Medical Marijuana 101

Driving While High: Can Marijuana And Driving Combine?

More than 20 states have legalized marijuana either for recreational or medical purposes or both. As marijuana use has become more normalized around the country, so have questions regarding how it affects regular activities like going to work or driving. The reality is, that marijuana affects different individuals in unique ways and because there’s no “one size fits all” effect, authorities have trouble coming up with universal guidelines that would be fair and consistent across the board.

When it comes to cannabis and driving, consider this: Cannabis is the second most commonly detected drug in the general driving population and in crash-involved drivers. It’s no surprise that the NHTSA has launched campaigns raising awareness and prevention of accidents of this type such as “Drive High, Get a DUI” and “If You Feel Different, You Drive Different” over the years.

With this in mind, many questions arise such as: How does marijuana affect driving? Do states share the same laws when it comes to marijuana and driving? Can you avoid a DWI if marijuana is legal in your state? How long should you wait before driving after you have consumed marijuana? We answer these questions and many more below.

How Does Marijuana Affect Driving?

Marijuana affects different individuals in different ways, so not all drivers who have consumed marijuana will experience all of the same effects, but here are the most common ones:

  • Impaired ability to make decisions.
  • Slow reaction time.
  • Impaired ability to adequately judge distance and peril.
  • Decreased coordination.
  • Decreased ability to maintain position in the same lane.
  • Decreased ability to maintain divided attention like shifting gears or shifting attention from the dashboard to the road to checking mirrors.
  • Drowsiness or dizziness

Any of these effects combined put the impaired driver, their passengers, and other vehicles and pedestrians at risk.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, motor vehicle crash fatalities involving cannabis have more than doubled as they rose from 9% in 2000 to 21.5% in 2018.

Can I Drive If I Only Consume CBD-Dominant Cannabis?

In general terms, CBD is not considered to have the same psychoactive effects as THC. With that said, the possibility of experiencing psychoactive effects after consuming CBD-dominant cannabis can’t be 100% discarded because that depends on the quality and purity of the product you consume and whether your body might still react to traces of THC that could still be found in said product. Regardless of the potential for psychoactive effects, when it comes to driving, CBD-dominant cannabis can cause impairing effects such as drowsiness that prompt recommendations of abstaining from operating motor vehicles to prevent driving while intoxicated.

What Factors Determine How Marijuana Affects Individuals?

Although the effects of marijuana vary depending on the individual, here are the factors that affect how consumers can react after consuming cannabis:

  • Cannabinoid content: THC has psychoactive effects, CBD mostly causes drowsiness in most individuals.
  • User tolerance: tolerance levels vary from one individual to the next. Long term users can develop a higher tolerance requiring higher doses to experience the same effects that a new user can experience with smaller doses.
  • Dosage and product potency: OTC cannabis as well as medical marijuana offer a wide array of products that vary not only in ratio of CBD:THC but also in potency of their components, which determine the effects on the consumer.
  • Route of administration: not all forms of marijuana have effects that last the same. When cannabis is smoked, the effects can last in the body 4-6 hours but when orally ingested via tinctures or edibles, the effects last longer (8-12 hours).

How Long Should You Wait Before Driving After You Have Consumed Marijuana?

Considering the factors described above, there is no “one size fits all” guidance as each individual uniquely experiences the effects of cannabis depending on what they consume and how they consume it. Furthermore, individuals should wait at least 6 hours after smoking marijuana with 35 mg or less content of THC (more time if a larger dose of THC was consumed.) If cannabis was orally ingested, the minimum wait time should be 8 hours for doses containing 18 mg of THC or less (or 12 hours for larger THC doses.)

Wait time is extended as well if cannabis is consumed in combination with alcohol, as combining can cause effects to last more than 12 hours. You can find more information about driving while high vs. driving while drunk or a combination of both in this article.

Can I Drive After Consuming Marijuana If I Feel Sober?

Consider the results of a study published in the JAMA Psychiatry in 2022 arguing that cannabis effects affect individuals longer than they realize. In fact, researchers found that even conscientious drivers who would abstain from driving when they feel too high to do so, can experience a false sense of sobriety after 2 hours of having consumed cannabis, which makes them feel apt to drive when in reality they are still impaired. Testing indicated that although individuals might rate themselves as safe to drive as they close the 2 hour mark post consumption, simulator data indicated they are still prone to departing their lane and their driving performance is still reduced, only improving 4.5 hours post smoked consumption (remember that recovery time is higher for oral consumption.)

Can I Get In Trouble For Carrying Marijuana In My Vehicle?

The short answer is “It depends.” Is marijuana legal in the state where you are driving? If it’s legal only for medical purposes, are you a registered patient? How much marijuana are you carrying? Is the container closed/sealed? If cannabis is legal for recreational purposes in the state where you are driving, you don’t exceed the legal amount in possession, you are not consuming while driving, and aren’t driving under the influence, you should be ok. If it’s legal only for medical purposes and the other conditions remain the same, as long as you are a registered medical cannabis patient in that state and can prove it, you should be ok as well.

No. Even if medical marijuana is legal in the state and you are a registered patient, in Texas driving while intoxicated is illegal regardless of the substance whether it’s prescribed or not, or where, how, or why it was purchased or consumed. The law applies to all drivers, with no exceptions.

Also consider that if you are a long-term cannabis consumer, THC can remain in your system longer than it would for occasional users; as such, the probability of a positive drug test is higher. If you were to take a sobriety test, THC can still show up even if you have not consumed cannabis for more than 12 hours and are sober. Finally, know that regardless of whether it is a first offense or a repeated one, a DWI carries varied jail times and monetary fines. Penalties are more severe if children passengers are involved and if others are injured.

Do States Share The Same Laws When It Comes to Marijuana And Driving?

No. Although driving under the influence is illegal all over the country, laws and acceptable sobriety limits vary from state to state. Some states have zero-tolerance policies for possession of marijuana or the presence of THC levels in your blood mirroring the Federal law. In states where marijuana has been legalized, laws diverge: in some, although possession is accepted within certain limits, there are zero tolerance policies when it comes to THC in your system; other states have set acceptable maximum limits for both possession and the presence of THC in the system (anywhere between 2 – 5 nanograms/ml of blood). In Texas, there is a zero-tolerance policy for driving while intoxicated and as mentioned before, a DWI carries jail time and monetary penalties.

Medical marijuana provides relief to thousands of patients in Texas and all over the world. For many, it has been the path to controlling symptoms and regaining a sense of normalcy for conducting daily activities. Knowing how medical marijuana affects some aspects of daily life is key to the safe management of your treatment.

Being under medical cannabis treatment doesn’t necessarily preclude you from driving. It does require consideration, planning, and taking the necessary precautions to avoid driving while intoxicated and therefore, being safe and keeping others safe on the road as well. The net of it is, don’t drive until you know how this medicine is going to affect you. Just like other medications, make sure you feel yourself and at full capacity before getting behind the wheel. If after waiting 8-12 hours of taking your medicine you still feel altered at all, it would be best not to drive.

If you or a loved one are considering medical marijuana treatment, contact us! We are happy to answer any questions you may have.