Stoned Driving: degree and experience

In graduate school, during the 70s the issue of Stoned Driving came up from time to time. I confess that we learned a few things experientially. 😉

    • When driving stoned the first thing you do is drive slower.

Since time and other perceptions are different when stoned, slowing down is an almost automatic response to being high. To me, 50mph felt more like 65mph so I would compensate by slowing down.

Studies from the University of WA had some interesting results that have since been replicated. One driving simulator study used 4 groups, Naïve Alcohol Users, Experienced Alcohol Users, Naïve Pot Users, and Experienced Pot Users. When high, all groups showed poorer performance EXCEPT the Experienced Pot Users who actually did better stoned than straight. I looked for the reference online to no avail but I did find some comprehensive research comparing Alcohol and Cannabis from NIH NIHMSID: NIHMS115730. Here is a very telling quote from that work

Surprisingly, given the alarming results of cognitive studies, most marijuana-intoxicated drivers show only modest impairments on actual road tests.37, 38 Experienced smokers who drive on a set course show almost no functional impairment under the influence of marijuana, except when it is combined with alcohol.39

So amongst experienced Cannabis Users, there is virtually no functional impairment during normal driving, unless Alcohol is in the mix. My take of this issue is simple: Driving under alcohol is much more dangerous than driving a few hr. after smoking a joint.

If you need more data below is the NIH study abstract

The prevalence of both alcohol and cannabis use and the high morbidity associated with motor vehicle crashes has lead to a plethora of research on the link between the two. Drunk drivers are involved in 25% of motor vehicle fatalities, and many accidents involve drivers who test positive for cannabis. Cannabis and alcohol acutely impair several driving-related skills in a dose-related fashion, but the effects of cannabis vary more between individuals than they do with alcohol because of tolerance, differences in smoking technique, and different absorptions of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana. Detrimental effects of cannabis use vary in a dose-related fashion, and are more pronounced with highly automatic driving functions than with more complex tasks that require conscious control, whereas with alcohol produces an opposite pattern of impairment. Because of both this and an increased awareness that they are impaired, marijuana smokers tend to compensate effectively while driving by utilizing a variety of behavioral strategies. Combining marijuana with alcohol eliminates the ability to use such strategies effectively, however, and results in impairment even at doses which would be insignificant were they of either drug alone. Epidemiological studies have been inconclusive regarding whether cannabis use causes an increased risk of accidents; in contrast, unanimity exists that alcohol use increases crash risk. Furthermore, the risk from driving under the influence of both alcohol and cannabis is greater than the risk of driving under the influence of either alone. Future research should focus on resolving contradictions posed by previous studies, and patients who smoke cannabis should be counseled to wait several hours before driving, and avoid combining the two drugs.

Some Personal Experiences

In 1972 I had a small biz during my last two years in graduate school. We used some methodology I helped develop to perform quick turnaround attitude surveys and had rented a faculty members house for office space while he was on sabbatical. We had a small company car, a Mazda RX2 with rotary engine, fast but small. Early one summer evening I was riding back to home from the temp office. I had just finished a half Joint of some nice Colombian and was just beginning to relax. I made the turn from Sunset Drive onto S.Dixie Hwy feeling nice and mellow. The Highway was 6 tight lanes divided with railroad tracks on one side and a line of metal light poles in front of a row of store windows on the curbside. Suddenly, a large Chevy wagon cut into my lane and I had to jam the breaks. The Mazda began to fishtail and I realized if it spun out, I’d wind up decorated in glass and metal, if I survived.

To this day I can remember the almost slo-mo effect as I calmly steered into the skid and kept the car under control. It happened so fast that I had no time to be afraid. My pulse remained almost normal, but my high dissipated quickly lol.

After I got my degree in ‘73, I made several cross country trips from Miami to San Francisco and back. I can still see the road 30+ miles ahead from the west side of the Rio Grande Valley as I descended from the east side. Every time I hear Elton’s “Benny and the Jets” I think of that spot. I also have some super memories of the West from those days, most of them stoned, but not wasted.

So if you are a medical marijuana patient who needs to drive while medicated:

  1. Wait for a few hr. before hitting the road
  2. Avoid any alcohol
  3. Of course, drive at a comfortable speed!