Swinburne researchers investigate effects of medicinal cannabis on drivers


A Swinburne study into the effects on medical cannabis on driving ability has received $358,980 in funding from the federal government’s Road Safety Innovation Fund. Led by Dr Amie Hayley and Professor Luke Downey from the Centre for Human Psychopharmacology, it will also investigate how we can use technology to measure driving impairment.

The study is the first of its kind and will be conducted within Swinburne’s Drugs and Driving Research unit, which is led by Professor Downey.

‘We are grateful for this grant, and especially for the opportunity to further our research in this space,’ says Professor Downey. ‘It is critical to quantify the potential risk these road users take when they get behind the wheel and develop methods to protect these vulnerable patients, as well as all road users.’

Filling a gap in knowledge

Many Australian consumers of medicinal cannabis access products that contain delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as THC, which is a controlled drug under the Australian Poisons Standard, which provides a uniform approach to control the availability and accessibility of substances that can be used as ingredients in medicine.

‘A controlled drug is a medicine that may only be prescribed by an authorised healthcare professional. As of February 2021, over 100,000 special access permits for medicinal cannabinoid products has been approved, a large proportion of which contains THC,’ explains Dr Hayley, who is Principal Investigator for the study.

‘There is no definitive legal, clinical or road safety recommendation as to the length of time that medicinal cannabis products can be detected, nor whether the use of these products contribute to increased risk of traffic collision,’ Professor Downey adds.

Using innovative technology

‘We will conduct a program of research that examines the use of innovative technology, such as driver monitoring systems, to protect vulnerable road users who may make the mistake of operating a vehicle when the medication is impairing their ability to control the vehicle,’ says Dr Hayley.

Driver monitoring systems monitor and detect a driver’s state and collect information to make an instant assessment about their capacity to drive safely. These technologies have already been highly effective in detecting and alerting drivers who are tired or distracted by creating a sound to reengage the driver.

‘Using our high-fidelity driving simulator and eye monitoring technologies, we will test the relationship between eye movements and driver behaviour to better understand the impact of medicinal cannabis use on driving performance in patients, as well as healthy adults,’ Professor Downey explains.

‘As medicinal cannabis becomes increasingly available, solutions to identify and reduce cannabis impaired driving are urgently needed to promote traffic safety. Through our research, we hope to uncover potential solutions to mitigate the risk of road trauma for these patients and all road users,’ says Dr Hayley.

Supporting road safety

The Road Safety Innovation Fund is awarded by the federal government’s Office of Road Safety.

The fund supports innovative projects designed to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries on Australian roads and help create a safe and sustainable road transport system for everyone. Priority areas include improving road safety in regional and remote areas, reducing driver distraction and drug driving, improving safety for vulnerable road users and supporting road safety research and initiatives specific to the Australian context.



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