Very Poor Correlation Between Cannabis THC Levels and Impairment

It was 1979. We were in a holiday tournament in Las Vegas. It was my senior year and I was starting point guard for my college basketball team. Time to exit our hotel rooms in the Desert Inn resort and bus to Thomas & Mack center.

Desert Inn Resort, Las Vegas, Nevada

My roomie left first. I was a couple steps behind him. We passed a couple rooms when a door opened — massive amounts of cannabis (marijuana) smoke flooded into the hallway. We were both a bit choked, as it was so heavy. Shockingly, half of our team had been in the room. They were all “getting high” prior to the game!

I heard someone walking behind. It was rookie head coach Lynn Archibald. I liked my coach overall, however he wasn’t a competent head coach. He had a distinguished and proven career as an assistant and recruiting coach. He struggled as our leader, as he preferred to be liked rather than respected.

He was new to our team and this was his first stint as head. He made promises of playing time or starting positions he couldn’t keep to players. For example, he would tell eight guys they would start on Friday night — yet only five can be on the floor. He shifted rotations because players “politicked” in his office rather than based on who was playing the best at the time. Players weren’t showing up to study hall or classes; they were walking all over him.

It had been a confusing season. Now he just witnessed half the team smoking pakalolo prior to a game. For most collegiate programs, this would lead to player suspensions or possible disqualification from the team. Oh my! This wasn’t good.

My mind and heart grew heavy for it was game time. We were playing home town favorites, Running Rebels, on their floor, and in front of 30,000+ passionate, dedicated fans. We needed to be at our best to defeat Tarkanian’s Rebels. Would half the team be left in the locker room?

Coach Archibald said nothing about the incident. Pretended it didn’t happen. We lost that night — yet in truth, the players who had been smoking weed didn’t play poorly. In fact they played exceptionally well. How could this be possible? That’s not what “experts” were telling us.

‘Very Poor’ Correlation Between THC Levels and Impairment

Testing drivers for cannabis is known to be challenging. A State of Michigan commission studied the effects of cannabis on driving for over two years and recommended the state not impose limits on the amount of THC that can be present in drivers’ bodies. [source]

Michigan’s Impaired Driving Safety Committee issued the recommendation in a report released April 2019. The panel of six members appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder reviewed published scientific research and conducted roadside tests with the Michigan State Police to complete its work. Members of the committee include a medical marijuana patient and law enforcement, forensic toxicology, cannabis pharmacology, and traffic safety professionals.

The committee determined cannabis use can effect driving, but the level of THC in a driver’s blood is not a reliable indicator of driving impairment. Instead, Committee member Norbert Kaminski, a professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University, recommended police use roadside sobriety tests.

“The only reasonable way to do this right now is to demonstrate that people are impaired.”
Norbert Kaminski, professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University

The committee also recommended additional training for law enforcement officers to detect impaired driving and a campaign to educate the public on the dangers of driving while high.

Kaminski was pleased the governor had formed the commission to “make logical and rational decisions based on the state of the science.” In his professional opinion, there is a “very poor correlation” between levels of THC in blood and driving impairment for several reasons.

When cannabis is consumed by smoking or vaping, THC levels spike but then fall rapidly, dropping to half of peak level within six to 10 minutes. Due this rapid fluctuation, THC levels at the time a blood test is administered do not accurately reflect the level while driving.

Second, due to increased drug tolerance, heavy cannabis users can have higher THC levels than inexperienced users without showing signs of impairment.

Third, cannabis detection times can last up to 30 days or significantly longer after discontinuing use and after any effects from the drug have passed.

Blood THC levels are indicative of exposure, but are not a reliable indicator of whether an individual is impaired.
State of Michigan Impaired Driving Safety Committee

Similar to U.S. Department of Transportation research (2017, 2019), the committee concluded drivers “high” on cannabis THC are “probably not as dangerous as those who get behind the wheel after drinking.”

“Cannabis-impaired subjects typically drive slower, keep greater following distances, and take fewer risks than when sober.”
State of Michigan Impaired Driving Safety Committee

“Interestingly, in most of the simulator and vehicle studies, cannabis-impaired subjects typically drive slower, keep greater following distances, and take fewer risks than when sober,” the committee wrote. The behavior changes suggest drivers are aware of their possible impairment and are attempting to compensate for the subjective effects of using cannabis.

“Alcohol-impaired subjects typically drive faster, follow more closely, and take more risks than when sober.”
State of Michigan Impaired Driving Safety Committee

Comparing cannabis-users to alcohol-impaired subjects, motorists who consume alcohol typically “drive faster, follow more closely, and take more risks than when sober.”

Alcohol Kills

Pedro Cruz, a Taos County firefighter/EMT, responded to the scene of a tragic accident and found his 16-year-old daughter Maria dead upon arrival. While no motorist should drive impaired — whether from alcohol, drugs, texting, distracted or even lack of sleep — we simply do not see cannabis users causing these horrific accidents. [source]

Alcohol-Intoxicated Kylie Rae Harris killed in a three-vehicle crash in Taos, New Mexico, also killing 16-year-old Maria Elena Cruz.

Alcohol-intoxicated country singer Kylie Rae Harris was traveling 102 miles per hour when she slammed into the back of a car in front of her. This sent her into the oncoming lane of traffic where she struck Maria Elena Cruz’s vehicle at roughly 95 miles per hour — killing Kylie Rae and Maria Elena instantly.

Court records indicate Kylie Rae Harris had a history of drinking and driving. In June 2017, she was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated with a blood alcohol content level of over 0.15, nearly twice the legal limit. Harris was convicted and was ordered to have an ignition interlock device installed in her car. Didn’t stop her from murdering Maria Elena.

It’s an evolving time for cannabis. Be the change in your corner of the world!

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Ko’olau of Kaua’i. I am the Defiant One
“I Believe We Can”

One thought on “Very Poor Correlation Between Cannabis THC Levels and Impairment

  1. Wow. Even a little Nyquil with alcohol impairs me. I never take anything that says don’t drink and drive – then try to drive.

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