Addiction Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital

Are Brain Scans Next For Cannabis DUI Testing

Are Brain Scans Next For Cannabis DUI Testing

Cannabis is one of the causes of accidents in the United States. Scientific evidence reveals that the drug has the potential to alter a driver’s sense of judgment. 

The challenge law enforcement offices have is precisely determining the presence of cannabis in a driver’s body. 

Over the years, alcohol tests have been modified to give accurate results in the shortest time, thus making them efficient. Still, there has been little progress in developing a suitable marijuana test that offers timely and accurate results.

Overconsumption of marijuana is among the causes of impaired driving. 

Besides having an altered perception, drivers usually experience degradation in cognitive and motor skills when driving under the influence of alcohol. Thus, cannabis consumers are often advised to avoid driving while under the influence, mainly when they consume a high level of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

THC is a psychoactive element in marijuana that can affect the mood by creating a “high.” It was discovered by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, also known as the “Father of Cannabis Research,” in 1964. 

The cannabinoid reacts with the Endocannabinoid System receptors in the body, thus causing psychoactive effects. 

Recent statistics show that approximately 21% of cannabis-related motor crashes occur due to overconsumption. Accidents can reach as high as 25% when under the influence of THC-rich cannabis. 

Compared to those of alcohol, these figures are significantly lower. Still, the number needs to be controlled before getting out of hand. 

Over the past few years, traditional breathalyzers used to test alcohol have undergone modification before being used to detect acute marijuana impairment in drivers. Unfortunately, the test results have been quite unreliable and inaccurate.   

Considering that there are various ways in which cannabis consumers detox to pass a drug test, it has become more challenging for law enforcement officers to detect cannabis in the driver’s system. This has called for a more sophisticated method of detecting cannabis during DUI testing. 

A group of researchers recently announced that non-invasive brain imaging is more reliable to detect cannabis in drivers. The brain’s activity would be observed with an imaging device using functional new-infrared spectroscopy. 

The new approach will enable law enforcement and toxicologists to determine whether a particular crash was caused by intoxication or impairment. 

The Havard Gazzette has shown support for the use of non-invasive brain imaging in detecting marijuana, terming it as a potentially accurate way of ascertaining cannabis impairment. 

A study in the neuropsychopharmacology journal also stated that checking a person’s brain could be the more suitable way to determine cannabis impairment. 

Jodi Gilman, the associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, said that the research is pivotal for the cannabis industry and law enforcement. 

Gilman, who is among the principal investigators at the center for Addiction Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, stated that the goal of the research is to determine whether the activity of the brain at an individual level is sufficient to detect cannabis impairment. 

If successful, the method would become very useful during traffic stops. 

Considering that some states permit both medicinal and recreational cannabis consumption, people who regularly consume marijuana are expected to have high THC levels in their bodies. 

However, cannabis scientists claim that there isn’t any direct correlation between THC concentration in the body and functional impairment. 

Proving that an accident occurred due to overconsumption of cannabis has been a challenge for many years. 

Although blood and urine tests are quite accurate, they usually take longer to determine the truth. Still, they can’t be depended on fully as the tests can indicate wrong levels of THC concentrations.

According to a study conducted by Lambert’s Initiative at the University of Sydney, marijuana tests from oral fluids or blood produce inconsistent results. 

The researchers concluded that they could not determine whether the impairment in volunteers was due to cannabis intoxication or other substances. 

On the flip side of this issue, research conducted in Switzerland shows no correlation between CBD-rich cannabis and poor driving ability. It continues to state that this is true even if participants exceeded the legal THC limit. 

Researchers took blood samples to confirm that participants had higher THC levels than what was stipulated by the law. The researchers concluded that they didn’t observe any changes in behavior or psychomotor skills. 

If the findings of this research are adopted, then drivers would be able to use mini bongs and other smoking accessories without fearing breaking the law. 

For now, authorities are looking for appropriate ways of determining cannabis intoxication, especially in states where the substance is still deemed illegal. Although still new, near-infrared spectroscopy seems a more viable and accurate method of testing cannabis in drivers. 

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