Can You Drive While High? How to Avoid Getting a DUI
You're at a friend's house, you smoke some weed, and you're about to head home.
But wait—can you drive while high? We all know drinking and driving is a bad idea, but what about driving after smoking a joint? Can you get charged with a DUI?
It turns out that there are indeed risks that come with hitting the road while you're still compromised. Since the legality of marijuana is relatively new, you might not know everything you need to about its relationship to car safety. We're here to walk you through the safety and legal risks of driving while high:
What is Getting High, Really?
What happens when you get high? You might have a subjective sense of what's going on, like the heightened senses and spacing out. But in order to know whether getting high will impact your driving, you need to learn what happens to your brain when you're high.
Marijuana gets you high because it contains a psychoactive ingredient called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. This stimulates your brain to release dopamine, the "pleasure" chemical. There are different strains of weed, and depending on your body's reaction to each, the potency and timing of your high will vary.
Some people use marijuana as a pain reliever, and it's effective in doing this. It can also mess with your sense of balance, a mind alteration that's are harmless when you're just sitting on the floor. But what about when you're driving?
The reason that pot affects your balance is that it affects activity in your cerebellum and basal ganglia. This means it can also impair your coordination. As you might guess, this can become a problem on the road.
Another effect of marijuana that can spell trouble on the highway is sleepiness. Marijuana is linked to drowsiness, in many cases even excessive daytime sleepiness.
In a calm, relaxed environment with no external pressures, all of these effects of marijuana can be part of a pleasant high. The drowsiness and lack of coordination can actually be a nice experience when you don't have anything you need to do. What you'll need to figure out, though, is whether this will impair your driving skills on the road.
Can You Drive While High and Still Be a Safe Driver?
If you feel that getting stoned and then getting behind the wheel is fine, you're not alone. According to a major national survey, 48% of marijuana users in 2019 said it was safe to drive while high. 17% of users surveyed even said that it was "very safe" to do this.
It's understandable why people might think so.
When compared with alcohol impairment, the cognitive impairment that comes with weed is a lot harder to connect to traffic accidents.
Keep in mind, though, that the numbers don't tell the whole story. It's quite possible that when it comes to marijuana and driving, the research just isn't there yet. It's hard to test whether a driver is under the influence of marijuana, and that can affect the data of these studies.
For both legal and moral reasons, you should take the time to assess your cognitive function before you try to drive. Are you in danger of falling asleep behind the wheel or losing your coordination?
Driving is a matter of your personal safety and the safety of others, so you'll need to be sure that you can stay on task.
One major risk that you should avoid is the occasional paranoia that can accompany marijuana use. Some people link this to high potency or amounts of weed, while others attribute it to individual physiology. Whatever the cause is, you should try to eliminate this risk before getting on the road.
This paranoia, also called Cannabis-Induced Psychosis (CIP), can make you irrationally scared of things around you and see connections that aren't there. This is a loss of contact with reality, and it can create unexpected danger if it happens while you're driving. If you think you may be having a psychotic break, don't try to drive.
The Legal Risks
Driving while being compromised by marijuana, just like driving while drunk, is a crime in every state. The actual implementation of this law, however, gets a bit tricky.
If you get pulled over and the police officer suspects that you were drinking, you might be subjected to a series of tests. And as we've all been taught in Driver's Ed, a blood alcohol level above 0.08% means you're legally intoxicated.
For marijuana, however, it's a bit harder for officials to determine whether or not you were actually impaired. If you get pulled over and the officer suspects your driving was impaired by THC, any method of measurement will have its uncertainties.
You could be told to complete some field sobriety tests on the spot, but you might pass them all. What next? There's no industry-standard breathalyzer for marijuana, and blood tests might say that you're compromised when you haven't touched weed for several days.
There isn't a federal standard for the amount of THC you need to have in your blood to be considered impaired.
Certain states forbid any presence of THC in the blood. This is problematic, though, as a blood test can show up positive for someone who's not impaired at all.
Some think that the clearest option is a combination of the field sobriety tests and the officer's judgment on whether or not the driver was impaired. As one man noted to the L.A. Times, however, this level guesswork can lead to racial profiling and higher rates of incarceration.
Your best bet is to look up the laws in your own state to what kinds of testing will lead to a DUI charge. To avoid a DUI, make sure you'll be able to pass these tests. And if you think you've been wrongly charged, make sure you get connected to an experienced DUI lawyer to handle your case.
So, can you drive while high? The jury's still out on this one. It's a complicated issue, and it depends on your physiology, your body's reaction, and your state's method of measuring marijuana impairment.
The best answer we can give is that driving while impaired by marijuana is punishable by law in all states. However, it's difficult to know for sure what "impairment" means for marijuana, and you can fight against these charges if you disagree.
If you've been charged with a DUI for marijuana impairment but believe you were clear-headed at the time, you may be able to fight the charge. For a free evaluation of your case, give us a call today.