With recreational marijuana becoming fully legal this summer in Oregon, and lawmakers nationwide finally realizing marijuana is not the horrible evil plant our government has made it out to be, there are many questions arising from tax structures to regulation. Seemingly the most discussed question however, is how does marijuana impair users while driving? Obviously this is hugely different from alcohol, and has been the ongoing debate.
Of course, marijuana effects us all differently. While we are on the subject, I’m just going to go ahead and say I have drove blazed on more than one occasion in my life, and not once did I feel it impaired my ability to drive. If anything, I probably felt even more cautious while driving. With that said, as I don’t regularly smoke these days I’d definitely think twice before doing it again. I have also met plenty of people who wouldn’t dare get behind the wheel after taking a few hits of weed. Obviously everyone is different and drugs effect us all in different ways.
An interesting study from researchers in recent months from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that drivers who smoke weed before getting behind the wheel, are significantly less likely to crash than drunk drivers. Not only that, but drivers who have THC in their systems (adjusted for age, gender, race, and alcohol use) in fact were just as safe as individuals who had not used any drug or drank alcohol before driving. However, it is worth noting marijuana and other drugs on the mind are harder to define than the effects of alcohol while driving. “Most psychoactive drugs are chemically complex molecules, whose absorption, action, and elimination from the body are difficult to predict,” the report notes, “and considerable differences exist between individuals with regard to the rates with which these processes occur. Alcohol, in comparison, is more predictable.”
The study confirms yes, it’s no news drinking is probably the worst thing you can do before getting behind the wheel. Weed on the other hand, statistically it was found to not increase the risk of a crash for a driver at all, when users had used it prior to driving.
Does that mean go ahead and take mad bong rips before going for a stroll? Not at all. This research all falls back on the fact that it’s difficult to know just how much THC in your system is considered enough to impair someone behind the wheel. As many of us already know, you can smoke weed and weeks later THC can still be detected. The morning after smoking you won’t be feeling high(at least I don’t), let alone weeks later. Knowing this, the study can not be very accurate on how safe it is to drive a vehicle directly after a few bong rips compared to a day or two later afterwards. The NHTSA admits as much: “At the current time, specific drug concentration levels cannot be reliably equated with a specific degree of driver impairment.” With weed becoming legal in many states now, it’s obvious we need more research into this.
Lawmakers in Colorado have attempted to set limits for blood THC content which they consider “marijuana-impaired driving.” Colorado has set this threshold of 5 nanograms per milliliter – and many people feel this is far to low for folks who use marijuana on a regular basis. One reporter for Westword challenged this, and showed that after a night of sleep and 15 hours without smoking, his personal THC content nearly tripled the legal threshold. “I and thousands of other medical marijuana patients may be risking arrest every time we drive,” he wrote, “even when deemed sober by a doctor[.]” Similar thresholds are also already in place in Washington.
No matter what the substance, driving impaired under any substance, including marijuana, can be dangerous. The study at hand shows legal limits as they stand definitely are not the most effective, and more research is needed on the subject.