Is driving while high as bad as driving drunk?
The government of Alberta is rolling out an ad campaign to make it known that driving while stoned is in fact just as bad as driving while drunk, and that the consequences are just as severe.
These ads have been appearing on social media platforms and other websites since the end of November. Their main purpose is education: the government wants Albertans to know that getting behind the wheel that drinking and driving and toking and driving are both dangerous and illegal.
“A lot of people believe that A) it’s safer, B) that they can’t get caught, or C) that the consequences are different or not as severe as driving if you’re drunk,” Wendy Doyle, Executive Director for the Office of Traffic Safety told the Calgary Herald.
“Spot the difference. Behind the wheel, there isn’t one,” reads one ad that shows a car full of people passing a beer bottle from driver to passenger on one side, and on the other side the driver passing the same passenger a joint. Another other ad shows a man walking down the street with a friend drinking a beer and on the other side the same situation but with a joint in his hand instead of a beer bottle.
But there is one big problem with this or any campaign against high driving. There are currently no roadside tests in use such as a breathalyzer to check if someone is impaired from the effects of marijuana, and with THC staying in your system for up to 30 days, testing becomes even more difficult. Some methods, such as breath strips which were able to tell if a person had smoked marijuana have been tried in the past, but they proved useless in testing when the person consumed edibles or another such method. A Burnaby-based company called Cannabix Technologies appears to be close to commercializing a marijuana breathalyzer.
The states of Washington and Colorado have found that having five nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood is equal to the impairment that one would have from a .08 blood alcohol level, but others see these numbers as less than dependable. Owing to different levels of experience and different physiology, some people may only need to consume a very minimal amount to reach the 5 ng/ml; while other more experienced users could be seen as not intoxicated but still read equal to or over the 5 ng/ml level.
“Our premise is to really get out in front of any legislation to start getting people to think about, ‘OK, driving is a task and a privilege and I need to make sure that for whatever I’m using (cannabis) … I have to be cognizant that it would impair my ability to safely operate that vehicle,’” says Doyle.
A survey from drugabuse.gov found that being under the effects of marijuana make a person twice as likely to be involved in a fatal accident. And marijuana has also been the most frequent drug found in the blood systems of those involved in accidents, including fatal ones. Remember that marijuana also does remain in the system of a user for as long as a month after use. The study found the combination of marijuana and alcohol use greatly increases the risk of accident.
But the jury is still out. Another large, controlled study conducted by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found no significant risk of crashing could be attributed to the use of cannabis.