Is it safe to drive on CBD? Scientists are worried about 1 side effect
The FDA cautions weary travelers about driving on CBD.
The world of CBD is expanding. Now that it comes in special edition Carls Jr. Burgers, gummies, seltzers, and sports products, evangelists behind the now-famous cannabinoid are finding uses for it in almost any situation: from post-workout relaxation to a mid-afternoon productivity jolt. Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has hinted that there are some places that CBD’s effects may not translate well вЂ” starting with behind the wheel of your car, even if it can’t even get you high.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the chemical that’s responsible for marijuana’s characteristic high. Though cannabidiol (CBD) is also an active ingredient of cannabis, its effects on the brain and body are far different, raging from anti-epileptic qualities to potential anti-anxiety effects.
It’s increasingly obvious that THC and driving don’t mix: A 2018 research letter published in Jama Internal Medicine revealed that “holiday” 4/20 was linked to a 12 percent increase in fatal car crashes (though that study wasn’t able to control for potential alcohol use). But even among sober drivers, a January 2020 study linked chronic THC use to impaired driving skills вЂ” especially in teens who started smoking weed before the age of 16.
How CBD affects driving though, is more of an open question, going by a press release issued by the FDA in December 2019, aimed at weary holiday travelers. The agency cautioned that drivers should “use caution if planning on operating a motor vehicle after consuming any CBD products.” That warning was based on the assertion that CBD can cause drowsiness, sedation, or lethargy, the release states.
There are, for now, very few studies investigating how CBD may impact driving. However, Thomas Arkwell, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Sydney, did investigate the relationship between CBD, THC, and driving in a 2019 paper published in the journal Psychopharmacology. He tells Inverse that CBD use is unlikely to impair driving, but scientists are still examining its effects, because “we don’t know for sure.”
“There is some evidence to suggests that CBD may cause mild sedation at high doses, and this could translate into subtle driving impairment,” Arkell says.
The science of drowsy driving
The concern over CBD’s effects on driving performance has little to do with its status as a cannabinoid. Instead, the concern links back to the extract’s proposed mild sedative effect. That effect has anecdotal backing (about 10 percent of Americans who reported trying CBD used it to try to improve sleep, a 2019 Consumer Reports survey notes). That sedative effect is also noted in several previous studies вЂ” but, Arkell notes, those were only documented when it was taken in high doses.
In contrast to the sparse research on CBD and driving, the research on well-known drowsy drugs, like sleep aids, and their effects on driving performance are clear. Take one 2015 review published in The American Journal of Public Health. That study analyzed the collision records of 404,171 adults who reported using trazodone (an anti-depressant), temazepam (a prescription sleep-aid) and zolpidem (usually sold as Ambien). The use of any of those three drugs increased the chances of a car accident, but the results were particularly striking for Ambien users.
Ambien-users risk of accident doubled compared to people who didn’t use the drug. The authors likened the impairment to having a blood alcohol level of between .06% and .11% percent вЂ” close to or over the legal limit to drive.
That said, there are big differences between a drug like Ambien, which is intended to knock you out at night and CBD, where the sedative effects, if seen at all, are often described as mild. Still, even non-drug induced drowsy driving is a major concern for regulatory agencies like the CDC.
The National Highway Traffic Association notes that 795 people died as a result of drowsy driving during 2017, and the CDC estimates that lack of sleep and driving alone was responsible for 72,000 injuries in 2013.
“We will have the answer to this very soon!”
Even a minor connection between CBD and drowsiness, says Arkell, is enough to justify looking into whether CBD might be on thing that makes you just a little bit less alert while on the road. That’s the direction his research is currently taking, though there’s not a clear answer yet.
“We are also nearing the end of an on-road driving study which is looking at the effects of THC and CBD, both alone and in combination, on real-world driving performance,” Arkell says. “So we will have the answer to this very soon!”
