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Is Smoking Cannabis and Driving Actually Dangerous?

Contrary to popular belief we have gotten a lot better at enjoying mind-altering substances responsibly. The older generations had much higher rates of drinking and driving for example. Responsibility.org indicates that, “In 2017, the rate of alcohol-impaired driving fatalities per 100,000 population was 3.4, representing a 63% decrease since 1982, when record-keeping began, and a 46% decrease since the inception of The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility in 1991.”

Drunk Driving

The main reasons for this are cultural. We have finally learned how dangerous drunk driving is. Specifically, after countless awareness campaigns by NGOs and aid organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and numerous government efforts, we have made drunk driving more socially unacceptable. Beyond this point, being arrested for DUI (Driving Under Influence) is a significant charge that is nothing to joke about. With the recent widespread federal legalization of marijuana in Canada, and the growing number of US states legalizing both recreational and medical marijuana, we must take a close look at the dangers of consuming cannabis and driving.

Driving While “High”

First and foremost, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. For those consuming CBD (cannabidiol) products there is absolutely zero risk while driving. For those looking to consume cannabis for health benefits and health reasons only, CBD should be the obvious choice. A study published in the International Journal of Legal Medicine showed that, “the point in time after cannabis consumption seems to play an important role concerning driving safety: significantly more driving faults were committed directly after consumption. Three hours after consumption, no significant increase of driving faults was seen.”

Not all psychoactive drugs affect people the same, but in fact, very differently. Those who are experienced and veteran cannabis users are going to have profoundly different experiences when intaking the same amount of THC compared to a more casual cannabis consumer. A study which compared these two groups showed that, “THC significantly impaired performance of occasional cannabis users on critical tracking, divided attention and the stop signal task. THC did not affect the performance of heavy cannabis users except in the stop signal task, i.e. stop reaction time increased, particularly at high THC concentrations” The study also reiterates this point by stating that, “these data indicate that cannabis use history strongly determines the behavioural response to single doses of THC.” With this being said, there is still no definitive conclusion as to how and to what degree THC can affect a cannabis consumers’ driving performance.

So, is smoking cannabis and driving actually dangerous? This is very relative. Based on anecdotal evidences of long-time, recreational cannabis consumers, they have indicated that their driving performance is not affected. In fact, they drive much safer. After several controlled trials, they have concluded that their driving experience is much more relaxed, which eases and lessens the frustrations and anger associated with long traffic and bad drivers. The cannabis high driver tends to be more cautious, but again, this is purely an anecdotal evidence. The result will vary depending on the person’s tolerance, length of use, and multiple other factors.

Cannabis-induced psychological phenomena are currently understudied due to legal restrictions that should be immediately lifted. The act of driving is not very difficult per se, especially for drivers who spend a significant amount of time on the road every single day. Because of this, “red flags” such as neurocognitive performance and drops in milliseconds of reaction time do not necessarily correlate to driving behaviour that is more dangerous (under the influence of a cannabis high).

The vast majority of road accidents happen due to distracted driving, which can be reduced by cannabis use as many strains of cannabis work to increase focus and engagement. This is based purely on anecdotal evidence and may not work for everyone. Another large percentage of road accident happen due to aggressive driving. Personally, I find my driving to be much more defensive. The main takeaway from this article is not for anyone to start driving under the influence of cannabis. The prime message this article is attempting to convey is for people to know their bodies and how it reacts to cannabis consumption (not while driving); and practice defensive driving skills. As cannabis consumption grows, more drivers will be driving under the influence of cannabis, and this area requires more extensive studies to fill in knowledge gaps that we have about cannabis and driving. Driving under the influence of cannabis is severely illegal and any shape or form of driving while under the influence should be discouraged and not practiced.

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