers could work under a single DEA registration.

For research institutes, the administration proposed a policy change where they would only require one registration for multiple locations instead of requiring a separate registration for each location.

Our Take

Lowering the research requirements for cannabis in the United States is a small step in the right direction.

At a point whereby there are 3 bills in place that would federally legalize cannabis in the U.S & with 68% of Americans supporting the legalization of cannabis — it seems bigger changes are on the horizon.

The Cannabis Economy

Breaking down the impact cannabis legalization has on local economies…

There’s a number of reasons why nations have suddenly started embracing the legalization of cannabis.

From a public safety standpoint, research is revealing that cannabis is safer than the most commonly consumed recreational substance ie. alcohol, however, new job creation is an equally important factor.

The big picture…

Since 2014, states have collectively generated over $8 billion USD in tax revenue, per the Marijuana Policy Project.

In 2020, the legal cannabis industry in the U.S added 77,000 new full-time jobs bringing the total number of people that are employed full time in the U.S cannabis industry to over 310,000 people.

Additionally, cannabis is now the 5th most valuable crop in the U.S — despite the fact that cannabis remains federally illegal.

Focusing on Colorado…

While these statistics are very helpful in understanding the positive impact cannabis is having on a national level — a new report has broken down the positive impact cannabis is having on local economies.

The focus of the report is Colorado where cannabis has been legal for medical purposes since 2000 & legal for adult-use purposes since 2012.

The data…

Using local area unemployment statistics and quarterly data from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages from 2011–2018, they examined a number of very interesting data points

The study found that the commencement of adult use cannabis sales resulted in a 4.5% increase in the employment rate in the regions where adult use cannabis stores were permitted to open.

Interestingly, despite this new job creation, the opening of adult use cannabis stores in Colorado didn’t impact average wages.

Our Take

We continue to see regions that legalize cannabis benefit by receiving new taxes & a reduction in unemployment rates.

Once again, it’s becoming ever more clear that legalizing cannabis is great for local economies.