Myths about CBD and driving
If they exist, CBD’s effects on driving are likely subtle. Still, Arkell explains that one major myth about CBD and driving endures: the idea that CBD can actually counteract THC’s known negative effects. It’s true that research suggests that CBD can help offset the anxiety-inducing effects of THC. But Arkell is concerned that this research may be being mistranslated.
“There is a lot of misinformation on the internet about how CBD can modulate the effects of THC, and I worry that this information might be passed on to unsuspecting medical cannabis patients and consumers,” he says.
“There is a lot of misinformation on the internet about how CBD can modulate the effects of THC.”
Luckily, Arkell’s research, which involved a simulated driving test and some THC and CBD-laced vapes, provides some clarification.
In his study, 14 participants vaped 125 milligrams of liquid that was either THC-heavy or equal parts CBD and THC. Then, each participant played a simulated driving game where they had to follow GPS instructions on highway or rural roads. When participants vaped both THC and CBD in equal concentrations, they tended to swerve more during their driving tests and reported feeling impaired up to four hours later.
“Our research suggests that CBD does not reduce the impairing effects of THC, at least with respect to driving, so itвЂ™s important that people are aware of this and can make their own decisions accordingly,” Arkell adds.
Importantly, this study didn’t include a CBD-only condition, which the authors say was because vaping CBD alone is “uncommon in the real world” (though this is likely changing). However, the team did find that when CBD and THC were administered in equal doses there were higher traces of THC in the participant’s blood compared to when they got THC alone, suggesting that the interplay between CBD, THC, and driving could be of concern going forward.
Still, the kind of CBD that we might ingest and think nothing about вЂ” like seltzer or a gummy вЂ” probably doesn’t help your performance on the road (especially if you’re already impaired). As far as the consequences of CBD use and driving go, if they’re out there, ongoing work is looking to illuminate them.
In the meantime, if you’re worried about being drowsy on the road, a good night’s sleep is probably the best place to start.
The FDA cautions weary travelers about driving on CBD.
Is It Safe To Drive After Taking CBD? The Facts You Need To Know
CBD is a popular cannabinoid from the cannabis plant known for its medicinal value. Although CBD oil is not intoxicating, users should be aware of possible side effects—as well as the presence of THC—to avoid getting in trouble on the road.
Cannabis is an herb that is most well-known for its psychoactive effects. However, the plant is rich is many different molecules, and the vast majority of them don’t elicit psychoactive effects. THC is the primary cannabinoid within many strains, and produces a psychoactive high by interfacing with CB1 receptors of the endocannabinoid system. This psychoactive effect induces feelings of euphoria and creativity, along with drowsiness, sedation, and even panic and anxiety at higher doses. THC has been found to impair judgement, motor coordination, and reaction time. For this reason, many countries forbid drivers to operate a vehicle under the influence due to the potential danger this poses.
Many cannabis users may also question whether it is safe and legal to drive after using other cannabinoids, such as CBD. This is a sensible question, considering CBD does stem from a sometimes-psychoactive plant. However, scientific literature extensively documents CBD as a non-psychoactive molecule. For the most part, it is both safe and legal to drive after ingesting CBD. But there are some nuances that should be ironed out to make sure this is a safe decision for you as an individual. Let’s take a deeper look into the nature of CBD, and how it can affect brain function.
WHAT IS CBD?
CBD is a chemical constituent found within cannabis. This molecule has surged in popularity in recent years, and continues to do so as scientific research clarifies its action on the body and its potential role in treating numerous health conditions and diseases. The cannabinoid is popular among both recreational and medicinal circles. Recreationally, the cannabinoid is used to induce feelings of calm, clarity, and relaxation. Medicinally, CBD is used for symptomatic relief, with the molecule displaying anti-anxiety, anti-seizure, antitumour, antioxidant, and neuroprotective effects, among others.
