Is it OK to drive while high on cannabis?

Will you end up like this if you drive while high on cannabis? Photo: Bubblejewel96
Will you end up like this if you drive while high on cannabis? Photo: Bubblejewel96
Envisage a time when it wasn’t accepted that driving while drunk increased the likelihood of accidents and there was no consensus on what constituted drunk driving, little idea of how to gauge impairment and no clue as to whether laws against it were needed or how they would work. It all happened with alcohol and is happening once more with cannabis.

Can I drive if I’m only slightly high on cannabis?

When wondering if it would be OK to drive while just “a little high,” the problem is defining it. You’ll have seen charts showing how many alcoholic drinks you can have before driving based on your sex and weight and how much time has elapsed since; however, it’s easy to track the way alcohol is processed by the body (properly known as pharmacokinetics) and how this affects your brain and body (pharmacodynamics), but this is much more complex for cannabis. The level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the component of cannabis that makes you high, is not a reliable indicator of driver impairment, but even so, that’s what’s used in Blighty.

Peer-reviewed studies have suggested that cannabis smokers wait at least three hours after toking before they drive. NORML, a non-profit organisation which strives to have cannabis legalised, suggests that users don’t drive when they feel impaired, which includes “slightly high on cannabis.”

Driving simulation research has found that being high on cannabis impairs key driving skills, including cognitive skills such as judgement and anticipation and executive functions such as route-planning and risk-taking, not to mention reaction time, target detection and tracking ability. But in the United States, where more than 20 states have legalised cannabis at least for medical purposes, there haven’t been more car crashes.

Although people who drive while drunk usually underestimate how impaired they are, those who drive while high on cannabis overestimate. So stoners drive more slowly, leave greater distances between them and the preceding car and take fewer risks, while drunk drivers do the opposite. This doesn’t quite make up for the adverse effects of dope.

In the United Kingdom, the legal limit is two pounds per gallon or microgrammes per litre of THC in blood, and people argue over whether this means waiting for two hours or 24 hours after taking cannabis before driving. Roadside drug tests dubbed “drugalysers,” which use swabs, were introduced in 2015. If a test is positive, another test will be performed down at the station. Previously, it would have to have proved that a driver was impaired.

So these days, four motorists a day, on average, are found guilty of drug driving. The conviction rate is 98 percent, the same as drunk driving. Per the Department for Transport, 1,442 people were convicted of drug driving in 2015. Punishments from the government range from loss of licence for a year to fines of as much as £5,000 and even the clink. But you also might not be able to get car insurance – Admiral and its sister companies, for example, won’t provide this to the convicted.

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