It's a well-known fact that drunk driving is extremely reckless and dangerous. But with the legalization of marijuana in several states, cannabis use is on the rise, yet common knowledge on the effects of its use and how it may impact your day to day activities (like driving) remains speculative and inconsistent.
If you are a medical or recreational cannabis user, the general rule is: don't drive while under the influence. Although your doctor may prescribe it, that doesn't mean that it's safe to go about business as usual when you are taking it. Think about other prescription drugs- you wouldn't get behind the wheel after taking a Percocet or other heavy-duty pain killer, would you?
In truth, marijuana use affects your driving abilities in many of the same ways that alcohol does. It has a negative impact on the cognitive abilities needed to safely operate a vehicle, including tracking, motor coordination, visual function, and divided attention. It can impair your judgment and performance, and it compromises your reaction time during unexpected events, like a pedestrian walking out into the road.
While there is not yet any universally accepted roadside test for cannabis impairment, police officers can give you field sobriety tests if they pull you over for questionable driving. In Washington state - one of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana - if an officer suspects marijuana use, they can make an arrest, then either ask the driver to submit to a voluntary blood test or petition a judge to order one. The current law considers five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood to be the threshold for impairment. Drivers who are impaired by drugs are subject to the same penalties as those impaired by alcohol.
For most cannabis strains and products, THC is the active ingredient- which is what gives you the "high." However, there is also a growing popularity of CBD-heavy marijuana products, which are used to treat anxiety and depression, among other medical issues. CBD does not give you any of the psychoactive effects that THC does, and thus may not impair your driving abilities as much as THC-forward cannabis products, but it's still best to avoid getting behind the wheel when there is any marijuana in your system.
Of course, one important thing to remember about cannabis use is that it affects everyone differently. A seasoned user may take a couple hits, or eat a 5mg edible, and not feel that impaired, while a new user would feel quite altered. A general rule is that the effects of THC wear off after about three hours, but users must exercise good judgment when using any substance which can reduce cognitive abilities. When in doubt, just don't drive.
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