The Cannabis Act has made recreational cannabis legal across Canada as of October 17. As the date approached, more industries, workplaces, and government agencies released policies and guidelines to help people stay safe while using cannabis. Concerns about public safety are at an all-time high, particularly when it comes to the risk of people driving under the influence of cannabis.
Police forces across Canada have already been given training on how to test drivers they suspect are impaired, despite criticism of these tests. Insurance companies have been revising their auto insurance policies, and provincial governments are looking to impaired driving legislation. Other groups and stakeholders have already started a campaign to discourage Canadians from “driving high.”
Exactly how dangerous is it to drive under the influence of cannabis? The answer might surprise you.
Cannabis Impairment Is Short-Term
The effects of cannabis are usually felt for one to two hours after use. They typically last anywhere between four and six hours before petering out. During this window, users may experience impairment of varying degrees.
THC, in particular, can affect users’ mental state. THC is a psychoactive substance.
People who use cannabis may experience sedative effects and drowsiness. They may also have slower reaction times. For this reason, it’s not a good idea to operate motor vehicles or heavy machinery for about six hours after cannabis use.
Some strains of cannabis are better for daytime use. CBD generally causes fewer of the effects that lead to impairment.
Alcohol Impairment Is Far Worse
Many people are comparing driving under the influence of cannabis to driving under the influence of alcohol. While driving after using either substance is best avoided, alcohol impairment is far more severe than cannabis impairment.
Driving under the influence of cannabis increases the risk of being involved in an accident about two-fold. By comparison, driving under the influence of alcohol elevates the risk between 10- and 20-fold. However, combining alcohol and cannabis can be dangerous.
The long and short of it is you’re much more likely to be involved in an accident under the influence of alcohol.
Cannabis Users Are More Aware
One study of driving under the influence of alcohol and cannabis found that the two substances tend to impair people differently. Alcohol tends to reduce a person’s ability to perform complex tasks and those requiring conscious thought.
Cannabis, on the other hand, had a tendency to impair people’s ability to perform more automated tasks. Cannabis users generally performed better on tasks that required conscious effort and thought.
While driving, cannabis users were more likely to compensate for their impairment by using behavioral strategies. They also tended to be more aware of the fact they were impaired, and they actively worked to counteract their impairment.
The study also found the effects of cannabis were related to dose, method of administration, and other various personal factors. In effect, different people experienced different levels of impairment depending on a whole host of factors.
Is It Safe to Drive While Under the Influence?
For your own safety and the safety of those around you, it’s better not to take the risk. Try to use cannabis when you know you won’t need to operate machinery or drive. If you can avoid driving under the influence of cannabis, you most definitely should.
The hysteria about “high drivers” is probably unwarranted. Alcohol is far worse in terms of impairment, and it should be treated that way. People should be encouraged not to drive under the influence of any substance, but the truth is cannabis users are still less likely to be involved in an accident than those who choose to drive under the influence of alcohol.
What’s more, some research shows chronic cannabis users can have high levels of cannabinoids in the body but yet are not impaired. Given it is fat soluble, levels in the body don’t necessarily correlate to impairment. This makes it challenging to find a reliable, scientifically accurate test to measure impairment. Hence why many officers and police groups have rejected the new government devices.