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Can I Drive After Using Cannabis?

How risky is it do drive after getting high on marijuana? Studies indicate that those who consume marijuana in some way before getting behind the wheel are at an increased risk of crashing their vehicle or being involved in an accident. More research needs to be performed to narrow down all the factors and specifics, however the initial findings do seem to make sense. Marijuana slows our motor functions, reflexes and impairs our judgment to a certain extent, all very important bodily and brain functions that allow us to drive safely.

How risky is it do drive after getting high on marijuana? Studies indicate that those who consume marijuana in some way before getting behind the wheel are at an increased risk of crashing their vehicle or being involved in an accident. More research needs to be performed to narrow down all the factors and specifics, however the initial findings do seem to make sense. Marijuana slows our motor functions, reflexes and impairs our judgment to a certain extent, all very important bodily and brain functions that allow us to drive safely.

There exists a myth surrounding drivers who smoke marijuana (or consume it in some way) and those who drink and drive. Many people believe that driving while under the influence of marijuana is “risk free” compared to driving drunk. While there could very well be a lower risk of driving while high versus driving under the influence of alcohol, there is certainly still risk. A popular, secondary theory, is that those people driving under the influence of marijuana drive slower and are therefore driving safer, when in reality research has shown that drivers who are high on marijuana often increase and decrease speed unpredictably, are all over their lane and are less likely to be able to react in time to an unexpected event on the road, such as a dog running out in front of them or a traffic light that changes more quickly than expected. Driving slower? Maybe. Driving more safely? Probably not.

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, a few key statistics are worth keeping in mind while we assess the risks of driving under the influence of cannabis:

  • A 2012 analysis showed that acute cannabis consumption doubled the risk of a fatal or serious injury crash. (Source: M. Asbridge, J. Hayden & J. Cartwright, “Acute cannabis consumption and motor vehicle collision risk: A systematic review of observational studies and meta-analysis” (2012) 344 British Medical Journal e536.)
  • A second 2012 analysis reported that cannabis consumption more than doubled the risk of a crash, and that the crash risk increased with the amount consumed and the frequency of use. (Source: M. Li et al., “Marijuana Use and Motor Vehicle Crashes” (2012) 34 Epidemiologic Reviews 65, at 69.)
  • A recent study comparing British Columbia roadside survey results with post-mortem data reported that cannabis use alone increased the risk of a fatal crash fivefold and that cannabis use, when combined with alcohol, increased the risk fortyfold. (Source: A comparison of drug use by fatally-injured drivers and drivers at risk. D. Beirness & E Beasley & P. Boase. Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, and Transport Canada. Proceedings of the 20th International Conference on Alcohol, Drugs and Traffic Safety, 2013,)
  • One study estimated that, in 2012, there were 75 cannabis-attributed crash deaths in Canada. (Source: The Impact of Cannabis on Road Safety in the Canadian Provinces: Estimates of Collisions, Casualties and Costs in 2012. A. Wettlaufer et al., (Ottawa: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, 2016), at 13.
  • Another study estimated that there were between 89 and 267 cannabis-related crash deaths in 2010. (Source: Crude estimates of cannabis-attributed mortality and morbidity in Canada – implications for public health focused intervention priorities (2015) B. Fischer et al., 10 Journal of Public Health 1, at 2.

For those looking to ensure their friends, family or loved ones don’t get behind the wheel high, here are some helpful physical and behavioral signs that someone may be too impaired by cannabis to be driving safely:

Physical signs:

  • Red, watery eyes
  • Distinct smell of cannabis
  • Obviously dry mouth and shortness of breath
  • A rapid heart rate that is noticeable

Behaviour signs of cannabis intoxication:

  • Slow reaction times to normal things
  • Paranoia
  • Blank stares
  • Lousy coordination
  • Poor judgment and decision making

Health care experts and law enforcement recommend that folks wait a minimum of 4 hours (emphasis on the minimum) before getting behind the wheel after cannabis use. It is very important, however, to remember that everyone is affected differently by cannabis use. Similar to alcohol, it’s very difficult for us to know when we’ve reached our “limit”, so taking the safe approach is almost always the best choice of action. If the minimum is four hours after smoking marijuana, then wait six hours before getting behind the wheel. Think you smoked or took too much? Spend the night at your friend’s place or get an Uber to get yourself home. It simply isn’t worth the risk of injuring yourself or someone else.

If you think your marijuana use is putting you in danger, or know someone who’s drug addiction may be putting others at risk, Searidge can help. Our addiction rehab program has helped countless people improve their lives by not only ditching drugs, but realizing why they turned to them in the first place.

We can also help those who have gotten into legal trouble due to impaired driving offenses by working with attorneys near you to help you attain lenient sentencing, a curative discharge or simply ensuring a smooth and successful completion of treatment should you be required by the court. If you haven’t experienced legal trouble as a result of drug use, but want to explore what treatment options are right for you, feel free to give us a call so that we can begin your healing journey sooner rather than later. A friendly and compassionate Searidge staff member is waiting to get to know you. Please feel free to reach out to us with any questions you may have.

Need help? Call now to speak to one of our caring counsellors 1-866-777-9614
National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers International Security for Traumatic Stress Studies The Canadian Positive Psychology Association The Association for Addiction Professionals