Cannabis, Consciousness, and Impaired Driving

Anyone concerned with the role of cannabis in impaired driving should become familiar with at least one of these propositions:

1. Impaired driving from alcohol or prescription pills is far larger of a problem than driving with cannabis in your system

2. CBD is non-psychoactive, so the concern with cannabis impairment derives from THC. THC can alter your consciousness, but for people (especially patients) with a high tolerance, even a 100mg dose of THC won’t have a discernible effect on their conscious state.

3. Third, and most important, one does not need to be conscious to drive a car.

Now, what exactly do I mean by “one does not need to be conscious to drive a car”?

Surely, this isn’t my ultimate argument against cannabis and impaired driving — fleshing out the definition of “consciousness” to show how an altered conscious state has no bearing on driving?

Yes, it is.

For one, numerous studies show cannabis doesn’t affect motor skills like alcohol or opioids.

And decades of stoners on the road hasn’t caused an epidemic like drunk driving has.
Even if legalization results in more stoned drivers, proper context shows why this isn’t an issue.

Properly defining what consciousness is quells concerns about impaired driving, since, a THC-“impaired” conscious person isn’t actually the one doing the driving.
Consider, what isn’t consciousness?

When driving, I’m not directing myself as if I controlled an avatar in a video game.
Often, we use very little of our consciousness to drive. Most of the time we’re involved in something else, such as in conversation with the passenger, or thinking about other topics.

Our feet, head, and hands are in a different world. Our hands move the wheel left when we need to turn left, our feet apply pressure to the brake when we approach a stop sign or red light. When switching lanes, we turn our heads to check the blind spot.

And we are consciousness for none of this. Especially if the driving route is routine and habitual.

Most often, we are not conscious when we drive. We are also not logical about it.

When driving we are unconsciously mesmerized, reacting and reciprocating to simulation that may threaten, comfort, appeal, repel, or respond to changes in traffic.

As well, we may respond to changes in traffic with uneasiness or confidence, trust or distrust, while consciousness is still off in its own world, on other topics, or engaged in conversation with the passenger or trying to quiet the kids in the back.

“We are conscious of what we are reacting to only from time to time. And whereas reactivity can be defined behaviorally and neurologically, consciousness at the present state of knowledge cannot.”

When consuming cannabis, a novice may alter his or her consciousness and even affect his over her reactivity, that is, the unconscious synaptic nervous system.

But a cannabis patient or connoisseur, someone with a high tolerance, is neither inhibiting their primary motor cortex nor are they altering their consciousness.

And even when consciousness is altered, it doesn’t matter that much. At least, not concerning driving and road safety.


For more information on this definition of consciousness (or what consciousness isn’t) I recommend The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes.