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In 2019, Australia legalised the possession, use and cultivation of small amounts of cannabis in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), allowing residents over 18 to possess and consume cannabis. Likewise, the country’s parliament in 2016 passed the Narcotics Drugs Amendment, which legalised medical cannabis nationwide.

According to Fresh Leaf Analytics, the medical cannabis market closed in 2020 with around 30,000 active patients. Of that number, it is assumed that many are drivers, which begs the question of whether or not it is safe and legal to drive while using cannabis and its compound-CBD.

CBD and THC in Cannabis

Cannabis has two major chemical components: Cannabidiol (CBD) and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC includes in its variety of effects a level of intoxication or “high.” Like alcohol, the intoxicating effects of THC can impair driving ability, leading to accidents.[1]

A study in 2009 by Dr. Sewell et al. indicated a presence of impairment to driving skill after THC consumption in cannabis. The study also suggests a varying degree of severity of impairment depending on the person, with the study concluding that patients have a designated driver.[2]

On the other hand, CBD is a non-intoxicating component of cannabis that will not hinder driving ability, according to a recent study in December 2020 by Dr. Arkell et al.

The study conducted a series of highway driving tests on participants consuming vaporised cannabis containing mainly THC, mainly CBD, a combination of both, or a placebo. The study concludes participants who took mainly CBD performed as well as those who took the placebo.

Driving under the influence of Cannabis

In Australia, there are two main laws surrounding cannabis and driving:

  • Driving under the influence of cannabis and;
  • Driving with detectable cannabis in your system

The two offences are treated the same however, the circumstances around them are not. Driving under the influence can mean the period after consuming marijuana where the intoxicating high of THC is still in effect in the system. While driving with detectable cannabis in your system pertains to traces of THC detectable in the body long after consuming cannabis.

All jurisdictions of Australia have a zero-tolerance approach to cannabis, specifically THC. As such, there is no exemption even for persons with valid medical reasons to use marijuana. The current problem with the laws is that it ignores the legality of medical use of cannabis. Likewise, the laws take into account the presence of THC in the system despite the impairments having long gone after consumption.

Is it legal to drive whilst medicating with medical cannabis?

There are currently three varieties of CBD oil, namely Full-spectrum, Broad-spectrum, and Isolate. Of the three varieties, THC is generally absent in broad-spectrum and completely absent in isolate.

If being prescribed with a CBD product, it would be wise to know the full components or the variety to judge your ability to drive legally. If you acquire CBD from other sources, it may not always be clear what the components are. The critical takeaway is not to have THC in the system when attempting to drive.

How long after consuming cannabis is it safe to drive?

The key to answering this question is to note whether THC was consumed and how long the consumption method lasts on the person.

Generally, time is as follows:

  • Tinctures – the onset of effects between 30 – 90 minutes, THC impairment lasts for 2 to 4 hours or longer.
  • Vaping or Smoking – the onset of effects almost immediately, peaking from 30 minutes to an hour. Effects can last from 2 to 4 hours despite a lack of impairment.

If you’re consuming CBD, it’s important to check with your doctor the product’s composition and the capacity of driving legally, keeping in mind your safety and the people around you.

CanView does not endorse the use of Medicinal Cannabis without lawful prescription. Just like any Medicine, Medicinal Cannabis may have both positive and negative side-effects on the user, and should only be prescribed to patients by a Health Professional with the authority and expertise to do so. The information provided by CanView is for informational and educational purposes, and is of a general nature. If you are interested in accessing Medicinal Cannabis please talk to your doctor and request a referral to a Medicinal Cannabis clinic. 

Endnotes:

  1. Chan, G. and Hall, Wayne. (2020). Estimation of the proportion of population cannabis consumption in Australia that is accounted for by daily users using Monte Carlo Simulation. Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/add.14909
  2. Sewell, R. A., et al. (2009) “The Effect of Cannabis Compared with Alcohol on Driving.” Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2722956/
  3.   Arkell, T.R., et al. (2020) “Effect of Cannabidiol and Tetrahydrocannabinol on Driving Performance. A Randomized Clinical Trial.” Available at: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2773562