CBD is classed as non-psychoactive. However, the molecule can subtly influence mental state. What’s more accurate to say, as articulated by cannabis research pioneer Dr. Ethan Russo, is that CBD is non-intoxicating. THC achieves its psychoactive states by binding to CB1 receptors sites within the central nervous system. These receptors make up part of the endocannabinoid system, a body-wide system of receptors found on the membranes of many different cell types. CBD exerts many of its effects by interacting with the endocannabinoid system, yet in a more indirect manner.
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CBD AND THE BRAIN
CBD isn’t directly psychoactive like its cannabinoid cousin THC. However, it can impact mood and possibly alertness by catalysing alterations in brain chemistry.
CBD is known to affect brain serotonin receptors when ingested in high doses, an action partly responsible for the molecule’s anti-anxiety effects. Additionally, CBD can work as a reuptake inhibitor  in the brain, allowing it to raise and maintain high levels of anandamide, an endocannabinoid that is molecularly similar to THC. CBD also inhibits the reuptake of adenosine, increasing levels of the molecule in the brain and contributing to further anti-anxiety effects.
Furthermore, CBD is also reported to act as an allosteric modulator, meaning it can either enhance or inhibit receptor transmission. More specifically, CBD works  as a positive allosteric modulator of the GABA-A receptor. In doing so, CBD causes this receptor to bind more easily with the neurotransmitter GABA. GABA has inhibitory effects on nervous system activity, inducing states of calm and relaxation.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR DRIVING SAFETY?
CBD generally changes mental state by raising levels of anandamide and GABA within the brain, resulting in increased relaxation and decreased excitability. These effects are not intoxicating, yet certainly alter mood. Therefore, CBD will not impair function when it comes to driving in most people. However, it should be noted that some people experience side effects from the cannabinoid that could potentially lower driving capability.
Reported side effects  include low blood pressure, lightheadedness, and drowsiness. For these reasons, it is best to become accustomed to how CBD affects you on an individual level before taking it and going for a drive. If the molecule produces any of these side effects, then it’s probably best not to expose yourself to the roads. Instead, talk to your doctor and discuss why these effects are happening. It might just involve modifying the dosage.
Small doses of CBD are associated with stimulating effects that boost mood, whereas large doses are linked to more sedating effects. For these reasons, it’s better to start out with small doses when you begin driving with CBD. Additionally, CBD affects different people in different ways. What may be a small dose for one user might sustain more sedating effects on another. Find out what your tolerance level is at home, in comfort, as opposed to behind a steering wheel.
THC CONTENT WITHI N CBD PRODUCTS
So, we’ve pretty much given CBD the clear when it comes to driving safety, but then the law comes in and complicates things. Many CBD oils contain small amounts of THC, with many European countries allowing legal trace amounts of between 0.2–0.6% of the cannabinoid. These amounts are so small that they are not likely to produce any intoxicating effect, unless the oil is consumed in vast quantities. Even in this event, the sedation of a high CBD dose will probably be the primary effect here.
Psychoactive effects aside, the trace amounts of THC in many CBD products may still put many drivers at risk of being prosecuted for drug driving. Many countries have strict zero tolerance laws when it comes to THC levels in the blood. If you are suspected of impaired driving in the United States, countries within the EU, and elsewhere, the police may pull you over and conduct testing using methods such as saliva. For example, in the United Kingdom, a THC level of just 2µg/L (micrograms) is deemed to be the threshold limit, and may result in fines and driving suspension if exceeded. Such small quantities can even be perceived as “accidental exposure”. These tests can detect cannabinoid ingestion up to 10 hours after exposure.
Ultimately, CBD isn’t usually considered psychoactive because it doesn’t cause intoxication or impair one’s ability to go on with their day as usual. Based on individual effects and dosage, CBD is most likely safe to consume before driving. However, cannabis has been a subject of debate and controversy for some time now. Due to harsh laws, minute levels of THC within the system can result in legal issues when it comes to driving in some countries. Seeing as many CBD products contain small doses of THC, it comes down to a personal decision as to whether this is a risk worth taking.
CBD is reported to be a non-psychoactive compound, making it safe to use before driving. However, side effects in some people may make them want to think twice.