On October 17, 2019, cannabis-infused products become legal for purchase and sale in Canada. These include:

  • Edibles – cookies, brownies, candies, and beverages.
  • Extracts – vape cartridges, tinctures, waxes, and oils.
  • Topicals – creams, lotions, and balms

The same federal and provincial/territorial laws and regulations that apply to dried (smoked) cannabis, also apply to edibles, extracts and topicals. That incudes laws regarding minimum age of purchase, the maximum amount of cannabis that can be possessed in public (30 grams of dried cannabis or its equivalent), and, of course, prohibitions on driving under the influence of cannabis.

Health Canada has established strict regulations for these products, including:

  • Limits on the maximum amount of THC they can contain: up to 10 mg of THC per package of edibles; up to 10 mg of per unit of ingested extract (up to 1,000 mg per package); up to 1,000 mg of THC per package of inhaled extracts; and up to 1,000 mg of THC per package for topical products.
  • Child-safe and plain packaging requirements.

Based on licencing requirements and the time it will take to produce and stock products, Health Canada anticipates the products will start being available for sale, in stores and on-line, around January 2020.

Here, MADD Canada answer some of the key questions about cannabis edibles and other cannabis-infused products, and the risks related to driving.

Are the effects of edible cannabis different than smoked/inhaled cannabis?

It takes much longer to start feeling the effects of cannabis edibles than it does to feel the effects of cannabis that is smoked or inhaled (vaping, dabbing).

Whereas the effects of smoked/inhaled cannabis can take effect within minutes, it may take between 30 minutes and four hours before a person starts feeling the effects after eating or drinking a cannabis product.

The effects of edible cannabis last significantly longer too, sometimes up to 12 hours.

Cannabis affects everyone differently, depending on the quality and quantity, the method of consumption, and whether the person is new to cannabis or an experienced user.

People consuming cannabis edibles or extracts should start with products that have a low dose, and only ingest or inhale a small amount to start. The higher the THC content, the greater the impairment, and the greater the risk of adverse effects. Follow Health Canada’s suggestion to “start low and go slow”, and begin with products that contain 2.5 mg of THC or less.

What about cannabis extracts, such as the cannabis used for vaping?

Cannabis extracts which are inhaled, such as vaped cannabis, can be felt almost immediately, and can last up to six hours or more. The effects may be stronger as well, depending on the individual and the product.

As with the edible cannabis products, consumers are encouraged to “start low and go slow” when using cannabis extracts. Stick with products that contain the equivalent of 2.5 mg of THC or less to begin, so that you can determine how the product affects you, how quickly the effects start and how long they last.

It is also important to remember that combining alcohol with cannabis in any form heightens the risks, including the risk for impaired driving crashes.

If you have consumed cannabis in any form, do not drive.

Do cannabis edibles and extracts affect driving ability?

Yes, cannabis edibles and extracts can affect the skills and judgement needed for safe driving, much the same as smoked cannabis can.

Cannabis can impair your judgement, motor skills, reaction times, and increase your risk of being in a crash.

Inhaled cannabis (vaping, dabbing) can take effect within a very short timeframe and last for several hours, similar to the effects of smoked cannabis.

But there are important differences with edible cannabis with respect to how it is absorbed into the body, and how long it takes before the impairing effects end.

The “high” that comes from eating or drinking cannabis-infused products can take much longer to take effect, and lasts much longer. After eating or drinking a cannabis-infused product, it could take anywhere from 30 minutes to four hours before a person feels the effect, and those effects could last up to 12 hours.

The absorption and dissipation rates of edible cannabis present major risks for impaired driving. Someone may consume a product and think they are okay to drive if they do not feel anything in an hour or so. But the drug is still being absorbed into the body at that point, and the impairing effects are still to come. People need to be aware of the effects and absorption/dissipation rates of edible cannabis and make sure they do not drive after consuming.

If you have consumed cannabis, do not drive. Arrange for sober transportation or plan to stay where you are.

It is important for all consumers to know that the laws prohibiting driving under the influence of cannabis – both federal and provincial/territorial laws — apply to all forms of cannabis.

How risky is driving after edible cannabis consumption?

All forms of cannabis containing THC can impair driving ability. The drug can impair judgement, slow reaction times, and affect motor skills. Edible cannabis presents an additional risk in the sense that it takes much longer to take effect and therefore may give individuals a mistaken sense of sobriety. Whereas the effects of smoked/ inhaled cannabis can take effect within minutes, it could take between 30 minutes and four hours the feel the effects after eating or drinking cannabis. The effects last significantly longer too, sometimes up to 12 hours.

That is a major concern for impaired driving, because someone who has consumed an edible and does not feel the effects in a short timeframe may think the product has not affected them. They may think they are okay to drive when, in fact, the product has not been fully absorbed into the body yet. That person may take the risk of driving and be behind the wheel when they start to experience the drug’s effects.

If you have consumed cannabis, do not drive. Arrange for sober transportation or plan to stay where you are.

It is important for all consumers to know that the laws prohibiting driving under the influence of cannabis – both federal and provincial/territorial laws — apply to all forms of cannabis.

How long should you wait to drive after edible cannabis?

With smoked cannabis, people should wait a minimum of 4 – 6 hours. And that should be longer if you are a new user or if you have combined smoked cannabis with alcohol or another drug. Medical users should consult with their doctors about how long they should wait before driving.

Edible cannabis affects the mind and body, and driving abilities, in a different way and at a different rate than smoked/inhaled cannabis. It can take up to four hours for the effects to be felt, and those effects can last for up to 12 hours. So if you are eating or drinking cannabis-infused products, leave the driving to someone sober.

The fact is, it is hard to say exactly how long someone should wait after any cannabis use before driving. Everyone is different and the rate of dissipation can be affected by many things, such as how much was consumed and the potency of the cannabis. We cannot emphasize enough that there are many factors involved. If you do not feel right – do not drive.

How do police test for edible cannabis in drivers?

Police have tools and tests to detect cannabis in drivers, whether it is smoked/inhaled or ingested.
Standard Field Sobriety Testing (SFST): A series of task-oriented tests administered at roadside.

Oral fluid drug screening equipment: Police can require a driver to provide an oral fluid sample on approved drug screening device at roadside.

Drug Recognition Evaluation (DRE): Includes a series of tests and a toxicological sample (urine or blood) conducted by an evaluating officer.

Blood samples: Police can demand a blood sample from a driver if they have reasonable grounds to believe the driver has committed an impaired driving offence.

Law enforcement across Canada have SFST and DRE trained officers, and the number of officers trained has been increasing since the legalization of recreational cannabis on October 17, 2018. Police also have training and access to approved drug screening equipment, such as oral fluid screening devices.

For more information about how police test for cannabis use in drivers, click here.