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With cannabis edibles now on Ontario store shelves, Ottawa police are reminding New Year’s Eve revellers not to consume them before getting behind the wheel.

Edibles, beverages, vapes and topicals like lotions all became available for legal purchase in Canada in mid-December.

As people become less hesitant to try cannabis in all its forms, they should be aware that consuming the drug can have different effects than smoking it, said Ottawa Police Service spokesperson Const. Amy Gagnon.

“When you smoke, you feel it right away, and you will feel the effects from three to five hours, depending on the THC content,” Gagnon said. 

“When it comes to edibles, it has to go through your digestive tract and into your body. So it takes about 45 minutes to an hour for you to actually feel that buzz feeling.”

That means people might overconsume — and when that buzz arrives, it can hit you 10 times as hard, Gagnon said.

“The effects last 10 to 12 hours. So you are still high, you are still buzzed, almost half a day later,” she said.”

Rob Wilkinson, co-ordinator of Safer Roads Ottawa, says people who consume cannabis edibles can end up feeling distracted and tired. (Barbara d’Oro/CBC)

‘Kicks in later’

Rob Wilkinson, the co-ordinator of the Safer Roads Ottawa program, said consuming cannabis edibles before driving can be even more dangerous than smoking and driving.

Wilkinson said people may lose their ability to make decisions, and can end up feeling both distracted and tired.

“Your perception [and] reaction time will be changed. Your ability to see peripherally can also have an impact,” Wilkinson said. “Your ability to operate a very complex machine like a vehicle is certainly impaired.”

Andrew Murie, CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said that when it comes to cannabis edibles, Canadians still need a lot of education.

“People don’t realize how it kicks in later. People are more likely — because they don’t feel the effects — to take more of an edible. If they make their own, it does not mean it is well distributed through their method of preparation or cooking,” says Murie.

“I just don’t think we are ready.”

Const. Amy Gagnon of the Ottawa Police Service warns of the differences between smoking cannabis and consuming edibles. Police say there was a spike in arrests for impaired driving in 2019. 0:57

More charges laid

In fact, even though cannabis has been legal in Canada for more than a year, drivers are still quite often under the impression they’re not impaired, Gagnon said.

Drug-impaired driving charges in Ottawa increased 28 per cent in 2019 compared to last year, according to Gagnon.

” We are still working on changing that perception and educating the public to realize that [drinking or smoking cannabis and then driving] is a choice,” she said.

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