Can You Drive After Taking CBD?
CBD has only a few minor side effects, but does any of them impact your ability to drive?
What’s the link between CBD and driving?
Since CBD is derived from cannabis, some people are afraid it can make them unable to drive vehicles in the same way as high doses of THC do.
But that’s not the case.
CBD is non-intoxicating, so it won’t get you high. It also has a very decent safety profile, and only one side effect is related to driving. Still, scientists aren’t sure if this reaction has a significant impact on one’s cognitive capabilities.
In this article, I’ll give you a more detailed answer to the question of CBD and driving by highlighting the most important studies and breaking down the cannabinoid’s molecular functions.
Let’s start with an overview of the legal landscape.
CBD Legalization and Driving
Low-THC cannabis (hemp) and CBD were federally legalized by the 2018 Farm Bill. The new law removed hemp from the list of illegal controlled substances, resulting in a major boom in the cannabis market.
Hemp is any cannabis plant with 0.3% or less THC by dry weight. The Farm Bill ensures that hemp plants contain insufficient amounts of THC to cause people to get high.
Therefore, it’s safe to assume that if a substance doesn’t alter your state of consciousness, it won’t impair your driving skills.
That’s generally how CBD works in a nutshell. It can reduce stress and anxiety, relax your muscles, and put you in a good mood, but the feeling is nowhere near the high induced by THC from marijuana.
DUI Laws and CBD Use
DUI is short for “Driving Under the Influence.” All states prohibit driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In some states, drug-related DUIs can be based on the amount of certain substances in your blood.
Because CBD is legal and doesn’t cause impairment, the risk of getting a DUI for CBD use is extremely low. However, there are certain instances where you can have enough THC after taking some untested CBD products — especially when they contain more THC than advertised.
And this isn’t a rare thing in this unregulated market.
Looking for evidence? Recent studies have found that approximately 20% of tested samples had incorrectly labeled THC levels. That means 1 in every 5 CBD oils can have enough THC to cause a buildup that can be classified as DUI (1).
Of course, you’d need to take ridiculously large amounts of CBD oil daily to reach that amount, but it’s not impossible.
That’s why I always emphasize checking the lab reports of the product you’re about to purchase.
Now back to CBD and driving.
Related: Can Truck Drivers Use CBD Oil?
A Landmark Study Finds No Association Between CBD and Driving Impairment
In a 2020 study, researchers found that CBD without THC doesn’t impair driving (2).
The authors said that THC itself can produce mild driving impairment, lasting up to 4 hours.
The study comes from the Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics at the University of Sydney and is the first study showing that CBD lacking THC doesn’t affect a person’s driving skills.
Recent years have caused millions of people to turn to cannabis and CBD for health-related problems. Doctors are using CBD to treat epilepsy, chronic pain, anxiety, trauma, depression, and autoimmune diseases.
The soaring popularity of CBD has raised public concerns about ignoring potential risks that come with consuming whole-plant CBD, including the risk of motor impairment.
That’s because some products with CBD, especially those in states where the recreational use of marijuana is legal, can have higher concentrations of THC. Such levels may increase the risk of driving impairment, although the results of the scientific literature are entirely mixed — from indicating no excess risk to moderate excess risk
How Was the Study on CBD and Driving Conducted?
The study recruited 26 healthy participants and provided them with four different types of cannabis vaporizers in random order on four different occasions.
Each vaporizer came with different ratios between CBD and THC.
Then, each participant had their performance assessed in real-world conditions, including a 100 kilometer stretch of public highway in a special car with an instructor. The test lasted from 40 minutes to 4 hours.
The test was conducted at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, using a test measuring a standard deviation of car position.
Contrary to most such studies performed to date, this one looked at the effects of both THC and CBD.
How Did the Researchers Approach the Results?
According to Dr. Pritesh Kumar of the Switzerland-based cannabis consulting company Phytosciences, the study is groundbreaking but it also has its limitations:
“The primary one is the small sample of subjects. However, the effect size for CBD-dominant cannabis may also have neglected the clinical importance of the CBD-dominant cannabis impairment, and the doses tested may not represent common usage. Most consumers, on average, consume more than 13.75 mg of CBD in one serving, so it may not necessarily be significant from that perspective,” he said.
Kumar also said the magnitude of impairment and the duration depend on whether someone smokes or ingests cannabis.
“In comparison to smoking and inhalation, after oral ingestion, systemic absorption is relatively slow resulting in maximum THC plasma concentration within 1 to 2 hours, which could be delayed a few hours in certain cases. The effects of oral cannabis can be much longer in duration than inhaled or vaporized cannabis.”
Tischler mentioned that the most important conclusion from the study may not be CBD.
“The real story here is the THC side,” he said. “[The study] showed that, one, after 4 hours, the risk associated with THC was gone. Two, that the risk associated with THC use during the initial phase was between 0.8 to 3.8 cm deviation. While this may be statistically significant compared with placebo, this is unlikely to represent any real-world problem. In most driving situations, vehicle deviation of 2 inches or so would not be the difference between a fatal crash or not.”
Below I explain how CBD could affect your driving skills in a negative way.
What’s the Main Concern of Researchers When It Comes to CBD and Driving?
Scientists are mainly concerned about CBD’s sedative effects and their influence on driving.
In contrast to the lack of clinical evidence about the effects of CBD on driving performance, the research on sedative drugs, such as sleep aids, and their effects is clear.
