Cannabusters myth #19: It's totally fine to drive high

Sep 27 2018, 6:21 am

Every day, in every way, cannabis legalization in Canada is getting closer. But despite all the hype, noise, and publicity, there seem to be recurring cannabis myths flying around that just won’t quit.

With 19 days to go until federal legalization, Grow’s daily Cannabusters series tackles common myths by cutting through the stigma and sensationalism to bring you the facts about cannabis.

Myth: It’s totally OK to drive high.

Fact: Impaired driving is dangerous. Period.

It’s an extremely common misconception that consuming cannabis and driving is no big deal – and it’s also a dangerous one.

In this installment of Cannabusters, Daily Hive consults with PJ Barclay, President and CEO of DriveABLE, a university spin-off company that “combine[s] cutting-edge technology with proven research to deliver driver assessment tools for commercial fleets, governments, insurers, and the medical community,” and provide “service, software and hardware solutions that help identify if medications or medical conditions have affected a person’s ability to drive.”

Cannabis impairment and driving

What happens when you drive high?

According to Barclay, “what we do know is that use of cannabis, specifically the cannabinoid THC, compromises one’s cognitive faculties. There is a direct correlation to parts of the brain that are actively required to drive safely. So when these parts of the brain are compromised, that puts that person at risk for actually having an incident on the road.”

But impairment as a result of cannabis use can’t really be measured in a vacuum, he says.

There are a host of things that put a person at risk to drive and pot is just one of them, but “cannabis does compromise those cognitive components of the brain that are critical for safe driving.

How can we accurately assess impairment?

Current government saliva swab tests are able to assess the amount (if any) of THC present in the user’s system, but not whether the user is impaired. The level of THC that causes cannabis impairment is wildly subjective and based on a number of factors such as height, weight, frequency of use, and how the user consumed the cannabis.

The Vancouver Police Department has declined to use the new technology, at least for now.

Barclay isn’t quick to completely write off the tests, though – he thinks that they can be an important component of a holistic approach to assessing impairment.

“We don’t necessarily believe that there’s going to be one Holy Grail tool,” says Barclay.

“What you’re going to find is that there be a collection for an effective toolbox. I think that each tool within the space is looking at the question from a different angle. It’s almost like putting together a puzzle, and there’s different pieces of the puzzle that need to come together to give that full picture of whether a person is impaired or demonstrating risk if impairment.”

He also stresses the importance of developing a system for judging impaired driving.

“If you think of a toolbox where there’d be a protocol, and one of the steps is using cognitive ability to establish whether this person is at risk of impairment, and then understanding the cause of impairment using other tools, for example saliva swabs or breathalyzers.”

Medical issues

Impaired driving has been a controversial topic for medical cannabis users since the federal government approved C-46. Many feel that under the new bill they’re being forced to choose between their mobility and their medication.

“How do you fairly screen someone who should retire from driving? Those with a medical condition should consider, ‘is this person at risk to drive?’” says Barclay.

“Based on data we had collected, we were able to see that at a particular point, it would typically translate into an issue on the road and that’s what puts them at risk.”

Limited mobility can have a devastating effect on quality of life for medical users, many of whom are disabled and rely on driving to get around and cannabis to get through the day.

A more comprehensive impairment assessment system could keep more people safe and allow many medical users to continue to drive without fear of legal repercussions.

Social responsibility

So who is responsible for preventing impaired driving in the cannabis space?

Everyone, according to Barclay.

‘I would urge a responsibility from the user up to the responsibility of the organizations selling,” he says, also reminding readers that impaired driving has been around long before the soon-to-be legalization of cannabis.

“Just because October 17 is coming does not mean that impairment hasn’t been an issue before, and it’s understanding that yes, cannabis has placed this focus on this question of impairment, but it has existed long before October 17.”

Barclay says that legalization has caused a resurgence of interest in the challenges of impaired driving.

“It’s definitely raised awareness and I think from that perspective, it’s exciting to see the people taking a different look and a fresh perspective at how do we proactively manage the issue of impairment whether it be on the roadside, in a workplace, or other similar environments.”

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Emma SpearsEmma Spears

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