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What Drugs Are Included in a Drug DUI?

Drivers who are under the influence of drugs face the same penalties as drivers who have too much to drink. Most drivers know that this includes drivers who are high on marijuana, methamphetamines, or other illegal narcotics. However, drugs can also include prescription medications and over-the-counter pills. 

Drugs have a broad definition under California law. You may even be driving under the influence of drugs and not know that it is against the law. Drug tests are not always accurate. This can make for a confusing traffic stop when the police officer suspects you are impaired, even if you feel fine. 

If you are arrested for a drug DUI in Oakland, talk to an experienced East Bay DUI defense attorney for legal advice. Don't plead guilty to a drug DUI offense that could give you a permanent criminal record. Contact East Bay criminal defense lawyer Lynn Gorelick today.

What Is a Drug Under California Law?

A drug can be any substance that has an effect on the brain or body. Even a cup of coffee in the morning could be considered consuming drugs. According to an article in the National Institute of Health, "caffeine is the most consumed psychoactive drug in the world."

Under California Vehicle Code Section 23152(f), “It is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any drug to drive a vehicle.”

You probably won't get convicted for driving after having too much coffee. However, caffeine could be considered a drug under California's drugged driving laws. These laws don't make a difference between illegal drugs, prescription drugs, and over-the-counter (OTC) medications. If any drug impairs your ability to drive, it can be grounds for an arrest. 

Under the California vehicle code, a drug includes any “substance or combination of substances, other than alcohol, which could so affect the nervous system, brain, or muscles of a person as to impair, to an appreciable degree, his ability to drive a vehicle in the manner that an ordinarily prudent and cautious man, in full possession of his faculties, using reasonable care, would drive a similar vehicle under like conditions.”

How Are Police Trained in Drug Recognition? 

Some police officers go through specialized training programs to be qualified as a “drug recognition expert” (DRE). This is generally a basic seven-day course where officers are given handouts and lectures about different types of drugs and what to look for. 

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Drug Recognition Expert course manual, there are seven drug categories, which include:

  1. Central nervous system (CNS) depressants

  2. Central nervous system stimulants

  3. Hallucinogens

  4. Dissociative anesthetics

  5. Narcotic analgesics

  6. Inhalants

  7. Cannabis

CNS Depressants

CNS depressants can include illegal narcotics and prescription medications. These include:

CNS Stimulants

CNS stimulants can also be prescription medications or illegal drugs, including:


Most categories of hallucinogens are illegal drugs. This includes synthetic drugs and naturally occurring substances, like:

Dissociative Anesthetics

Dissociative anesthetics often include prescription drugs, including:

  • Ketamine

  • PCP

  • Some cough medicines

Narcotic Analgesics

Narcotic analgesics include legal and illegal opioids, Vicodin, morphine, oxycodone (OxyContin and Percocet), and fentanyl. 


Inhalants generally involve chemicals that anyone has access to at a hardware store, hobby shop, or in a neighbor's garage. Examples of huffing inhalants include:


Cannabis, marijuana, and pot are familiar to anyone in California. California was the first state to legalize marijuana for medical use back in 1996. In 2016, California joined the increasing number of states to make recreational marijuana available for adults 21 and over. Many marijuana users are skeptical about the drug's impairing effects on driving. However, driving under the influence of weed is against the law. 

How Do Police Test for Drug Impairment? 

There are different tools police use to gather evidence of impairment. This includes any evidence of drug use and impaired driving. For example, evidence of drug use can include:

Evidence of impaired driving generally relies on the police officer's observations. This includes observations before making a traffic stop and during the interaction with the driver. Examples can include:

  • Weaving across lanes

  • Almost striking a vehicle

  • Swerving

  • Slow response to traffic signals

  • Driving without headlights at night

During the traffic stop, the officer may ask the driver to submit to standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has approved three SFSTs for use to evaluate driver impairment. These include:

As part of police officer SFSTs and DRE training, officers are given ways to evaluate driver impairment under certain drugs. 

For example, for a driver impaired by CNS depressants, the performance of the Walk-and-Turn test and the One-Leg-Stand test will be similar to that of a driver impaired by alcohol. For a driver on stimulants, these tests may be impaired due to the subject's hyperactivity and inability to concentrate. 

What Are the Penalties for Drug DUI in California?

The penalties for a drug DUI are generally the same as an alcohol DUI. Most 1st-time drug DUIs are misdemeanors, with penalties including: 

A second offense has increased penalties. A fourth DUI (for alcohol or drugs) within a 10-year period is a felony in California. There may also be more severe penalties if the impaired driver is involved in an injury accident. 

Drug DUI Defenses for East Bay Drivers 

East Bay attorney Lynn Gorelick has more than 40 years of DUI defense experience and understands how to approach each case for the greatest chance for success. Representing drivers in Alameda County and Contra Costa County, Lynn Gorelick is familiar with the local criminal laws, local officers, and the prosecutors involved. Contact East Bay drug DUI defense attorney Lynn Gorelick today.

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