Marijuana users report increase stimulation around various tasks after lighting up—working out, intimacy, eating munchies. But a new survey suggests that half of cannabis consumers thinks it’s okay to drive while high, an idea that’s more complex than you might assume.
Conducted in conjunction with PSB Research and Buzzfeed News, the poll demonstrated only 14% of people who abstained from cannabis use agreed that it was okay to drive while high. On the other hand, 56% of marijuana users felt comfortable getting in the car with a stoned driver while only 16% of non-users agreed with the sentiment.
Driving under the influence is something that should never be encouraged under normal circumstances. But the science and data regarding the safety of stoned drivers on the road isn’t so cut and dry. It’s true that THC impairs your motor and cognitive reactions, meaning your ability to counteract any dangers while driving would be slowed down. A meta-analysis of 60 studies “found that marijuana use causes impairment on every measure of safe driving, including motor-coordination, visual function and completion of complex tasks,” according to The Guardian.
Within the same breath, it’s also worth mentioning a 2010 study published in the American Journal of Addiction, which analyzed the effects of cannabis compared to alcohol when driving. Researchers found that “Because of […] an increased awareness that they are impaired, marijuana smokers tend to compensate effectively while driving by utilizing a variety of behavioral strategies.” This, in part, explains the polling results.
And while most would presume smoking marijuana would make anyone a more dangerous driver, researchers found this debatable in their testing. “Although cognitive studies suggest that cannabis use may lead to unsafe driving, experimental studies have suggested that it can have the opposite effect,” they concluded.
According to Buzzfeed, “some studies have found people with more than 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of whole blood perform more poorly on impairment tests.” But Buzzfeed also mentions a 2017 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report, which states that THC level alone “does not appear to be an accurate and reliable predictor of impairment.” This is what makes it so difficult to create legal cutoff limits for driving while high similar to the legal blood alcohol threshold law enforcement tests when examining drunk drivers.
Back in 2017, a study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found a small and significant increase in traffic collisions following recreational marijuana legalization in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon. But a study published around the same time narrowed its focus to fatal crashes—which is more concerning to the public safety—and discovered that marijuana legalization did not increase the number of fatal car collisions.
To tie this all together, Addiction published a report earlier this year that corroborated an increase in traffic deaths following marijuana legalization. But researchers discovered that after the first few months of legalization, deadly car crashes had a stark dropoff and returned to their previous rates.
There’s no easy answer when examining the relationship between marijuana legalization and car crashes. More research is needed to determine exactly how smoking cannabis affects drivers, and what possible limit could be set to ensure the safety for everyone on the road.