Here is what the research has discovered so far concerning marijuana sobriety and the authorities testing if drivers are intoxicated from tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. Alcohol is a very different compound than THC, where the amount of alcohol in an individual’s system is actually indicative of the intoxication level of a person.
So the question remains; how can police test if you are driving high? There does not seem to be any simple test that can discover whether someone is too high to drive like a breathalyzer for driving drunk since the amount of THC in a driver’s system does not necessarily mean anything in terms of their sobriety.
The issue is that THC—what’s thought to be the primary psychoactive compound in marijuana—interacts with the human body in a fundamentally different way than alcohol. “Alcohol is a water-loving, hydrophilic compound,” says Huestis. “Whereas THC is a very fat-loving compound. It’s a hydrophobic compound. It goes and stays in the tissues.” The molecule can linger for up to a month, while alcohol clears out right quick.
But while THC may hang around in tissues, it starts diminishing in the blood quickly—really quickly. “It’s 74 percent in the first 30 minutes, and 90 percent by 1.4 hours,” says Huestis. “And the reason that’s important is because in the US, the average time to get blood drawn [after arrest] is between 1.4 and 4 hours.” By the time you get to the station to get your blood taken, there may not be much THC left to find. (THC tends to linger longer in the brain because it’s fatty in there. That’s why the effects of marijuana can last longer than THC is detectable in breath or blood.)
Since tetrahydrocannabinol stays in fatty tissue for a long time versus how quickly our bodies metabolize alcohol, some other form of innovation will be needed to determine an individual’s marijuana sobriety while behind the wheel. Or, is the solution to simply give up on testing drivers if they are too high to be operating a vehicle?
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