For example, one 2016 review of studies published in the American Journal of Public Health analyzed the collision records of 404,171 adults who took antidepressants and sedative-hypnotic drugs. The use of any of those drugs resulted in higher chances of an accident, but the group taking sedative-hypnotics was particularly prone to the effects of the driving impairment (3).
In fact, the number of car accidents in this group was almost twice as high as the one in the control group. The authors evaluated the impairment as similar to having a blood-alcohol level of more than .06%, which is beyond the legal limit to drive.
That being said, there’s a substantial difference between sedative-hypnotics, which are formulated to knock you down to sleep, and the mild sedative effects of CBD.
So, here’s how to stay safe when using CBD and driving.
Dosage is the Main Factor Affecting Driving Skills
Some cannabinoids, such as CBD and THC, have a biphasic nature.
For THC, it manifests as deep relaxation and euphoria in low to moderate doses and anxiety in high doses.
When it comes to CBD, you don’t need to worry about getting anxious because it has antipsychotic properties. The biphasic nature of CBD is expressed in how the cannabinoid affects our energy levels.
Low doses of CBD oil have wake-inducing effects on the brain, meaning they can enhance focus and relieve stress, so as a result, you’ll have more energy. It won’t be the same boost as you get with coffee — the effects are gentler and less direct — but it’s still a nice benefit. But higher doses of CBD oil can lead to the opposite; in large amounts, cannabidiol reduces blood pressure, slowing down our breath; this, in turn, may induce sleepiness and sedation.
While beneficial for sleep problems, this trait doesn’t help when it comes to driving vehicles. Even if the connection between CBD and drowsiness is minor, it’s enough to justify looking into the possible side effects of CBD oil for driving.
CBD vs THC: The Difference Explained
Although cannabis has been used as an intoxicant for thousands of years, not all its compounds work the same.
THC gets you high because it activates cannabinoid receptors located in the brain (CB1). They, in turn, trigger the release of dopamine and other neurotransmitters that may cause mind alteration — resulting in a set of euphoric sensations known as the “high”
This makes CBD different from THC because it has no direct affinity with CB1 receptors. Instead, CBD naturally signals the endocannabinoid system (ECS) to increase the production of endocannabinoids that interact with CB1.
Therefore, CBD can elevate your mood, reduce stress, curb anxiety, and balance your nervous system — but it won’t get you buzzed like THC.
How CBD Works in the Brain
Despite not being intoxicating, CBD is, by all means, psychoactive. By definition, psychoactive is anything that acts on your brain and influences your behavior.
Following the above, a vast range of things and people are psychoactive — from a laundry machine to your parents.
CBD slightly changes your brain chemistry by acting on specific neurotransmitters.
As mentioned, regular doses of CBD can balance your endocannabinoid levels, translating into a better stress response, feelings of calm, and relaxation.
Higher doses can help your brain use serotonin more efficiently by inhibiting its reuptake. They also block the reuptake of adenosine, increasing its concentration in the brain. As a result, you may experience reduced anxiety and a sense of peace of mind.
Furthermore, compounds like CBD can either inhibit or enhance receptor activity in the brain. In the case of CBD, the effect is positive because it enhances the signaling of the nervous system, allowing neurotransmitters to bind to receptors more easily.
So, Is It Safe to Take CBD Oil and Drive a Car?
Yes, CBD is generally safe to take if you drive a car, but keep in mind that certain doses can reduce your blood pressure and make you feel drowsy or lightheaded. This, in turn, may negatively affect your driving skills.
Conversely, smaller doses may boost alertness, so if you feel tired the other day, you can take a smaller amount to increase the activity of your nervous system and get back on track.
Bottom line? You should find out what your tolerance is — and adjust the dosage accordingly.
How to Make Sure Your CBD Product Doesn’t Impair Your Driving Abilities
Since driving impairment mostly stems from THC in marijuana, it’s important to make sure your CBD oil:
- Comes from hemp
- Doesn’t have more than 0.3% of THC by volume
If your product has significantly more THC than stated on the label, it can get you high and negatively affect your driving performance.
The only way to check if your CBD oil doesn’t impair your motor skills is to look for a Certificate of Analysis (CoA) from an independent laboratory.
Such facilities test CBD products for their phytochemical profile, including the potency of CBD, terpenes, and THC content.
If a company doesn’t publish these lab reports anywhere, it might have something to hide about the purity of its products.
Final Thoughts On CBD and Driving
Generally speaking, CBD and driving go well together — unless you use an extremely high dose or take a product that hasn’t gone through lab testing and contains higher levels of THC than stated on the label.
That’s why you should always ask for certificates of analysis, whether you’re buying CBD oil online or near you. That’s the only proof that you’re getting exactly what you’ve paid for. The market is unregulated and some companies like to stretch reality, selling fake products with even more fake promises.
CBD, although psychoactive, doesn’t induce intoxication. It won’t get you high in the way THC does. That being said, whenever you feel drowsy or not in the mood for driving, it’s better to leave the keys at home and take a cab; or a walk, if the destination isn’t too distant.
- Evans D. G. (2020). Medical Fraud, Mislabeling, Contamination: All Common in CBD Products. Missouri medicine, 117(5), 394–399. (1)
- Arkell TR, Vinckenbosch F, Kevin RC, Theunissen EL, McGregor IS, Ramaekers JG. Effect of Cannabidiol and Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol on Driving Performance: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2020;324(21):2177–2186. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.21218 (2)
- Ivers, T., & White, N. D. (2016). Potentially Driver-Impairing Medications: Risks and Strategies for Injury Prevention. American journal of lifestyle medicine, 10(1), 17–20. https://doi.org/10.1177/1559827615609050 (3)