Does Smoking Marijuana Really Turn Your Tongue Green?
March 17 is Saint Patrick’s Day – a day of parades, pubs, and partying for both Americans of Irish descent and those without a drop of Irish in them at all. It’s a day where festivities abound, everyone is invited to have a good time, and everything is green! Green is everywhere you look on Saint Patrick’s day – green beer, green shamrock decor, and of course, you can’t forget the green most everyone is wearing. And if your tongue is as green as everything else on Saint Patrick’s Day, that definitely means you must have been smoking marijuana… right?
Wrong. There are many possible reasons your tongue might be green. Unfortunately, many law enforcement officers believe a green tongue automatically points to pot usage. Because there is no reliable breath test for marijuana, officers will use observations about your appearance and behavior as probable cause to arrest you for driving while high, and yes, this includes the myth of cannabis turning your tongue green. Contact the Don Turner Legal Team if you have been arrested for driving under the influence of marijuana and see how our attorneys can help you with your case.
The Legend of the Green Tongue
It is true that smoking marijuana can affect your oral health. For example, cannabis can decrease your output of saliva and cause mouth dryness, or “cottonmouth”, putting you at risk for bacterial infections. These infections can discolor your tongue, making it look brown, or yellow, or yes, even green. However, there are many other causes of a green tongue, all of which have nothing to do with cannabis. For example, there are chronic conditions like geographic tongue and hairy tongue syndrome, as well as diseases like oral thrush or lichen planus that could cause a green tongue.
Even if you did smoke pot earlier in the day, the color of your tongue doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with it. So why do police treat a green tongue as a surefire sign you’re stoned? At least one expert traced the myth back to a 1986 book entitled “Identifying the Marihuana User” which includes a picture of the “green-coated tongue of a marijuana-hashish smoker”. There is no credible research that proves a solid link between a green tongue and cannabis use. Nevertheless, it’s now a common law enforcement myth that just will not go away.
There are two studies that have been cited as “evidence” of the green tongue theory being true, but even these are dubious. The first, a 1998 study published in the Journal of the American Optometric Association states that marijuana smokers “may have a greenish coating on the back of their tongue” but does not cite any research. Another, a 2017 study in the Journal of Forensic Sciences claims that many people with a “coating on the tongue” had THC in their blood. However, the researchers did not prove this link – they simply connected the results of their lab reports with what the officers said.
What if I’m Stopped for Driving While Stoned?
It is illegal to drive with any amount of marijuana in your system under Georgia law. If an officer suspects you are driving while high, you could be in a lot of trouble. Again, there is no reliable chemical test for marijuana, which means that officers must use their individual judgment in these cases. Even if you have not smoked for several hours, you may still be arrested because the officer believes they smelled pot in your car, felt your behavior indicated you were high, or yes, spotted a green film on your tongue.
Do not argue with the officer when you are pulled over and do not attempt to explain or justify yourself, even if you feel you are innocent. Anything you say or do can be held against you at trial, so limit your statements. Do not participate in any field sobriety tests, as these are not mandatory and are being administered by someone who already believes you are under the influence. It is advised you submit to a chemical test, as this is mandatory under Georgia law. However, because THC can linger in the body for some time, know that failing a chemical test does not mean you are automatically guilty.
Finally, make sure to speak to an attorney as soon as possible. A first-time conviction for driving under the influence of marijuana comes with a fine of up to $1,000 (not including other fees), 12 months of probation, 40 hours or more of community service, and mandatory enrollment in a risk-reduction program. You will also lose your license for six months. Unlike an alcohol DUI conviction, this is a hard suspension of your license – you will not be able to get a limited permit or work permit during this period.
A DUI conviction will also cause your insurance rates to skyrocket, as your insurance company will consider you a less safe driver. Expect to see your premiums as much as quadruple overnight if you have a DUI conviction on your record. This is assuming that your insurance company does not drop you entirely due to your conviction.
Don’t Let Misfortune Fall on St. Patrick’s Day
Remember – if you are pulled over, and your tongue is found to be as green as everything else on Saint Patrick’s Day, it does not mean you must be under the influence of marijuana. However, be aware that police may assume otherwise. Officers can make mistakes and rely on false assumptions like the myth of the green tongue when conducting DUI arrests, especially when drugs are involved. Unfortunately, these mistakes can potentially lead to charges that can uproot your entire life.
You do not want to face these kinds of charges alone. If you have been arrested for driving under the influence of marijuana, you will need an experienced attorney on your side. Our attorneys have years of experience defending drugged driving cases – contact our law firm today and see how we can help you with your case.