Author(s): Hartman RL, Huestis MA
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Abstract BACKGROUND: Cannabis is the most prevalent illicit drug identified in impaired drivers. The effects of cannabis on driving continue to be debated, making prosecution and legislation difficult. Historically, delays in sample collection, evaluating the inactive Δ(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) metabolite 11-nor-9-carboxy-THC, and polydrug use have complicated epidemiologic evaluations of driver impairment after cannabis use. CONTENT: We review and evaluate the current literature on cannabis' effects on driving, highlighting the epidemiologic and experimental data. Epidemiologic data show that the risk of involvement in a motor vehicle accident (MVA) increases approximately 2-fold after cannabis smoking. The adjusted risk of driver culpability also increases substantially, particularly with increased blood THC concentrations. Studies that have used urine as the biological matrix have not shown an association between cannabis and crash risk. Experimental data show that drivers attempt to compensate by driving more slowly after smoking cannabis, but control deteriorates with increasing task complexity. Cannabis smoking increases lane weaving and impaired cognitive function. Critical-tracking tests, reaction times, divided-attention tasks, and lane-position variability all show cannabis-induced impairment. Despite purported tolerance in frequent smokers, complex tasks still show impairment. Combining cannabis with alcohol enhances impairment, especially lane weaving. SUMMARY: Differences in study designs frequently account for inconsistencies in results between studies. Participant-selection bias and confounding factors attenuate ostensible cannabis effects, but the association with MVA often retains significance. Evidence suggests recent smoking and/or blood THC concentrations 2-5 ng/mL are associated with substantial driving impairment, particularly in occasional smokers. Future cannabis-and-driving research should emphasize challenging tasks, such as divided attention, and include occasional and chronic daily cannabis smokers.
This article was published in Clin Chem
and referenced in Biochemistry & Pharmacology: Open Access