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Developing a Roadside Test for Marijuana Intoxication Isn’t as Easy as It Sounds

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Developing a Roadside Test for Marijuana Intoxication Isn’t as Easy as It Sounds

Most researchers do not support a legal driving limit for marijuana like the one we have for alcohol. Some explain why in a commentary published this week in a special issue of Trends in Molecular Medicine. Says Dr. Marilyn Huestis, “It’s not like we need to say, ‘Oh, let’s do some more research and give you the answer.’ We already know. We’ve done the research.”

We’ve known that the higher the blood alcohol concentration is, the more impaired the person becomes, so it makes sense to establish a limit beyond which the person is impaired.

But it doesn’t work that way with THC, the psychoactive component that impairs marijuana users. Many variables can affect how impaired someone is at any given THC level:

  • whether the drug is inhaled or consumed
  • whether users titrate their dose
  • whether users pair marijuana with alcohol, which makes the high higher and the alcohol buzz last longer.

There are other problems as well. THC quickly leaves the bloodstream (as opposed to body tissues). Dr. Huestis’s previous research shows that while an occasional marijuana user is impaired for six to eight hours, THC blood concentrations can be zero in 2½ hours. It can take up to four hours to obtain a blood test after a traffic stop or an accident.

“If someone is driving impaired, by the time you get their blood sample, you’ve lost 90 percent or more of the drug. So, we need to change what we do at the roadside.”

She advocates for training police officers to identify the behavioral signs of impairment and combining that with a less invasive biological marker test that can be used at the roadside to identify the presence of a marijuana chemical. Biomarkers have been identified in blood and urine; tests using breath and saliva biomarkers are being developed.

Read Science Daily article here. Read Trends in Molecular Medicine article here.
Note: See next story for an account of how much more complex this issue is likely to become.

About That Joint: Marijuana Start-Ups Pass

“Nobody smokes marijuana anymore. Everyone’s vaping it. Or eating, drinking, sipping, dabbing, sucking on lozenges, chewing gum, applying unguents or administering a drop or two of a cannabis-infused tincture under one’s tongue, where it is absorbed into the sublingual artery, within minutes producing an invisible, odorless, private high.”

So writes the New York Times, in an article about how marijuana start-ups are pushing the industry past smoke to products that make marijuana “convenient and ubiquitous.”

When Eaze, a marijuana delivery service in the Bay Area and San Diego, started up in 2014, marijuana “flower,” the green plant material that people smoke, made up 85 percent of sales. Today, flower amounts to less that one-third of sales. Last year, it was usurped by vape cartridges which heat marijuana oils that are inhaled. Eaze’s sales grew 300 percent. By the end of the year, it was doing more than 120,000 deliveries a month.

Another start-up in Oregon that makes vape cartridges says its sales grew from $2 million in 2016 to $7 million a month one year later.

An alcohol and marijuana analyst says pot “is gaining acceptance among all ages, ethnicities, and income groups, so much so that marijuana now poses a threat to the alcohol industry. She concludes, “Cannabis could be on the way to becoming the drug of choice for tomorrow’s America – a future in which lots of us get high, but no one smokes.”

Read New York Times story here.

Arizona Lawmakers Considering
Marijuana Testing Bill

Some 78 of 90 Arizona lawmakers are co-sponsoring a bill to require that marijuana sold for medical use be tested for mold and agricultural chemicals.

The bill, SB 1420, was written by Senator Sonny Borrelli, who says, “Customers need to know what’s going on with this stuff they are buying that they are convinced that it’s going to help them. We want to make sure that they understand that it’s not as pure and organic as they think it is.”

His bill would require the state Department of Agriculture to test for pesticides and other chemicals, while the Health Services Department would set up testing for mold and write the rules for potency testing as well. The money to pay for his proposal would come out of the state’s fund that is accumulating from taxes on marijuana sold for medical use. At the same time, fees to obtain a card to buy medicalized marijuana would be reduced from $150 annually to $50 for a card and $25 a year to renew it.

Read ABC news story here.

Five Children Eat Edible Marijuana
at Arizona School

First responders were called to Incito Schools in Goodyear, Arizona yesterday when five children ages 10 and 11 fell ill after eating marijuana-infused candy. One child brought the candy to school and shared it with others. All five were treated by firefighters and released to their parents. None was hospitalized.