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  • POSTED JANUARY 09, 2019
One of the most hotly-debated topics in cannabis is whether driving under the influence of cannabis is the equivalent to driving while drunk. It’s an area where anecdotal evidence and scientific fact seem to be at odds, with a minority of advocates claiming that cannabis is no more dangerous than cigarettes when it comes to driving. Though still nascent, the science does however suggest another truth – that driving high is nearly as dangerous as driving drunk, particularly with novice cannabis users.

A recent meta-analysis, which compiled statistical results from various studies in order to summarize all available data, found that cannabis, like alcohol, increased the chances of vehicle accidents. Conducted in driving simulators and on road tests, these studies measured hazard detection and response, vehicular control, lane keeping and the ability to maintain speedway and headway behind the wheel.1

While drivers impaired by cannabis did show an increased awareness of the fact that their driving was hindered, often compensating by slowing down and increasing headway, researchers found unequivocally that response times were altered. Both alcohol and cannabis slowed reaction times for things like pedestrians and other vehicles pulling into the street, and neither group was found to respond fast enough to avoid immediate threats.


Whether using cannabis for medical or recreational purposes, the impediment to safety behind the wheel remains the same. At the University of Toronto, where the world’s most advanced  driving simulator, the iDAPT DriverLab, is housed, researchers have been testing people’s ability to drive high, and the results have been conclusive. Findings have shown that cannabis affected attention, vigilance, perception, time and speed, with drivers often displaying slower reaction times when under the influence of cannabis.2

Another major variable that needs to be considered when discussing cannabis-impaired driving is the method of ingestion. By inhalation, cannabis has a faster onset time, while ingestion usually takes 30 minutes or more from the time of consumption to have an impact. THC concentration is another factor, and both of these can be lead to different effects on the body and mind, in turn altering a driver’s safety behind the wheel.

While there is certainly a contingent in the cannabis space who would like to claim the jury is still out on the dangers of driving high, the science is less optimistic. All of the studies that have been conducted using simulators or real-time road tests have shown that, without a doubt, driving under the influence of cannabis can increase the risk of getting into a car crash. With more people consuming cannabis in recent years, it’s definitely best to err on the side of caution and, quite literally, keep it between the lines.

References:
1. https://explore.ucalgary.ca/driving-high-bad-driving-drunk-legalization-and-what-it-means-traffic-safety
2. https://www.utoronto.ca/news/cannabis-and-driving-why-you-shouldn-t-do-it-and-what-research-still-needed
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