Safety First: Why Not to Drive Under the Influence of Cannabis

Driving under the influence of cannabis is a serious problem that poses a significant risk to both the driver and others on the road. Cannabis is a psychoactive substance that can impair a driver's cognitive and motor functions, including reaction time, attention, and coordination. This impairment can significantly increase the risk of accidents, injuries, and fatalities on the road. 

Despite the growing acceptance of cannabis use for medicinal and recreational purposes, it is important to understand the risks of driving under the influence and to avoid getting behind the wheel after consuming cannabis. In this blog, we will explore the reasons why you should not drive under the influence of cannabis and the potential consequences of doing so.

How Does THC Cause Intoxication?

how does weed get you high

THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis that causes intoxication in users. THC interacts with the body's endocannabinoid system, which is a complex network of receptors and neurotransmitters that helps regulate various physiological and cognitive processes, including mood, appetite, pain sensation, and memory.

When THC is consumed, it binds to specific receptors in the brain and other parts of the body that are part of the endocannabinoid system. These receptors are primarily located in the brain regions responsible for cognitive and motor functions, such as the cerebral cortex, cerebellum, and basal ganglia.

Once THC binds to these receptors, it disrupts the normal communication between neurons, leading to a range of effects that contribute to the feeling of intoxication, including:

  • Euphoria: THC can stimulate the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is associated with feelings of pleasure and reward, leading to a sense of euphoria or "high."
  • Impaired memory and concentration: THC can impair short-term memory and interfere with the ability to concentrate, making it difficult to focus on tasks.
  • Alterations in perception: THC can distort sensory perception, leading to changes in visual, auditory, and tactile sensations.
  • Impaired motor coordination: THC can impair coordination and balance, leading to slower reflexes and difficulty performing complex motor tasks.

The effects of THC can vary depending on a range of factors, including the dose consumed, the method of consumption, the user's tolerance to the drug, and individual differences in metabolism and sensitivity to THC. However, it is clear that THC can cause significant impairment in cognitive and motor functions, which can be dangerous when operating a vehicle or engaging in other activities that require attention and coordination.

Dangers of Driving While High

is driving while high illegal

For those who consume before getting behind the wheel or those who consume while driving, even a small amount of THC can affect their driving performance. The following are just a few of the ways THC can impair driving:

  • Slowed reaction time: THC can slow down a driver's reaction time, making it harder to respond quickly to unexpected situations on the road.
  • Impaired motor coordination: THC can impair a driver's motor coordination, making it difficult to control the vehicle, especially during complex maneuvers such as changing lanes or negotiating turns.
  • Reduced attention and concentration: THC can cause a driver to lose focus and become easily distracted, which can increase the risk of accidents.
  • Impaired perception and judgment: THC can alter a driver's perception of the world around them, making it harder to accurately judge distances, speeds, and other critical factors on the road.

Studies have shown that cannabis use can impair driving ability for up to several hours after consumption, and that impairment is dose-dependent. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), drivers who use cannabis are more likely to be involved in accidents, especially fatal ones, than drivers who are not under the influence of any substances.

The degree to which THC truly impairs drivers depends on a number of factors, including the dose consumed, the method of consumption, the driver's tolerance to the drug, and individual differences in metabolism and sensitivity to THC. However, it is clear that THC use can significantly impair driving ability and increase the risk of accidents. It is important to avoid driving after using THC or any other psychoactive substance.

Getting Pulled Over While High

getting pulled over while high

Those who choose to get behind the wheel while high or choose to consume while driving are always risking the possibility of being pulled over.  If a driver is pulled over while high, the consequences can be serious, depending on the jurisdiction and the circumstances of the traffic stop. Here are some possible scenarios:

  • Field sobriety test: If a police officer suspects that you are driving under the influence of drugs, they may conduct a field sobriety test to assess your level of impairment. This may include tests of balance, coordination, and reaction time, as well as assessments of pupil size, eye movement, and other physical symptoms of drug use.
  • Blood or urine test: In some jurisdictions, police officers may request a blood or urine test to confirm the presence of drugs in your system. Refusing to take a test can result in penalties such as license suspension or revocation.
  • Arrest: If a police officer determines that you are driving under the influence of drugs, they may arrest you and charge you with a DUI (driving under the influence) or DWI (driving while intoxicated). In some cases, you may be taken to a police station or hospital for further testing or evaluation.
  • Legal consequences: If you are convicted of a DUI or DWI, you may face serious legal consequences, including fines, license suspension, and even imprisonment. The severity of the penalties can depend on factors such as your level of impairment, your driving record, and the jurisdiction in which you were pulled over.

It is important to note that driving under the influence of cannabis is illegal in most jurisdictions, regardless if use of the plant, medical or recreational, has been legalized there.

When Is It Safe To Drive?

It is difficult to determine exactly when it is safe to drive after smoking cannabis for many users. While new consumers are normally more cautious, frequent consumers may try to push their limits when it comes to cannabis and driving.

As a general rule, it is recommended that users wait at least several hours after using cannabis before driving, to allow the drug to fully metabolize and for any impairment to subside. However, this is not a guarantee of safety, and impairment can still occur even if you feel sober. There are a few things to keep in mind if you are considering driving after using cannabis:

  • Know your limits: Be aware of your own tolerance and sensitivity to cannabis, and avoid driving if you feel even slightly impaired.
  • Monitor your symptoms: Pay attention to any symptoms of impairment, such as dizziness, confusion, or slowed reaction time, and avoid driving if you experience any of these symptoms.
  • Use a ride-sharing service or public transportation: If you are unsure whether it is safe to drive, consider using a ride-sharing service or public transportation instead.
  • Plan ahead: If you know you will be using cannabis, make plans in advance for how you will get home safely without driving.

Ultimately, the best way to avoid the risks of driving under the influence of cannabis is to not use the drug before driving at all.

What About CBD and Driving?

Can you drive on CBD?

CBD (cannabidiol) is a non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis that is known for its potential therapeutic benefits, such as reducing anxiety, inflammation, and pain. Unlike THC, CBD does not produce the characteristic "high" or impairment associated with cannabis use.

There is limited research on the effects of CBD consumption on driving performance, but the available evidence suggests that CBD is unlikely to impair driving.  A recent study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that CBD did not impair motor or cognitive functions in a group of healthy participants, even at high doses of up to 1500 mg.

However, it is important to note that some CBD products may contain trace amounts of THC, which can cause impairment if consumed in sufficient amounts. Additionally, using CBD in combination with other drugs or alcohol can increase the risk of impairment and should be avoided when driving.

In summary, while CBD is not believed to impair driving, it is important to exercise caution and use it responsibly, particularly if using CBD products that contain THC or in combination with other drugs or alcohol. As with any substance, it is always best to avoid driving if there is any doubt about your level of impairment.

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