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Checking the Oil

WVU Today

People have been driving under the influence of alcohol since before the first person crank-started a Ford Model T. But CBD oil didn’t become a concern until years after people began driving the Tesla Model X.

The widespread use of CBD oil is so new  scientists don’t yet understand all of the ways it affects drivers. Toni Marie Rudisill, a researcher with the West Virginia University School of Public Health, is recruiting participants for a new study into whether and how CBD oil impairs driving ability.

“We don’t really know much about CBD,” said Rudisill, a research assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. “There’s not a whole lot of research on it. But there were all these anecdotal reports of people using it to help them sleep or help them relax. And as an injury epidemiologist, my first thought was, ‘OK, then: if it’s making you tired, how does that impact your performance or make you more prone to injuries?’ ”

The study, funded by the West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute, will involve 40 participants. Half will be given 300 mg of pure CBD oil; the other half will receive a placebo. Because the study is “double blind,” neither the participants nor the researchers will know who has received the real or placebo doses.

“We flavor the doses with peppermint oil to mask the difference in taste between the CBD oil and the placebo,” Rudisill said. “That way, people don’t know what they’ve gotten.”

After taking their assigned dose, participants will complete a driving simulation that takes about half an hour.

“The driving simulator doesn’t look impressive — it looks like a regular old computer game — but it’s amazing what it captures on the back end,” Rudisill said.

For example, the simulator can show how often a participant drifts out of their lane, whether they use turn signals appropriately and whether they stop at stoplights. If a participant is waiting to turn left at an intersection, it can reveal whether they properly judge the speed and distance of oncoming cars. If a pedestrian darts into the road, it can identify whether the participant brakes in time.

“What makes the simulator really great is that it provides a safe environment for people to drive in and where we can still assess performance,” Rudisill said.

She and her colleagues will measure each participant’s driving performance and compare it between the two groups.

In addition, the researchers will assess the participants’ mood, drowsiness, sedation, reaction time and cognitive function at two points: before taking the CBD oil or placebo, and after finishing the driving simulation.

“We’re looking to see if their mood changes. Do they feel more tired? Will we see any cognitive changes that are maybe due to drowsiness?” Rudisill said.

“We’re interested to see how those variables relate to the driving measures. We drive every day, but driving is a complex task, right? Every single sense if involved.”

Rudisill is  recruiting participants for her study. Potential applicants should contact the study’s coordinator, Cynthia Fisher-Duda, at or 304-581-1923.

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