Sometimes patients have concerns or questions around driving if they are using medicinal cannabis. Is it safe? It’s probably best to avoid medicinal cannabis if you are driving. Here is an article from a group of attorneys on the topic.

Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana

With more and more states legalizing recreational marijuana, it’s easy to overlook the dangers that still exist when consuming the substance. Driving under the influence of marijuana comes with its own unique set of risks motorists should know.

When most people picture impaired drivers, they assume alcohol intoxication is involved. This is the most common form of impairment behind the wheel, but it’s by no means the only substance people abuse when driving.

Marijuana is also a huge concern. It affects both physical and cognitive functions, and drivers impaired by marijuana exhibit slow reaction times and poor judgment. As cannabis is legalized in more states and used more frequently by a variety of people, it’s more important than ever to understand its impact on driving.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that 18 percent of Americans used marijuana at least once in 2019. These people must not consume marijuana before getting behind the wheel.


The effects of marijuana vary between people and the strain consumed, and it can be difficult to predict how it will impact any given person at any given time.

In the short term, these effects are common:

  • Dry mouth
  • Dry eyes
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Increased appetite
  • Distraction
  • Increased heart rate

Regular marijuana use can also have many long-term implications, especially if consumed in excess. These may include:

  • Altered brain development in adolescents and young adults
  • Insomnia, which is especially common for daily users
  • Weakened immune system and greater risk of pneumonia
  • Increased blood pressure and, over time, increased risk of heart disease or stroke

Marijuana use disorder is also a cause for concern. This problem occurs when regular users are unable to abstain from consuming cannabis, even when it has a negative impact on their social lives or performance at work or school. Research from JAMA Psychiatry estimates that this disorder occurs for three in 10 users.

Prescription drugs or mental health concerns can exacerbate the complications. For example, individuals with bipolar disorder may find that their symptoms become more severe when they’re under the influence of weed. Additionally, research indicates that people with schizophrenia are more likely to experience psychosis when they use the substance.

Experts from the CDC believe that marijuana smoke can lead to many of the same heart and lung problems commonly associated with cigarette smoke. While further research is required to determine if marijuana smoke leads to an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease compared with tobacco use, the harmful effects of marijuana smoke are still evident.

All of these potential effects serve to amplify the dangers of mixing marijuana with the operation of a motor vehicle.

Impact of Specific Strains

As the cannabis legalization movement continues to take hold — and medical and recreational consumption increase — dispensaries are eager to release a greater variety of products that will appeal to many consumers.

While different modes of consumption have always produced different effects, the scope continues to increase as the cannabis industry produces new strains. These are sometimes referred to as chemovars (short for “chemical varieties”), as some believe that “strain” is associated with viruses and may have negative connotations.

Some chemovars are specifically designed to increase drowsiness, so using these would be particularly dangerous prior to driving. Most fall into a few main categories, such as:

  • Sativa. Known for its energizing effect, sativa is what many people imagine when they think of “typical” marijuana. This strain contains higher levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) than indica and most hybrid strains.
  • Indica. Thought to produce a “body high,” the indica strain offers a calming alternative to the energizing effect of sativa. It’s frequently used by people who struggle with insomnia and other sleep disorders.
  • Hybrid. As its name implies, this variety involves a blend of the sativa and indica strains. While the effects can vary from one hybrid product to the next, it’s common for hybrid strains to produce feelings of euphoria.

The cannabis industry increasingly relies on categories such as Type I, Type II, and Type III to reveal the levels of THC and CBD in any of the strains listed above.


Many people use marijuana without suffering any ill effects. As with alcohol, it’s possible to consume cannabis responsibly and in moderation. Marijuana can even address various health concerns, especially among those who respond poorly to conventional treatment options.

Problems arise when using marijuana before or during activities that require the person’s full energy and attention. Driving under the influence of marijuana is particularly risky.

Drowsiness is arguably the most significant concern regarding marijuana-impaired drivers safely operating a motor vehicle. Falling asleep behind the wheel can lead to a catastrophic accident, as tired drivers will focus more on staying awake rather than being aware and alert motorists.

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