Drivers who test positive for the presence of THC in blood are no more likely to be involved in motor vehicle crashes than are drug-free drivers, according to a federally sponsored case-control study involving some 9,000 participants. The study, published Friday by the United States National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA), is the first large-scale case-control study ever conducted in the United States to assess the crash risk associated with both drugs and alcohol use by drivers.
Authors reported that drivers who tested positive for any amount of THC possessed an unadjusted, elevated risk of accident of 25 percent (Odds Ratio=1.25) compared to controls (drivers who tested negative for any drug or alcohol). However, this elevated risk became insignificant (OR=1.05) after investigators adjusted for demographic variables, such as the drivers’ age and gender. After researchers controlled for both demographic variables and the presence of alcohol, THC-positive drivers’ elevated risk of accident was zero (OR=1).
By contrast, researchers reported that drivers who tested positive for low levels of alcohol possessed a statistically significant risk of accident, even after controlling for demographic variables (e.g., Drivers with a BAC of 0.03 possessed a 20 percent greater risk of motor vehicle accident [OR=1.20] compared to controls). Drivers with BAC levels of 0.05 possessed a greater than two-fold risk of accident (OR=2.07) while motorists with BAC levels of 0.08 possessed a nearly four-fold risk of accident (OR=3.93).
Researchers did not analyze drivers’ THC levels to similarly estimate whether higher or lower THC levels may impact crash risk in a dose-dependent manner, as has been previously reported in some separate analyses of fatal crash data.
Authors concluded, “This finding indicates that these other variables (age, gender, ethnicity, and alcohol use) were highly correlated with drug use and account for much of the increased (crash) risk associated with the use of illegal drugs and THC.”
The study’s finding contradict allegations by NIDA and others that “marijuana use more than doubles a driver’s risk of being in an accident,” but are largely consistent with those of a 2013 literature review published in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention which reported that cannabis-positive drivers did not possess a statistically significant risk of a either fatal accident or a motor vehicle accident causing injury.
See NORML’s white paper on cannabis and psychomotor performance here.
The last few weeks have brought a number of policy announcements from the Obama administration — incremental changes, admittedly, but positive steps nonetheless — that appear to set the stage for a more realistic federal marijuana policy looking forward. Once again we are reminded of the important role of the current administration in the gradual ending of “reefer madness” as the guiding principle of our federal marijuana policy.
To read the balance of this column, please go to Marijuana.com.
Newly appointed US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy believes that cannabis possesses therapeutic utility — an acknowledgment that contradicts the plant’s present placement as a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law.
Speaking to CBS News, Murthy said: “We have some preliminary data showing that for certain medical conditions and symptoms that marijuana can be helpful.” He added, “I think we have to use that data to drive policy making and I’m very interested to see where that data takes us.”
Dr. Murthy was confirmed as US Surgeon General late last year.
His statements appear to be inconsistent with the Schedule I classification of marijuana under federal law — a scheduling that defines the plant and its organic compounds as possessing “no currently accepted medical use …. in the United States” and lacking “accepted safety … under medical supervision.”
Next week in Sacramento, a federal judge will hear final arguments in a motion challenging the constitutionality of cannabis’ Schedule I classification. In October, defense counsel and experts presented evidence over a five day period arguing that the scientific literature is not supportive of the plant’s present categorization.
Briefs in this ongoing federal case are available online here.
[Update: Perhaps predictably, the Surgeon General has dialed back his initial comments to CBS News. Late last night, The Department of Health and Human Services issued a statement attributed to Murthy stating: “Marijuana policy — and all public health policies — should be driven by science. I believe that marijuana should be subjected to the same, rigorous clinical trials and scientific scrutiny that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) applies to all new medications. The Federal Government has and continues to fund research on possible health benefits of marijuana and its components. While clinical trials for certain components of marijuana appear promising for some medical conditions, neither the FDA nor the Institute of Medicine have found smoked marijuana to meet the standards for safe and effective medicine for any condition to date.”
Interesting that Dr. Murthy cites the IOM which hasn’t formally commented on the issue of medical marijuana since releasing its report some 15 years ago, long before the results of FDA-approved clinical trials like this had been completed. Also notable that he leans on the FDA for guidance when the agency largely does not review the safety and efficacy of botanical products.]
Cannabis use is inversely associated with incidences of bladder cancer in males, according epidemiological findings published in the February issue of the journal Urology.
Investigators at the Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center, Department of Neurology assessed the association of cannabis use and tobacco smoking on the risk of bladder cancer in a multiethnic cohort of more than 80,000 men aged 45 to 69 years old over an 11-year period.
Researchers determined that a history of cannabis use was associated with a decreased risk of bladder cancer. By contrast, tobacco use was associated with an increased risk of cancer.
“After adjusting for age, race or ethnicity, and body mass index, using tobacco only was associated with an increased risk of bladder cancer (hazard regression 1.52) whereas cannabis use was only associated with a 45 percent reduction in bladder cancer incidence (HR 0.55),” investigators reported.
Subjects who reported using both tobacco and cannabis possessed a decreased risk of cancer (HR 1.28) compared to those subjects who used tobacco only (HR 1.52).
The study is the first to indicate that cannabis use may be inversely associated with bladder cancer risk.
“In this multiethnic cohort of 82,050 men, we found that cannabis use alone was associated with a decreased risk of bladder cancer. … [M]en who used tobacco alone were 1.5 times more likely to develop bladder cancer when compared with men who did not use tobacco or cannabis. … However, among men who used both substances, this risk of bladder cancer was mitigated. … If this represents a cause and effect relationship, this pathway may provide new opportunities for the prevention and/or treatment of bladder cancer.”
In 2009, Brown University researchers similarly reported that the moderate long-term use of marijuana was associated with a reduced risk of head and neck cancers in a multi-center cohort involving over 1,000 subjects. Investigators further reported that marijuana use “modified the interaction between alcohol and cigarette smoking, resulting in a decreased HNSCC (head and neck squamous cell carcinoma) risk among moderate smokers and light drinkers, and attenuated risk among the heaviest smokers and drinkers.”
Read the abstract of the study, “Association between cannabis use and the risk of bladder cancer: Results from the California Men’s Health Survey,” online here.
As we get further into 2015, state legislatures are convening all around the country and the issue of marijuana law reform is a hot topic in many of them. From full legalization to decriminalization to medical use, marijuana is being debated in state houses across the nation. A key component of making these reform efforts successful is the mobilization of citizens like yourself. Only so much can be done by top down lobbying and lawmakers often base their votes off of the will of their constituents.
To make this process as pain-free as possible, NORML has collected all of the currently pending legislation and provided tools for constituents to contact their elected officials in our Take Action Center. Bills currently pending in 2015 include:
- Federal: Members Of Congress Move To Exclude Hemp From the Controlled Substances Act
- Arizona: Measure Introduced To Defelonize Marijuana Penalties
- New York: Measure Introduced To Legalize Cannabis Commerce
- Delaware: Lawmakers To Debate Marijuana Decriminalization Measure
- New Mexico: Senate Lawmakers to Consider Decriminalizing Marijuana
- Kentucky: Medical Cannabis Legislation Filed In Both Chambers
- And many more!
You can view the full list of pending legislation here. This list is continually updated as new measures are introduced so be sure to keep checking back to see what legislation will be debated in your state this year. Be sure you take a moment of your time to use these action alerts to quickly and easily contact lawmakers in support of pending legislation in your state and share them with your friends and family!
Help us keep the GRASS in GRASSROOTS and together we will legalize marijuana nationwide.