Are You Too High to Drive?

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There are three perspectives on this question, and no matter which you subscribe to, I know what you’re thinking:

  1. If you have consumed THC, you should not be behind the wheel.
  2. If you know how to navigate the gray area, you should be able to steer clear of putting yourself or others in danger.
  3.  YOLO.

While there’s plenty to explore within the first and third schools of thought, we’re going to focus on the one sandwiched between them. If you’re of the “YOLO” mindset, you probably aren’t the type of person who seeks out advice from blogs to justify your decisions. However, if you’re lost and have arrived at this post accidentally, you might give it a read while you’re in the neighborhood. If you, like most of us, are a perfectly reasonable, thoughtful person who loves a good toke here and there (or everywhere), and just want to stay safe, you’ve come to the right post.

Let’s begin with the simplest, most obvious piece of advice: If you truly feel that you might not be capable of operating a car safely, then you should not do it. For those who are far from sober, the risk of grave consequences far outweighs the reward of what is likely something fried and in excess of 1000 calories. If you took a few bong rips within the last hour, sit this one out, friend. Police, the courts, scientists, and legislators haven’t quite reached a consensus on the specifics of the matter, but driving stoned can indeed be dangerous. Unfortunately, the research on driving under the influence of cannabis is very limited compared to what we know about driving drunk. Unlike alcohol, the same amount of pot, in the same concentration, consumed within the same time period does not definitively yield consistent results, so it’s tricky for scientists to recommend a quantitative limit that lends itself to regulation. There is some existing research, and several ongoing studies continue to explore the full extent and nature of the danger of driving high, but experts generally agree that at the bare minimum, your reaction time is slowed and your ability to multitask is impaired, which puts you and everyone else on the road at risk. That’s reason enough to consider ordering your cheesy bread for delivery instead of pick-up.

Right now, police officers don’t have the range of tools for determining cannabis impairment that they do for measuring drunkenness. Blood tests that measure THC levels are not particularly useful, as they come up positive if the person in question has consumed cannabis within the last few weeks, not just the last few hours. While they’re still used in many states anyway, researchers say that they make little sense in the context of driving. A regular cannabis user with a developed tolerance is much more likely to be able to operate a vehicle safely with higher THC levels than a first-time or infrequent user with the same levels. This makes it difficult for legislators to determine and set a legal blood THC limit for driving. As legalization in Canada takes effect, there will undoubtedly come changes in both legislation and in the tools for measuring sobriety. This means that you shouldn’t bank on outdated processes as your savior from any consequences of driving high, because those responsible for public safety will continue to innovate to keep the roads free of dangerous drivers.

While there’s no cannabis-measuring equivalent to the Breathalyzer test, there are a few different apps that can actually help you make the call, and more of the like are in the works. These apps take some of the guesswork out of evaluating your own state of operating. If you smoked a few hours ago and just want to be sure you’re good to go before jumping in your car, check out the Druid Impairment Evaluation app. It prompts you through several game-like activities that gauge your reaction time, as well as your ability to follow directions. In terms of function, it’s a decent tool. Don’t get your hopes up form-wise, but the app is great for all the triple checkers out there who’d feel better with some of peace of mind. Another such app is Canary, which is slightly more expensive than Druid, and works in a similar way. It gives users a green, yellow, or red light that sums up the level at which they are functioning.

Because the decision to drive high is far from an exact science, having these tools at our disposal is actually somewhat revolutionary. As cannabis has been illegal for so long, the conversation surrounding it has been stifled in a host of ways. New technology and data are just beginning to chip away at the catch-up game. Apps that help users consume cannabis and conduct themselves safely have the potential to affect public safety as a whole, but they depend on the motivation of cannabis users to take the initiative to use them. Their creators tend to believe that most people are responsible enough to make time for the extra step before driving off.

In addition to these kinds of apps, there are breathalyzer-like devices in the early stages of development that will be able to correctly measure how much and how recently a person has smoked. Now, whether those devices will be made available to the public or stay in the hands of law enforcement and perhaps medical professionals remains to be seen. Either way, these advancements are good news for everyone.

Ultimately, deciding whether to drive after using pot continues to depend totally on the situation at hand. Experienced, regular users can likely drive safely much sooner after smoking than those with a lower tolerance, but using an app to aid in this judgement call is still a smart move. The potency and type of the cannabis used can also play a role, but we don’t have quite enough information to make informed decisions based on those factors. Outdated and inaccurate processes used by police to determine how high drivers are might also dissuade you from driving after being high, but so will the more accurate advancements on the horizon. In short, if you’re really not sure what to do, stay home. If you think you’re okay to drive but need some reassurance, use an app that’s designed to help. The uncertainty here is real, but fortunately, if you are in fact too high, the stakes probably aren’t. And if they are, there’s an Uber driver nearby who’s ready to scoop you up and deliver you to some emergency ice cream. Safe smoking, Comrades.

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