Medical marijuana is shaking up public opinion about weed in the United States. More and more states are working to legalize marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes, throwing a wrench in our understanding of one of the most federally-regulated drugs. Surveys show 64% of Americans now approve legalizing marijuana use.
But with changing regulations around recreational and medicinal pot, there are new concerns about driving under the influence. How can you keep dangerous users off the road? What protocols are in place for DUI? And are those rules appropriate?
Pennsylvania voted to approve medical marijuana in 2016. Since then more than 21,500 people have registered for the program. As the marijuana market grows, different types of products are becoming available. Each of those products affects the body differently, raising some concerns about how to police driving under the influence.
CBD as Medical Marijuana
Pot plants contain hundreds of chemical compounds. The two most well known are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is responsible for the “high” or psychoactive effects typically associated with marijuana. CBD is not psychoactive, but produces some alternative changes in the body. As a result, many are turning to CBD compounds for medical benefit.
As marijuana is becoming more commercially available, research is pointing to CBD as a cure for various illnesses. Some studies show medical marijuana could have a dramatic effect in reversing the opioid crisis plaguing millions of Americans.
A Natural Alternative to Cure Disease
CBD-based marijuana products are being researched as a natural cure for dozens of illnesses and symptoms commonly treated with prescription drugs, including:
- Inflammation and chronic pain
- Anxiety (PTSD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorders)
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Certain cancers
- Nicotine addiction and drug withdrawals
- Type 1 diabetes
Seniors and Baby Boomers are turning to medical marijuana and CBD products at a rapid rate, according to marijuana industry leaders. They claim older patients are becoming less hesitant about marijuana because it’s being commercially controlled for consistency. And as more cannabis-infused supplements, creams, sprays, and medications are hitting the market, older generations are shifting toward the natural remedies.
Medical Marijuana in Pennsylvania
The first medical marijuana sales in Pennsylvania began in February 2018, following the approval of a program called Act 16. Patients with serious medical conditions now can get their hands on medicinal cannabis products with the recommendation of a state-certified doctor.
Legalization has been life-changing for some patients. One of the first women to buy in Pennsylvania said it helped reduce her son’s seizures from more than 400 per day to fewer than 50. Now even more states are legalizing medical marijuana to treat things like epilepsy. Here’s the full list.
Pennsylvania DUI Laws
So how does this play out on the roads? Drivers could be convinced of DUI if they’re found with more than one nanogram of THC per milliliter of blood in their system. But there’s a slippery slope here. Cannabis is stored in fat cells, so users can test positive for marijuana even if they’re not currently under the influence. Frequent users could test positive days, weeks, or even months after the psychoactive effect wears off. As a result, sober users could be at risk for DUI under current law.
CBD marijuana complicates this even further. Because CBD is not psychoactive, people who use only CBD-based products likely won’t test positive. DUI drug tests are meant to detect THC. However, research has shown that CBD affects how the body metabolizes certain compounds. So CBD users who also use marijuana may show higher levels of THC in their system for longer periods of time.
State police are now calling for changes to DUI drug laws, to protect medical marijuana patients. Under current law, patients with prescriptions will be at high-risk for DUI every time they get behind the wheel. In contrast to the strong policing, studies show states where medical marijuana is legal have seen up to an 11% decrease in traffic deaths.
While there are promising correlations between CBD and treating many serious illnesses, researchers warn there is more work to be done before in understanding how CBD affects the body. Right now, there isn’t any long-term data showing lasting effects of using medicinal cannabis. Because marijuana is illegal on the federal level, researchers are very limited in the kind of tests they can organize.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved any CBD products for treatment. It can be difficult to understand exactly what’s inside certain products, because they lack any federal regulation. If you’re considering CBD health products, consult a medical professional.