University of Colorado study on marijuana and driving pays applicants to smoke their own stash

Mar 18, 2019

The University of Colorado’s School of Public Health is conducting a study designed to learn more about driving performance under the influence of cannabis. The best part: participants are paid a stipend to use marijuana and play a hand-eye coordination game on an iPad.

Alright, there’s a bit more to it than that. Assistant Professor at the School of Public Health Ashley Brooks-Russell and Associate Clinical Professor and Medical Toxicologist Michael Kosnett are co-directing a study to understand how marijuana affects people who use it.

“The goal is to better understand impaired driving so that we can prevent impaired driving,” Brooks-Russell told The Denver ABC 7 Channel news.

“We know that certain drugs really deteriorate people’s performance behind the wheel. Alcohol is a classic example for that,” Kosnett said. “Our understanding of how cannabis affects driving is less well developed.”

Habitual, occasional, and infrequent users of marijuana that are licensed to drive in Colorado are encouraged to apply to participate in this study.

What does the study entail?

According to the “Study of Driving Performance in Cannabis Users and Non-Users” website, the goal of the study is “to understand driving performance in weekly and daily cannabis users associated with smoking or vaping cannabis flower, and to determine the extent to which tolerance to cannabis affects driving performance.”

As a cross-comparison, the researchers will also study the driving ability in people that do not use cannabis. The study requires two in-person study visits: a 90-minute screening visit and a 4-hour long study visit.

Participants in the study will be asked to have their blood drawn up to two times for research purposes and to maintain a study diary between the two visits. The study diary will track the participant’s medication, alcohol, and cannabis use—as applicable—during the course of the study.

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Additionally, participants must complete a rapid urine drug screen, as well as an alcohol breathalyzer test two separate times, meaning once per visit.

For readers hoping that participants would get to use some pot and then drive a crash-course, they will be sadly disappointed. Test participants will complete a series of assessments to evaluate driving performance, including a simulated driving test and other cognitive ability tests related to driving.

The purpose of these assessments is to determine whether these sorts of tools could enhance field sobriety tests for both police and employers.

“So, this is one more tool [police] could bring to the roadside to understand impairment,” Brooks-Russell said.

Participants are compensated per visit for the study, with the first portion being $20 for the screening visit and $120 for completing the second study visit.

What are the current rules regarding cannabis and driving in Colorado?

According to the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Safety Website, Colorado state law requires states that drivers with five nanograms of active tetrahydrocannabinol in their whole blood can be prosecuted for driving under the influence.

The Website notes that no matter the exact level of a driver’s THC level, law enforcement officers are authorized to arrest drivers based on the observation of impairment.

Law enforcement agencies throughout the state have specially trained Drug Recognition Experts on staff that can detect impairment from a variety of substances.

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Tyler Prock, a medical marijuana patient in Colorado, told The Denver Channel news that these THC limits are not fair to those who use cannabis on a regular basis for medical purposes.

“Well, I’ve used it almost every day for the past seven years, I feel like I’m a safe driver. I had one ticket in the past ten years ago and I’ve never had an accident,” Prock said.

“It’s not fair for the medicinal patients. Because cannabis stays in your system for about 30 days and if you use marijuana every day, the amount in your body is going to compound,” Prock stated. “You might not have used cannabis that day, but there is still cannabis in your system, so that could cause you to be positive on a test where you weren’t inebriated at all.”

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Drivers can refuse to take a blood test to detect THC; however, the state can revoke driving privileges for anyone who fails to cooperate with the chemical testing process requested by an officer during the course of a suspected DUI arrest.

Immediate consequences include mandatory ignition interlock for two years and level two alcohol education and therapy classes. These penalties are automatic and administrative, meaning that they are applied regardless of a criminal conviction.

Hopefully, the research conducted by the University of Colorado will help provide a more accurate sobriety testing tool for law enforcement officers so that non-impaired marijuana users can feel a bit safer behind the wheel.

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