The QUO Podcast: Ep 10 - The Stoned Age: Is it time to change Australia’s cannabis drug-driving laws?
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The QUO Podcast: Ep 10 - The Stoned Age: Is it time to change Australia’s cannabis drug-driving laws?

Stories/794 , Locations/VIC/Hawthorn/Swinburne University of Technology , Issues/Policy , Issues/Alcohol & Drugs , Issues/Healthcare
Swinburne University of Technology, Hawthorn VIC 3122
6th May 2021
The QUO Podcast: Ep 10 - The Stoned Age: Is it time to change Australia’s cannabis drug-driving laws?

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Is Australia's punitive approach towards driving under the influence of cannabis doing more harm than good, especially towards medicinal cannabis users?

Whilst Australia has high cannabis prevalence rates, our laws still largely focus on a punitive approach against the possession, use and cultivation of cannabis, as opposed to harm reduction.

More specifically, driving with any detectable trace in your blood system of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main intoxicating element of cannabis, is currently a criminal offence in Australia.

However, is this approach doing more harm than good, especially towards medicinal cannabis users?

Recent research on driving whilst under the influence of cannabis challenges Australia’s current zero-tolerance stance on driving whilst under the influence of cannabis as well as drug law reform as a whole.

In this episode, we speak with post-doctoral research fellow Dr Thomas Arkell, from Swinburne University of Technology, on his recent landmark study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The December 2020 JAMA study with Dr Arkell and his associates involved 26 healthy participants driving under the influence of cannabis on real roads in the Netherlands—under supervision, of course!

Examining the intensity and duration of driving impairment following vaporisation of cannabis, they administered varying levels of THC and cannabidiol (CBD).

Their findings show that CBD, a cannabis component now widely used for medical purposes, does not impair driving, while moderate amounts of THC produce mild driving impairment lasting up to four hours.

Many products containing the cannabis component, cannabidiol (CBD), such as oils, sprays, or capsules are increasingly being used for relief from pain, chronic or terminal illnesses, anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders.

However, many of these products still contain small amounts of THC.

Dr Arkell’s recent findings have very significant implications for Australia’s current zero-tolerance approach towards THC. As he explains:

“Typically, if you are to use cannabis as a one-off, THC may be detectable in your system for a couple of days. If you’re a heavy user, and you’re using multiple times a day, which is the case for many medical cannabis users, THC can be detected for quite a lot longer. It can be up to a week or two weeks in extreme cases."

In other words, Dr Arkell’s findings suggest that whilst medicinal cannabis users have THC in their blood system for a longer period of time, this does not necessarily equate to driving impairment. Therefore, he believes that prosecution solely based on the presence of THC present in blood or saliva is manifestly unjust.

“We have a right to expect that our laws are going to be rational and evidence-based, and not based on someone’s [subjective] ideas of what is right or wrong,” he says.

“If the current approach isn’t [minimising harms and protecting people from dangerous drivers], then how can we come up with laws that are based on evidence and are responding to the most recent scientific relevance?”

 

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