It should go without saying that driving under the influence of any substance is dangerous and stupid—pretty much the opposite of swell; however, you’d be surprised at how many people will ignore everything they know about safe driving and not think twice about driving high. Even our dear reader might be thinking, “I drive high all the time, what’s the big deal?”
Among those who have sought treatment for cannabis abuse, more than 50% reported driving high at least once in the previous year. In one study, nearly 1 in 10 marijuana smokers admitted to driving under the influence at least once within the previous year. Yikes! There’s nothing cool about that.
With so many states transitioning to legalize recreational marijuana, police are more vigilant now than ever. If you don’t read any further, know this: it’s just as dangerous to drive while you’re high as it is to drive while you’re drunk. If you need more convincing, here are 5 reasons to think twice before driving high.
1. Squirrel!: Delayed reactions and decision-making.
A review of 60 studies presented in 1995 at the International Conference on Alcohol, Drugs and Traffic Safety found that marijuana impairs all the cognitive abilities needed for safe driving, including tracking, motor coordination, visual function, and undivided attention.
Cannabinoids affect the brain by “keeping our neurons firing, magnifying our thoughts and perception and keeping us fixed on them (until another thought takes us on a different tangent).” This means that, when you’re high, driving, studying, or playing sports that require coordination is—to put it lightly—foolish. Similar to alcohol, caffeine, and sugar, cannabinoids increase levels of dopamine in the brain, resulting in a sense of relaxation and euphoria.
2. NOT fast & furious: Decreased awareness of time and speed.
In a study by the Journal of Applied Toxicology, cannabis impairment was associated with slower driving and greater headway (space between you and the next car), possibly suggesting the driver is aware of their impairment and are attempting to compensate, although you might think of it as being super cautious and focused, it’s not a good idea. While drunk drivers tend to drive faster, driving under the influence—any influence—affects your ability to drive.
3. Staying power: The effects can last longer than you expect.
There’s a time and a place for giving props to cannabis products that last, but driving is not that time or place. According to the National Highway Safety Administration, effects from smoking cannabis products are felt within minutes and reach their peak in 10–30 minutes. Regular marijuana smokers experience a high that lasts approximately two hours.
Most effects return to baseline levels within 3–5 hours, although some investigators have demonstrated residual effects up to 24 hours. You can still be driving under the influence long after you think the effects have worn off. For long-term users, even after periods of abstinence, selective attention (the ability to filter out irrelevant information) doesn’t function as well the longer you use and the speed at which you process information shows to be adversely affected in more frequent users.
4. Bummer, dude!: Yes, you can get a DUI.
Although there is no breathalyzer for weed and there’s no shortage of controversy around marijuana driving laws, you can still be tested and receive a DUI if you drive under the influence of marijuana, whether you’re an MMJ patient or not.
In Arizona, a police officer who suspects you may be driving under the influence of marijuana (aka Drugged Driving) can give you a field sobriety test, mouth swab, or blood test. Arizona is also a zero tolerance state, which means that if you have any marijuana metabolites in your system when you’re pulled over (even if you’re not currently impaired), you may be arrested for DUI. It’s just not worth it!
5. Two’s a crowd: Combining alcohol with marijuana is even more dangerous.
For most, one drink will not get them drunk. However, smoking marijuana after having even one drink intensifies both effects. According to a study conducted by the American Association for Clinical Chemistry, it was found that “simultaneous use of alcohol and cannabis produces significantly higher blood concentrations of cannabis’s main psychoactive constituent, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), as well as THC’s primary active metabolite 11-hydroxy-THC (11-OH-THC), than cannabis use alone.” This means that, after drinking alcohol, consuming THC can make you dizzy with ‘the spins,’ and/or result in nausea and vomiting, which is often followed by the need to lie down. Now, is that a state in which you’d want to be driving? Definitely not.
Driving under the influence of any substance is not swell. If you need to talk to one of our experienced budtenders for more information on this topic and additional reasons not to drive high, contact us or visit one of our medical marijuana dispensaries!