Is Driving High as Dangerous as Driving Drunk?

According to the U.S. Census data, Illinois has one of the lowest DUI severity scores when compared to the remaining 49 states.

Unfortunately, almost 3,000 DUI arrests contributed to this score. These scores reflect the influence of alcohol, but how do the stats compare to the influence of marijuana?

Few statistics support the number of DUIs as a result of marijuana. It's availability for medicinal use and its recent legality for recreational use indicate it will be an issue.

This begs the question which substance is more dangerous when it comes to driving impaired?

Here we explore the effects of marijuana and alcohol on the body, laws relevant to Illinois, and what to do if your license has been revoked because of a DUI.


To begin, we'll talk about the effects of marijuana on the body, and how it impairs our driving.

The endocannabinoid system is responsible for regulating physiological processes in the body. It plays a role in cell communication. It hosts receptors that release cannabinoids, which are a kind of neurotransmitter that sends signals and triggers changes in the brain.

Marijuana is composed of similar cannabinoids, and when we ingest marijuana, our natural levels of these neurotransmitters are heightened, therefore magnifying their effect on the brain.

Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug, and it acts simultaneously as a hallucinogen, a depressant, and a stimulant in your body.

As a depressant, it relaxes the muscles, reduces motor coordination, and can blur vision. The same effects that calm the nervous system, and can be used to help people sleep, can be deadly when behind the wheel.

As a stimulant, the same effect that provides the euphoric high can lead to paranoia and anxiety, and seizures in more serious cases.

While the hallucinogenic effects of marijuana are rare, they can occur. When they do, the user is likely to experience changes in their perception, as well as a loss of motor control.

Auditory and visual hallucinations are also likely.

Marijuana has a different impact on everyone, and it can be hard to predict which you will experience upon ingestion.

However, when driving under the influence of marijuana, you are likely to suffer from slower reaction time, poor vision, weak concentration, and a lapse in memory and decision making.


Alcohol triggers the glutamate and GABA receptors in our brains. Glutamate is responsible for excitation, while GABA handles inhibition.

Alcohol suppresses our glutamate receptors and enhances our GABA receptors. It acts as a depressant on our central nervous system.

Alcohol can cause drowsiness and can make it difficult for the user to concentrate. Our heightened inhibition leads to poorer judgment and less control over our movements.

Another common side effect of alcohol is blurry or double vision.

Tips for Safe Driving

Driving requires three branches of our attention: visual, manual, and cognitive.

Visual attention requires our eyes to be on the road. Under the influence of marijuana and alcohol, users can experience visual and perceptual shortages. This leads them to neglect stop signs or traffic lights.

Manual attention demands both hands on the wheel and a foot on the pedal. A driver needs to be prepared to act, to brake, or swerve on a moment’s notice.

Lastly, cognitive attention, focusing on the drive in front of you so that you can get from point A to point B safely.

As mentioned previously, marijuana and alcohol slow our reflexes and lower our ability to focus. Driving under their influence impairs all three branches of attention necessary for safe driving.

DUI Laws and Guidelines

Every state has its traffic laws and guidelines concerning DUIs.

In Illinois, to be charged for driving under the influence, you must reflect a THC content of 5 nanograms or more per milliliter of blood. For alcohol, you can be charged with a blood alcohol content reading of .08 or higher.

Unique to Illinois is their Implied Consent Law. If you are licensed to drive, then you agree to the testing of any kind (breath, blood, or urine) if an officer pulls you over with probable cause.

It's important to keep in mind that THC can linger in the body for hours, even days after use, while alcohol leaves the body much faster. You will only be charged with a DUI if you exceed the legal limit.

For your first offense, your DUI will likely be charged as a misdemeanor, and you will receive a license suspension.

If you are a repeat offender, or your first DUI involved circumstances of bodily harm, the charge will be reflected as a felony, resulting in possible jail time, fees, and license revocation.

Reinstating My License

If your suspension is short-term, it might be best to wait it out to avoid further legal involvement.

For those who require self-transportation, you might want to pursue license reinstatement or a restricted driving permit.

The right attorney can help you apply for a permit. A permit allows you to drive with your suspended or revoked license, but it's attached to certain restrictions.

If you require transportation to get to work, for frequent medical care, or other extreme circumstances, a hardship permit might be right for you.

Final Concerns

So, as far as which is more dangerous between driving high vs drunk.

Unfortunately, there is no right answer to this question. The only concrete response is that neither option is safe, and they are at their most dangerous when combined.

Those who drive under the influence put themselves and others at risk of serious injury or fatality.

After ingesting either substance, wait a significant period before getting behind the wheel. An alternative is assigning a designated driver so there's no question of lingering impairment.

If you live in Illinois or out of state and are looking for a solution to a suspended or revoked license as a result of a DUI in Illinois, contact an attorney.