Objective: Daily cannabis users develop tolerance to some drug effects, but the extent to which this diminishes driving impairment is uncertain. This study compared the impact of acute cannabis use on driving performance in occasional and daily cannabis users using a driving simulator.
Methods: We used a within-subjects design to observe driving performance in adults age 25 to 45 years with different cannabis use histories. Eighty-five participants (43 males, 42 females) were included in the final analysis: 24 occasional users (1 to 2 times per week), 31 daily users and 30 non-users. A car-based driving simulator (MiniSim™, National Advanced Driving Simulator) was used to obtain two measures of driving performance, standard deviation of lateral placement (SDLP) and speed relative to posted speed limit, in simulated urban driving scenarios at baseline and 30 min after a 15 min ad libitum cannabis smoking period. Participants smoked self-supplied cannabis flower product (15% to 30% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Blood samples were collected before and after smoking (30 min after the start of smoking). Non-users performed the same driving scenarios before and after an equivalent rest interval. Changes in driving performance were analyzed by repeated measures general linear models.
Results: Mean whole blood THC cannabinoids concentrations post smoking were use THC = 6.4 ± 5.6 ng/ml, THC-COOH = 10.9 ± 8.79 ng/mL for occasional users and THC = 36.4 ± 37.4 ng/mL, THC-COOH = 98.1 ± 90.6 ng/mL for daily users. On a scale of 0 to 100, the mean post-use score of subjective high was similar in occasional users and daily users (52.4 and 47.2, respectively). In covariate-adjusted analysis, occasional users had a significant increase in SDLP in the straight road segment from pre to post compared to non-users; non-users decreased by a mean of 1.1 cm (25.5 cm to 24.4 cm) while occasional users increased by a mean of 1.9 cm (21.7 cm to 23.6 cm; p = 0.02). Daily users also increased adjusted SDLP in straight road segments from baseline to post-use (23.2 cm to 25.0 cm), but the change relative to non-users was not statistically significant (p = 0.08). The standardized mean difference in unadjusted SDLP from baseline to post-use in the straight road segments comparing occasional users to non-users was 0.64 (95% CI 0.09 - 1.19), a statistically significant moderate increase. When occasional users were contrasted with daily users, the baseline to post changes in SDLP were not statistically significant. Daily users exhibited a mean decrease in baseline to post-use adjusted speed in straight road segments of 1.16 mph; a significant change compared to slight speed increases in the non-users and occasional users (p = 0.02 and p = 0.01, respectively).
Conclusion: We observed a decrement in driving performance assessed by SDLP after acute cannabis smoking that was statistically significant only in the occasional users in comparison to the nonusers. Direct contrasts between the occasional users and daily users in SDLP were not statistically significant. Daily users drove slower after cannabis use as compared to the occasional use group and non-users. The study results do not conclusively establish that occasional users exhibit more driving impairment than daily users when both smoke cannabis ad libitum.
Keywords: Cannabis impaired driving; Cannabis use; Driving simulator; Drug impaired driving; Drug tolerance; Lateral control.
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