Driving Under the Influence of Cannabis: Impact of Combining Toxicology Testing with Field Sobriety Tests

Clin Chem. 2023 May 25;hvad054. doi: 10.1093/clinchem/hvad054. Online ahead of print.


Background: Cannabis is increasingly used both medically and recreationally. With widespread use, there is growing concern about how to identify cannabis-impaired drivers.

Methods: A placebo-controlled randomized double-blinded protocol was conducted to study the effects of cannabis on driving performance. One hundred ninety-one participants were randomized to smoke ad libitum a cannabis cigarette containing placebo or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) (5.9% or 13.4%). Blood, oral fluid (OF), and breath samples were collected along with longitudinal driving performance on a simulator (standard deviation of lateral position [SDLP] and car following [coherence]) over a 5-hour period. Law enforcement officers performed field sobriety tests (FSTs) to determine if participants were impaired.

Results: There was no relationship between THC concentrations measured in blood, OF, or breath and SDLP or coherence at any of the timepoints studied (P > 0.05). FSTs were significant (P < 0.05) for classifying participants into the THC group vs the placebo group up to 188 minutes after smoking. Seventy-one minutes after smoking, FSTs classified 81% of the participants who received active drug as being impaired. However, 49% of participants who smoked placebo (controls) were also deemed impaired at this same timepoint. Combining a 2 ng/mL THC cutoff in OF with positive findings on FSTs reduced the number of controls classified as impaired to zero, 86 minutes after smoking the placebo.

Conclusions: Requiring a positive toxicology result in addition to the FST observations substantially improved the classification accuracy regarding possible driving under the influence of THC by decreasing the percentage of controls classified as impaired.