HOUR Detroit: WSU Applebaum students, professor studying the effects of marijuana on driving
In November, Michigan voted to become the 10th state to approve the use of recreational cannabis. While medical cannabis avails in 23 others. One wonders how many drivers at any given moment have used the substance? In Detroit, scientists are addressing the dearth of knowledge. On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Randy Commissaris and Kawthar Alali were in their lab at Wayne State University putting subjects through exercises. Commissaris, associate professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Alali, a graduate student from Saudi Arabia, installed volunteers behind the wheel of a Chevrolet Impala on loan from Doreen Head, director of the school’s occupational therapy program. Pointing at a large screen for fixed-base simulation of real-world driving, the Impala, outfitted with Drive Safety hardware and sensors, translated driver inputs through an interactive program called HyperDrive. The researchers measured the performance of a control: a young male whose blood was first drawn and assessed to assure no trace of THC. And the performance of a medical cannabis user: another young male — the pair were numbers nine and 10 so far in the study — who had consumed the substance within the hour (his cannabis-free baseline was previously established). Each subject spent an hour in the Impala. “What we do is compare the driving performance of those two subjects,” Commissaris says. “One of the biggest potential risks is the challenge of dealing with a surprise situation.” The virtual road is a divided highway, three lanes in each direction. “It’s a boring road, to be honest,” Commissaris adds. Proceeding in the middle lane at 55 miles per hour, the driver encounters a stalled car 40 meters ahead. “It sort of magically appears in the road.” The object of this test is to record the number of successful avoidance maneuvers and the reaction times.