Visual search and urban driving under the influence of marijuana and alcohol



The purpose of the present study was to assess the effects of low doses of marijuana and alcohol, and their combination, on visual search at intersections and on general driving proficiency in the City Driving Test. Sixteen recreational users of alcohol and marijuana (eight males and eight females) were treated with these substances or placebo according to a balanced, 4-way, cross-over, observer- and subject-blind design. On separate evenings, subjects received weight-calibrated doses of THC, alcohol or placebo in each of the following treatment conditions: alcohol placebo + THC placebo, alcohol + THC placebo, THC 100 μg/kg + alcohol placebo, THC 100 μg/kg + alcohol. Alcohol doses administered were sufficient for achieving a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of about 0.05 g/dl. Initial drinking preceded smoking by one hour. The City Driving Test commenced 15 minutes after smoking and lasted 45 minutes. The test was conducted over a fixed route within the city limits of Maastricht. An eye movement recording system was mounted on each subject's head for providing relative frequency measures of appropriate visual search at intersections. General driving quality was rated by a licensed driving instructor on a shortened version of the Royal Dutch Tourist Association's Driving Proficiency Test. After placebo treatment subjects searched for traffic approaching from side streets on the right in 84% of all cases. Visual search frequency in these subjects did not change when they were treated with alcohol or marijuana alone. However, when treated with the combination of alcohol and marijuana, the frequency of visual search dropped by 3%. Performance as rated on the Driving Proficiency Scale did not differ between treatments. It was concluded that the effects of low doses of THC (100 μg/kg) and alcohol (BAC < 0.05 g/dl) on higher-level driving skills as measured in the present study are minimal. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.