Study: Michigan medical marijuana users are driving while high

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Local officials are beginning to decide if they want medical marijuana businesses in their communities before the state starts giving out licenses next year. Wochit

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More than half of the medical marijuana users in Michigan have driven under the influence of the drug, creating a potential for car crashes, according to a new study from the University of Michigan.

The study, which surveyed 790 of the state’s medical marijuana patients, revealed that:

  • 56 percent reported driving within two hours of using marijuana.
  • 51 percent aid they drove while  a “little high.”
  • 21 percent reported driving while “very high.”

The findings were published Wednesday in the “Drug & Alcohol Dependence” journal. 

“When you are intoxicated with marijuana or you have marijuana actively in your system it can affect things like your coordination and your reaction time,” said the study’s lead author Erin Bonar, an assistant professor of psychiatry. “We know it can take several hours for its effects to wear off.”

She added: “There is a low perceived risk about driving after using marijuana, but we want people to know that they should ideally wait several hours to operate a vehicle after using cannabis, regardless of whether it is for medical use or not,” Bonar said. “The safest strategy is to not drive at all on the day you used marijuana.”

Erin Bonar , University of Michigan psychology professor and lead author of a new study on medical marijuana users.

Erin Bonar , University of Michigan psychology professor and lead author of a new study on medical marijuana users. (Photo: Daryl Marshke, UM Photography,D.Marshke)

About 270,000 people in Michigan have permission to use medical marijuana. Only California has more medical marijuana users, roughly 916,000, according to statistics.

Read more:

Too high to drive? Depends where you get pulled over

Legal marijuana in Mich.: What you need to know

Six mid-Michigan towns have banned weed businesses

And now that recreational use of marijuana has been approved by the state’s voters, the potential for high drivers and any dangers they may pose is greater. 

“We believe more research is needed to inform a larger public education effort that will help individuals understand the risks for themselves, and others, of driving while under the influence of cannabis,” Bonar said. “It is especially needed during this time of rapid policy change as many states are determining how to manage marijuana legalization. We also need clearer guidelines about marijuana dosing and side effects with an understanding of how individual differences in things like sex and body weight interact as well.” 

In its study, the U-M team surveyed Michigan adults who were seeking medical marijuana certification for chronic pain in 2014 and 2015. The researchers asked about respondents’ driving habits for the past six months.

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