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Does Cannabis Make You Walk Funny?

August 21, 2017

Researchers at the University of South Australia have published a study in the September 2017 issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence that looks into the relationship between cannabis consumption and altered gait—or a person’s manner of walking.

The scientists set out to investigate balance and walking gait in adults with a history of cannabis consumption. The hypothesis was that cannabis consumption may be associated with subtle changes in gait and balance.

Previous studies had indicated that cannabis intoxication resulted in acute motor deficits, including changes in balance (Ramaekers et al., 2006). Also, in 2008, there was a study that found an acute concentration-dependent disturbance in balance, with increased levels of THC resulting in increased body sway (Zuurman et al., 2008).

Leafly has obtained this exclusive video of the study in question.

The new study closely observed two groups of adults aged 18-49 years.  22 subjects had no history of illicit drug consumption. 22 other subjects had a history of cannabis use, but no history of illicit stimulant or opioid use.

Participants then completed screening tests, a gait and balance test that included a motion capture system, and a clinical neurological examination of movement.

Their results suggested that cannabis consumption is associated with long-lasting changes in certain elements of a person’s walking gait—but the magnitude of those changes is so small as to be clinically undetectable. The study found no difference between the two groups in term of how their balance changed over time.

Individuals with a history of cannabis consumption exhibited abnormalities in the lower limb during gait. In other words, the velocity of a person’s knee during the swing phase of gait was greater by seven percent in cannabis users than in non-drug users. The velocity of the knee during a swing phase of gait is indicative of increased cadence; however, no difference in walking speed was observed between the two groups.

The authors of the study called for further research to investigate if the gait disturbances diminish with increased time between cannabis consumption.

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Gage Peake

Gage Peake is a former staff writer for Leafly, where he specialized in data journalism, sports, and breaking news coverage. He's a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's College of Journalism and Mass Communications.

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