In recent years, the United States has seen a significant rise in the acceptance and usage of marijuana, leading to its legalization for recreational use in 10 states and medicinal use in 33. This has resulted in an estimated 22.5 million Americans consuming cannabis in some form, under the misconception that it’s benign and poses no risk to activities such as working or driving. The reality, however, can be quite different, especially when it comes to driving while high.
How Does Marijuana Impact Driving?
Marijuana is a psychoactive substance that affects the brain in several ways, particularly in relation to memory, motor skills, and focus. These factors play a crucial role in activities that require attention and coordination, such as driving. Ingesting marijuana can cause driving to become dangerous due to its impact on these abilities.
Marijuana’s active compounds, THC and other cannabinoids, bind to receptors in the brain, impacting motor skills, memory, emotional responses, and concentration. This can lead to decreased attention span, difficulty in gauging distances, and poor motor coordination affecting steering and braking. Furthermore, in larger doses, marijuana may induce visual hallucinations which can significantly increase these risks. In fact, it is estimated that driving under the influence of marijuana can increase the risk of a traffic accident by up to 300%.
Contrary to the common belief that marijuana does not affect driving skills, the evidence suggests otherwise. Many users might drive more slowly when under the influence, but they may lack the necessary attention and quick reaction times to prevent an accident.
Is it Legal to Drive High on Weed?
Driving under the influence of marijuana is illegal in the United States and most countries where cannabis is legal. The laws vary, with some countries even prohibiting driving for up to three days post marijuana consumption. In most places, however, law enforcement officers can arrest you based on observed impairment, regardless of blood test results.
If pulled over under suspicion of driving high, you might be required to take a roadside blood test, and possibly further testing at a clinic. If you are caught driving high, you are likely to face penalties similar to those for driving under the influence of alcohol, which could include jail time, fines, and a permanent record.
Do Legalized Cannabis Laws Increase Driving Risks?
Even though the legalization of marijuana hasn’t led to a significant rise in traffic fatalities, the total number of auto accidents has increased by as much as 6% in states where marijuana is legal. Accidents can lead to property damage, hospitalization, and even fatalities, impacting not only the individuals involved but also their families and employers.
Driving under the influence of marijuana and alcohol differ in ways. For example, a high driver might display poor attention span and erratic driving, while a drunk driver may be more likely to be recklessly aggressive.
With about 40% of the U.S. population having used marijuana at some point and another 9% using it actively for medical or recreational purposes, driving under the influence has become a pressing issue. The belief that driving high is safe and doesn’t impact driving skills is a dangerous misconception. Any mind-altering substance, no matter how mild its effects seem, can impair motor skills and concentration, posing risks to the driver and others on the road.
If someone you know is struggling with a dependence on marijuana to the extent that they are willing to drive under the influence, they may have a substance abuse problem. Just like any other addiction, marijuana use disorder is diagnosable and treatable. At 12 South Recovery, we are well versed in the difficulties faced in the process of overcoming substances, and marijuana is no exception to that. If you or someone you know is struggling with this issue, we are here to help. Give us a call today at 866-311-4524.
Remember, no matter what you might believe, it is not safe to drive high. Always prioritize your safety and the safety of others on the road.