As the global conversation surrounding the legalisation of cannabis heats up, new research points to alarming trends in public perception and behaviour around driving under the influence (DUI) of cannabis as opposed to alcohol. The study, which sampled adults in the US and Israel, has uncovered findings that could reshape legislative decisions and public awareness campaigns. The findings were published in the journal Addictive Behaviors.
According to the research, nearly 20% of the surveyed adults admitted to riding with a driver (RDD) who was under the influence of either alcohol or cannabis. While this alone may be startling, perhaps even more concerning is the finding that DUI of cannabis is largely perceived as less risky than DUI of alcohol. The researchers suggest that these perceptions may influence people’s choices to engage in risky behaviours involving substances and driving.
In interviews, several participants highlighted the difficulty law enforcement agencies face in detecting cannabis DUI compared to alcohol. For instance, while alcohol levels can be easily measured by breathalysers, a quick and reliable detection method for cannabis is not yet standardised. “Compared to alcohol, I think there definitely should be a legal limit [of cannabis driving under the influence],” said a 32-year-old non-Hispanic White female from the US.
The study found that younger individuals were more likely to report cannabis-only RDD or RDD involving both substances. This revelation comes amid increasing rates of cannabis use among younger populations, particularly those enrolled in higher education, who are also more likely to engage in substance use and risky behaviours. Given that cannabis potency has drastically increased over the years, this raises concerns about the risks of automobile accidents and related injuries.
The potency and strength of the substance consumed were identified as significant factors impacting DUI risk. This raises red flags considering individuals often underestimate the alcohol content they consume and cannabis potency has been on the rise for several years.
In light of these findings, the study urgently calls for legal measures to establish cannabis DUI limits across all jurisdictions. It also highlights the need for rapid cannabis measurement methods similar to alcohol breathalysers. This could be critical for adequately communicating the risks associated with DUI of both substances and could have implications for public health interventions designed to reduce DUI and RDD behaviours.
While the study offers valuable insights, it acknowledges its limitations, such as the recruitment of participants via survey panels focussed on tobacco use. It also points out that the data were self-reported, which may introduce social desirability bias. Regardless, the study underlines the importance of country-specific research and the need for targeted prevention and intervention strategies.
Given the study’s findings, it is clear that the regulatory landscape needs to evolve quickly. Countries need to develop standardised cannabis DUI detection methods and educate the public about the risks associated with driving under the influence of any substance. Legislators and public health experts must come together to design interventions that can effectively bridge the perception gap and foster a safer environment on the road for everyone.