(Hyoung Chang, Denver Post file)

Opinion: Added risks of booze + pot “magical cocktail” need to be known

The way Christian Sederberg sees it, the combination of weed and booze is a “magical cocktail.”

And not in a good way.

Sederberg, one of Colorado’s leading pot lawyers, made that comment at a Denver Post editorial board forum earlier this month on legal marijuana.

He was talking about how laws governing driving while under the influence of marijuana don’t fit the nature of impairment.

And whether or not you agree with his contention that some heavy users of marijuana are unfairly penalized by current laws — because they can handle high THC levels without being impaired — his concerns highlight a broader point.

We just don’t know enough about how marijuana, especially in combination with alcohol, affects driving ability. The research that’s out there says the combination is pretty dangerous.

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A 2009 study published on the National Institutes of Health website said some marijuana smokers can adequately compensate for impairment — unless they drink alcohol.

The study, by three researchers affiliated with Yale University School of Medicine and the Department of Veterans Affairs, said doses of alcohol and marijuana that are “insignificant” alone could result in impairment when combined.

That’s the “magical cocktail,” and the implications for public safety are worrisome.

First of all, people who partake of those substances need to know and understand the combination could affect them in ways they might not anticipate.

They need to hear accurate and appropriate public health messages that are based on good science done by impartial researchers.

And that’s where the problems begin. Valid, peer-reviewed psychomotor research on pot impairment is hard to come by.

People who use marijuana need to know how many tokes combined with how many beers make them unfit to drive. Can it be quantified in that way? If not, then how?

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This is information, coupled with appropriate laws, that could make Colorado safer. Given marijuana’s status as a growth industry, you might think Colorado academics would be on that job.

David Goff, dean of the University of Colorado School of Public Health, who also appeared at The Post’s forum, said it’s difficult to do that research.

That’s because there are a lot of hoops to jump through if, for instance, you work at a university that gets federal funding.

Earlier this year, CU put out a five-page memo saying it had received inquiries from faculty asking about conducting marijuana research. The memo explained the approvals necessary and the requirement that weed used in any such research come from the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s approved source.

It’s a nightmare of a process, and when researchers finally get government pot to use, keep in mind that it’s probably significantly different stuff than what Colorado marijuana entrepreneurs are growing and selling.

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The red tape stems from the federal government’s classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug, the most dangerous.

Last week, news broke that the Food and Drug Administration is analyzing whether marijuana’s classification should be downgraded, which would mean an easing of research restrictions.

Before anyone gets too excited about that, keep in mind the FDA looked at the same issue in 2001 and 2006 and recommended against reclassification.

Perhaps it will work out differently this time and we should all hope so. Whether or not you voted to legalize recreational marijuana use in Colorado, there’s no denying it’s here — probably to stay.

Developing fair and appropriate public policy to keep everyone safe is a priority we should all support.

E-mail Alicia Caldwell at acaldwell@denverpost.com or follow her on Twitter: @AliciaMCaldwell

This story was first published on DenverPost.com