Is it legal to drive and take CBD?

July 20, 2023

With the push to have cannabis legalised and the rise of medical cannabis oil as an increasingly common supplement in the UK, questions like this are being asked more and more often. While virtually all of us know that drug driving is illegal, and no one is in any doubt about the wrongs and risks of drink driving, how about one of the UK’s fastest growing supplements? We got to work here in the heart of the HQ or Derry’s leading CBD brand to find you the answers you’ve been looking for. 

First things first, we need to say that CBD is 100% legal to buy, sell, own and consume in all corners of the UK. While cannabis legalisation is something of a hot topic right now, CBD is a completely separate issue. It may be derived from the hemp plant, but that doesn’t mean it’s treated by the law in the same way. This is a really important point to make because if it were an illegal substance, it would be illegal to have it in your system or on your person at any time. Clearly this is not the case, so we need to look a little deeper, and starting by analysing the legal standing of drug and drink driving is the way we’re going to approach things. 

Here’s why CBD is different to alcohol

Drinking is legal, taking drugs is not, and yet you can’t do either when you drive. Clearly there has to be additional constraints on what you can have in your system when you drive, rather than just whether they’re legal to consume or not. This is largely common sense when you take a step back and review the bigger picture. Would, for example, would you want someone who is drowsy and not feeling 100% after coming round from a general anaesthetic to be allowed to drive home? The answer, I think we can all agree, is no. 

The reason for this is that when someone is cognitively impaired on the road, they don’t just put themselves at risk. Being in a fatal or life-threatening car accident as a result of the actions of another driver is an all too common occurrence unfortunately. If you want to be able to drive with complete confidence, you will be disheartened to know that there is always a chance that you will encounter a drunk driver when there is nothing you can do to get out of the way. While the law can never guarantee there will be no drunk or drugged drivers on the roads, it’s there to make it clear that there are serious legal repercussions for driving in this state. 

So, whether the substance is legal or not, the deciding factor seems to be whether it has the ability to cognitively impair the drive. Drinking gets you drunk so you become less coordinated and lose your inhibitions, leading to higher likelihood of speeding, reckless driving and driving without due care and attention. Cannabis is a little different in that it slows your reaction times and makes you more relaxed, which while it may not result in speeding quite as often, will make concentrating on the road as it evolves in front of you far harder. Clearly, neither one of these situations is desirable, or even acceptable, when we’re talking about the health and safety of everyone else on the road. 

We now need to turn our attention to the impact CBD has on cognitive function to understand how it impacts your ability to drive. By turning to the years of experience and research we’ve amassed on the subject here in Northern Ireland, we’ve seen a clear scientific consensus emerge. The truth is that while CBD relieves social anxiety to a large degree, and can be used to effectively treat chronic pain and discomfort, there is no associated cognitive impairment. This is in distinction to smoking cannabis where ‘getting high’ due to the psychoactive compound THC will greatly reduce your cognitive processing speeds and reaction times. 

Some will try to argue and intellectualise this point by talking about the many reported instances of artists and musicians reporting that smoking cannabis enhanced their creative powers. A great example is famous novelist and master storyteller Stephen King who spent large parts of the early portion of his career heavily under the influence while writing. While the quality of his work speaks for itself, it’s really important to recognise the erroneous nature of these sorts of claims — they have nothing to do with your ability to safely get from A to B behind the wheel of your car. 

Just because a drug can have a positive impact on several ways in which the brain functions does not mean that it will elevate performance across all areas. Driving is a particularly important, but not unique, example because it places far more lives than just those of the willing user at risk. Just as you wouldn’t want someone who is ‘high’ operating heavy machinery or an air traffic control system, you also wouldn’t want them driving behind you on the motorway late at night. It’s just common sense when you strip all of the superfluous arguments and focus purely on what matters: personal safety of all those involved. 

CBD is different from illegal drugs and alcohol in that it doesn’t impair your cognitive functioning. There has been no change in reaction times ever recorded, nor is there ever likely to be thanks to the large body of supporting and cross-referenced studies that have built up the scientific knowledge around CBD to where it is today. But there is an important caveat to this argument we want to share with you, and it’s no one that is recorded anywhere in the current state of medical cannabis UK law at the time of writing. 

As with any form of supplement, medication, or holistic treatment, there is always a non-zero probability of an unexpected reaction. A tiny number of people who take CBD report a headache the first time they take it, a small number of users of paracetamol find they’re allergic to it and it leaves them feeling drowsy and lethargic. 

Relax – everything in moderation

While we certainly don’t want to scare you away from trying CBD, especially given the huge number of widespread health and wellness benefits, we think it only right that we exercise caution. To be absolutely sure that you’re safe to drive, even though it’s already legal for you to do so, avoid getting behind the wheel the very first time you take CBD. We’re not saying this because we want you to build up a tolerance, and nor are we saying it because we want you to think carefully about whether you really want to do this. 

What we want to confirm without a shadow of a doubt is that you won’t experience any form of adverse reaction, even something mild like feeling a little sleepy, that would impair your driving. If in doubt, play it safe when you first take CBD so that you can get behind the wheel with confidence a few hours later, knowing that your mind and body are going to react how they always have. 

If in doubt, play it safe. 

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