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Impaired driving and cannabis - What you need to know

Published May 6, 2022 09:00 a.m. ET
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Cannabis use and driving is a hot-button topic, with many questions and so few clear-cut answers. Much of what consumers hear is based on perspective, which isn’t a good thing when some studies have found that as many as 50% of enthusiasts likely get behind the wheel at some point while under the influence. With that in mind, we’d like to introduce you to the most accurate answers to related questions we could find in hopes of raising awareness and reducing impairing driving incidents involving cannabis.

Is it against the law?

Yes, 100%. Every state and most countries with legal cannabis have clear-cut rules that prohibit cannabis use and driving. In the majority of cases, offenders are treated the exact way as you’d expect alcohol consumers to be handled, and that can mean fines, loss of licensing, temporary impounding of the vehicle, and a permanent record that could risk an individual's chances of driving in the future. It’s just not worth all this risk to drive impaired by cannabis.

How much is too much?

With alcohol, we have specific guidelines to understand the allowable limits, which makes it a whole lot easier for consumers to enjoy a night out. For most, a drink or two is probably fine, but that’s just not the case with cannabis. Cannabis may have varying impacts depending on how it’s consumed, how much is taken, and an individual's tolerance level, and there are no guidelines where the law is concerned. Taking too much, in most situations, is any amount immediately prior to getting behind the wheel, and soon you’ll see why that is.

Can I cheat the sobriety test?

Alcohol impairment is easily measurable using various methods including urine and blood, but the most commonly deployed tool to measure it is the breathalyzer, which can detect any amount in the system. Those who blow over the limit are considered to be impaired while those who manage to stay beneath it get off scot-free. Unfortunately, it’s not so simple with cannabis.

Drivers that are suspected of getting high and driving may be subject to an entirely different, far less accurate range of tests, including old methods used to detect alcohol impairment before breathalyzers such as walking in a line or counting backward from 100. Alternatively, those in accidents may even be required to supply a urine or blood test, which both detect cannabis use over the last weeks or even months prior to the incident, which doesn’t, in any way, provide an accurate picture of how impaired someone might be.

Because of this, there’s no way to “cheat” the system other than avoiding run-ins with law enforcement completely. Something that’s impossible to do when you rely on the safety of other drivers who share the road.

Is it safe to smoke a joint and drive?

You might think that sparking up a fat blunt in the middle of a long drive is no issue, particularly if you have a higher tolerance, but many studies have shown that inhalation of THC and other psychoactive cannabis elements may impair for anywhere from 30 minutes to a full hour. Luckily, waiting an hour after a toke isn’t too much of a sacrifice if it means avoiding harsh punishments or dangerous situations, but that’s not always the case with cannabis products.

What about edibles and other consumables?

Legal edibles are capped at a low percentage to help consumers avoid taking too much, but for some getting high is accomplished with as little as 5mg of THC, the effects of which may last anywhere from 2 to 12 whole hours and that’s a massive window to miss. This is the reason we highly recommend avoiding edibles altogether if your plan is to take a drive, as it’s the only way to guarantee you’re not impaired behind the wheel.

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Are topicals a cause for concern?

Topicals are a unique cannabis category because they are the only products safe to use immediately before driving, as they do not cross into the bloodstream in significant concentrations, which makes it impossible to get high from using them. So if you just enjoyed a relaxing THC bath or soothed some pain with a THC ointment or massage oil, there’s no need to wait before driving.

How will I know if I’m impaired?

There is no clear cut explanation for this, as cannabis is an individual experience that feels different to each and every enthusiast, but it’s safe to say that if you can feel the effects of cannabis, or have used it in the timeframes outlined above, then it’s best to assume you’re likely impaired. Unfortunately, much like with alcohol, it doesn’t matter whether or not you're truly debilitated. All that matters is whether or not you’ve got enough in your system to be detected and blamed for poor driving habits or decisions. That is until we come up with a better, more accurate way to test for and set out THC maximums.

Is there any way to sober up quickly?

Practically every enthusiast has wondered at some point or another whether or not it’s possible to sober up faster by drinking certain liquids or packing back cleansing fruits, but the truth is that when it comes to cannabis, the only real solution is to wait for the effects to pass. Of course, there are some things you can do to improve alertness or relax in cases when you’ve taken too much, but it’s impossible to flick a switch and go from getting high to sober.

What about medical consumers?

‘Getting high’ is a terminology generally used by those who indulge in cannabis products for recreational purposes, and many professionals argue that those who rely on its benefits as medicine aren’t benefitting in the same way. However, no matter what side of the argument you fall on, unfortunately, there are no laws or protections in place for those who are caught with cannabis in their system while driving. This means that even medical patients should abide by the outlines provided above.

The safest way is to avoid cannabis use and driving

In a perfect world, we’d have better, clearer answers that are much easier for consumers to follow, and with more research and dedication to the subject, that’s a future we hope to someday see, but in the meantime, the only way to avoid impaired driving punishments is to stay away from cannabis entirely when your plans are to get behind the wheel.

High CBD strains with low THC do not impact driving
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