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5 things to know about driving on pot

Tuesday, September 02, 2014 - Updated: 8:43 AM

1. WHAT WE KNOW

While marijuana users can perform simple tasks well while they are high, brain imaging has shown they have to use more of their brain to do so. Their reaction times are slower, peripheral vision is decreased and multitasking impeded. As a result, when sudden or surprising things occur to complicate those tasks, they cannot respond as well. On the other hand, marijuana users tend to be aware they are impaired and try to compensate for it.

2. WHAT WE DON'T KNOW

It's not clear how much marijuana use contributes to crash risk. Some studies have found that marijuana can double crash risk, but others have found virtually no increase.

3. HOW HIGH IS TOO HIGH?

Traces of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, can be detected in the blood of some habitual marijuana users days or weeks after they last used the drug, making it hard to use blood tests to discern a current level of impairment. Most states haven't set a THC threshold for impairment, but Colorado and Washington have settled on an intoxication blood level of 5 parts per billion. There's no roadside test for THC like those for alcohol, but some states are experimenting with a saliva test.

4. REAL-WORLD

EXPERIENCE

In 2013, the first full year after Washington state legalized pot, nearly 25 percent more drivers tested positive for marijuana than before legalization. But there has been no corresponding jump in accidents or arrests for intoxicated driving. A University of Colorado Medical School study found that the share of drivers involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes in Colorado who tested positive for marijuana more than doubled between 1994 and 2011.

5. WHAT NEXT?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is conducting research to get a better idea of how pot affects driving. NHTSA and Washington state officials have also teamed up to assess change in marijuana use by drivers before and after the state allowed retail sale of the drug, with results due next year.

-- The Associated Press

     

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