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How Reliable Is Cannabis DUII Technology?

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One of the most common talking points for cannabis opponents is the claim that if cannabis laws are reformed there will be mayhem on public roadways.

The ‘stoned driver epidemic’ doomsday prediction is very popular among people and organizations that campaign and lobby against cannabis reform all over the globe.

No country is immune to the phenomenon. If cannabis reform is being explored, cannabis opponents will come from all over the place to parrot this talking point.

With more countries successfully implementing cannabis reform policies, this talking point is becoming less effective since the doomsday predictions are not becoming reality.

However, cannabis is still an intoxicating substance, and driving under the influence is a very serious issue that deserves constructive conversations and solutions that are based on science.

As countries around the world try to adopt sensible ways to prevent cannabis DUIIs, breathalyzer technology is a popular option for international lawmakers. 

Cannabis Breathalyzers – Effective Technology Or Junk Science?

People that are not familiar with cannabis science often make the false assumption that cannabis intoxication can be effectively measured using a breathalyzer device.

It’s easy to understand why people make that false assumption. After all, breathalyzer technology is very effective at determining if a person is too intoxicated from alcohol consumption to safely operate a motor vehicle on a public roadway.

Unfortunately, the same is not true for cannabis consumption.

All cannabis breathalyzers on the market right now can detect the presence of cannabis, yet they cannot determine if the subject of the breathalyzer is intoxicated or not at the time of the test.

Cannabis affects different people in different ways. An infrequent cannabis user can consume an edible with 5 mgs of THC in it and be too impaired to safely operate a motor vehicle.

A user that consumes cannabis on a frequent basis can consume significantly more than 5 mgs of THC and be able to easily operate a motor vehicle in a safe manner.

Cannabis stays in a person’s system for a long time, especially when the person is a frequent cannabis consumer. 

A breathalyzer may detect cannabis use by a person that occurred well before the person operated a motor vehicle. 

Conversely, a breathalyzer may not detect cannabis use by a newbie since the driver consumed such a small amount of THC, even though the driver may be too impaired to drive at the time of the test.

Canadian Researchers Look At Cannabis Impairment And Motor Vehicle Operation

A group of researchers in Canada recently conducted a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial in which cannabis consumers ‘were randomized with a 2:1 allocation ratio to receive active (12.5% THC) or placebo (0.009% THC) cannabis.’ 

Study participants were then split into two groups – low and high THC, as measured by concentrations of THC in their blood at the time of the trial. 

The participants then performed simulated driving tasks and were assessed 30 minutes, 24 hours, and 48 hours after consuming cannabis.

Researchers concluded the following:

Ninety-six participants were randomized, and 91 were included in the final analysis (30 high THC, 31 low THC, 30 placebo). Mean speed (but not lateral control) significantly differed between groups 30 minutes after smoking cannabis (p ≤ 0.02); low and high THC groups decreased their speed compared to placebo. Heart rate, VAS drug effect and drug high increased significantly immediately after smoking cannabis and declined steadily after that. There was little evidence of residual effects in any of the measures.

The lack of residual effects from cannabis consumption on the drivers in the trial is significant from a DUI policy perspective.

If a cannabis breathalyzer only measures the presence of THC, and not how long ago the consumption occurred or if the consumption caused impairment, the breathalyzer results are basically useless.

Proving Impairment Is Vital For Effective Public Policy And Safety

Responsible members of society want their public roadways to be safe, and responsible cannabis consumers are a subset of that group.

A responsible cannabis consumer does not operate a motor vehicle when impaired and does not want to be lumped in with irresponsible cannabis consumers that get behind the wheel when they shouldn’t.

Because of that, responsible cannabis consumers are helping lead the charge when it comes to developing effective ways of detecting cannabis impairment.

Simply detecting whether or not cannabis use has occurred is not enough. The same is true for measuring metabolized THC in a person’s system.

A much more effective approach is conducting field sobriety tests in a way that incorporates effective technology.

An example of such technology is the Canary App which was developed by NORML. The Canary app ‘combines decades of research and experience, specialized mental and physical performance tests, and sophisticated analysis to accurately measure impairment due to alcohol, medication, fatigue and even the subtle impact of marijuana.’

Performance test technology accounts for a person’s cannabis tolerance level and measures cannabis impairment far more accurately than a breathalyzer that merely detects the presence of THC.

Cannabis DUI laws need to be based on science, not political views, and the technology used by enforcement agencies around the world is obviously part of that.

As lawmakers in countries around the globe continue to explore cannabis reform, effective cannabis DUI detection technology needs to be a top priority.