Driving is a common and essential activity. Once you know how to drive a vehicle, your mind automatically goes into high gear and functions rationally. Take marijuana or cannabis into your system, and it’ll affect your brain’s thinking ability. The reason: THC or Tetrahydrocannabinol chemical compound is the main cannabinoid present in marijuana or cannabis plants. As a result, it interferes with the brain’s thinking power. It hits brain areas that allow it to direct our body to function in a particular way.
Studies found that children below the age of 16 can have dangerous driving behavior in the future if exposed to marijuana at an early age. The effects were almost similar to those above the age of 16. If that’s not enough to scare you away from using marijuana while driving, sample this: it has been found the THC level remains within the system for weeks after the so-called ‘high’ is gone.
Let’s understand THC first
Before delving into THC use’s effects while driving, let us first understand what THC compound is. Tetrahydrocannabinol is the cannabinoid found in marijuana. This cannabinoid causes intoxication or generates a feeling of ‘high.’ This chemical is responsible for most of marijuana’s psychoactive properties.
THC causes high because it’s similar to the cannabinoids produced by our body. The cannabis compound possesses many medicinal properties.
It can boost your sense of pleasure.THC also mimics the naturally produced chemical compound called ‘Anandamide’ in structure. Anandamide or N-arachidonoylethanolamine (AEA) is a fatty acid neurotransmitter derived from the essential omega-6 fatty acid. The word came from the Sanskrit word called ‘Ananda,’ which means joy or bliss.
THC, coupled with anandamide, affects our memory, movements, and our thinking. THC has proven to be effective against serious health complications. These include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), eating disorders, stress, and epilepsy.
Notwithstanding the benefits associated with THC, it also carries some dangerous effects. Like alcohol, THC also affects our driving skills by delaying your response time and impaired our ability to coordinate.
What exactly happens when you drive after consuming marijuana (with THC)?
Judgment, concentration, reaction time, and motor coordination — all of these skills take a back seat when you drive under the influence of cannabis. This leads to poor control over vehicles, drowsiness, and increases the chances of fatal crashes. Those who like consuming alcohol with marijuana are at an even greater risk of impaired driving.
If someone is a habitual user, the THC level remains in the system for weeks. Two of the significant European studies conducted to assess the impact of marijuana on driving asserted that those consuming THC content while driving are twice at the risk of a fatal accident than those who don’t.
How much role marijuana has to play in this is unclear because of its ability to stay in our system for long. Similarly, it has also been found that cannabis users are 3-7 times more likely to be responsible for the overall accidents than those who don’t.
It is worth notable here that while most studies point towards the fact that chances of crash rise manifold if you consume cannabis or marijuana, it’s also true that certain studies have shown THC does not play any role in impaired driving skills.
What do studies on the THC effect of driving reveal?
A study published by the Drug and Alcohol Dependence journal found that chronic and heavy marijuana users — those consuming cannabis before the age of 16 — were more at the risk of vehicle crashes than others. Experts suggest our brains are still evolving before 16, making them vulnerable to all sorts of drugs or addictive substances. The study found that those exposed to cannabis before 16 had greater chances of failing to perform complex cognitive tasks like driving.
Another study, conducted by R. Andrew Sewell, James Poling, and Mehmet Sofuoglu on the ‘effect of cannabis compared with alcohol on driving,’ found that “cannabis use may lead to unsafe driving.” However, it also revealed experimental studies have suggested that THC can also have the opposite effect. The study concluded that cannabis effects might vary because of tolerance, different techniques, and THC intake level before driving.
According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), 72 percent of all alcohol-related fatalities were cases in which the victims consumed heavy alcohol doses. This is also true for cannabis users, opine researchers. The unrestrained and long-term uses of cannabis lead to lack of attention, rise in risk-taking, and reckless driving chances, the study said.
Besides, in real-time situations, it becomes challenging to assess the marijuana effect on driving. The reasons are the unavailability of accurate drug tests on the roadside, the ability of marijuana to stay within the system for days after consumption, and the presence of multiple drugs (cannabis and alcohol together) in the body.
The bottom line
Marijuana requires more research to understand its actual impact on our body when we drive. Unlike alcohol, it is still classified as a Schedule I substance under the United States Controlled Substances Act. Only a handful of studies assessed its impact on a person’s ability to drive so far. The need is to allow thorough research on a Schedule I drug’s ability to impact our driving skills. Researchers also need to closely examine the relationship between THC blood levels and the degree of impairment.
It’s important to note that driving under the influence of a psychoactive substance is strictly prohibited in many nations. As more states in the US legalize marijuana use for recreational use, it is the need of the hour to analyze how much impact THC has on our minds and bodies. With states opening up to marijuana, there has also been a spurt in driving-related crashes and criminal cases. Also, it’s important to keep an eye on youngsters exposing themselves to cannabis. This can have downstream effects in the later stages of life, especially when it comes to their ability to drive.