Legal Marijuana, Elevated Risks: Increased Traffic Accidents Linked to Driving While Stoned


According to a new study, driving stoned is more risky than driving drunk in Canada, where recreational cannabis was legalized in 2018.

The study discovered that marijuana-related road accidents requiring emergency room treatment increased 475% between 2010 and 2021. Car accidents caused by drunk driving increased only 9.4% during the same time period, despite the fact that the raw number of alcohol-related accidents was in the thousands, rather than the hundreds as with cannabis.     

“The concern is that the increase in these rare but very severe traffic injuries is capturing broader trends of increasing cannabis-impaired driving over time and after legalization,” said study author Dr. Daniel Myran, assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa.

Researchers discovered a 94% spike in emergency room visits shortly following Canadian legalization in 2018, when marijuana retailers and products were limited, according to Myran. Visits to the emergency room surged 233% after recreational marijuana was legalized, as commercialization expanded and it became more freely available.

“The main message of this very well-conducted study is the increased rates, not the absolute number of crashes.” Cannabis is also likely under-reported in car accidents, so the absolute number could be much higher,” said Dr. Marco Solmi, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Ottawa and researcher at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute in Canada. He was not a participant in the study.

Weed-related car accidents were severe. According to the report, approximately 90% of marijuana-related accident patients were transported by ambulance. When neither alcohol or cannabis was present, the number of people who needed an ambulance decreased by 40%. Furthermore, nearly half of marijuana users in an automobile collision required hospitalization, compared to just over 6% of non-users.

Admissions to intensive care units were also up. According to a research published Wednesday in the journal JAMA Network Open, nearly 22% of accidents involving stoned drivers required acute care, compared to less than 2% of crashes involving no alcohol or cannabis.

“Because of the way cannabis affects driving performance — it reduces reaction time, decreases the ability to focus or pay attention to multiple events, and may increase risk-taking behavior — cannabis-impaired drivers may drive faster, notice hazards later, and decelerate slower…  “A recipe for more severe traffic collisions and higher levels of care,” Myran wrote in an email.

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A widespread issue

According to a recent “umbrella review” of more than 100 scientific trials and meta-analyses on the merits and cons of marijuana, the problem is occurring around the world in countries where recreational cannabis usage is permitted.

“The general perception of cannabis as a ‘natural’ harmless plant is probably misleading young subjects who end up consuming high THC products, resulting in untoward events such as car crashes,” said Solmi, coauthor of the review, via email.

THC is an abbreviation for tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the component of the cannabis plant that causes a “high.”

“In addition to car crashes, cannabis users are at an increased risk of poor cognitive performance, which may contribute to car crashes and failure in school,” Solmi said.

Driving under the influence of alcohol has been decreasing in the United States, but according to the most recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study from 2014, there has been a 48% increase in drivers testing positive for marijuana. The NHTSA will issue an updated report in 2024.

According to the 2016 Drug and Alcohol Crash Risk Study, marijuana was the most often discovered drug other than alcohol; also, cannabis users were more likely to be involved in crashes.

Dealing with impaired drivers under the influence of marijuana is a daily occurrence in Colorado, the second US state to legalize recreational cannabis, according to clinical pharmacologist Robert Page II, who was not involved in the current study. Page chaired the American Heart Association’s medical writing group for its 2020 scientific statement on marijuana.

“When I’m driving in Colorado, I assume everyone is stoned,” Page added. “In contrast to alcohol, which depresses, cannabis alters perception.” The ability of a driver to react is delayed, which might lead to accidents.”

According to studies, Covid-19 may have exacerbated the condition. In a 2020 study of critically or fatally injured patients, researchers discovered that the general prevalence of alcohol, cannabis, and opioids increased during the pandemic compared to previously.

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Misunderstandings concerning safety

Many people don’t realize driving while stoned is harmful – they even believe it’s safe, according to Page. According to research, those ideas are patently incorrect. According to multiple studies, THC in marijuana inhibits psychomotor skills, impairs the capacity to multitask, interrupts lane tracking and cognitive functions, and separates attention from the task at hand – driving.

Another issue, according to Myran, is the increasing strength of cannabis. “Use of higher-strength products raises impairment and risk.” Combining cannabis with alcohol, which increases the impairing effects of both substances, is another key risk factor.”

When it comes to drinking, there are fixed restrictions on when a person can lawfully drive – the federal limit in the United States is a blood alcohol content of 0.08%. If your blood alcohol level is higher than this, you are considered intoxicated and may face a DUI (driving under the influence) charge. Most states, though, have “zero tolerance” levels – often.02% or less — that apply to specific categories, including as bus and truck drivers and teenagers (who aren’t meant to be drinking in the first place).

According to the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration, it is illegal to use marijuana at any level and drive in the United States, just as it is for opioids, methamphetamines, or any potentially impairing drug, even if prescribed.

“There is no hard and fast rule about when it is safe to drive after using cannabis because the risk of impairment depends on multiple factors,” Myran added. Lower-risk cannabis guidelines in Canada advise not driving for at least 6 hours after taking cannabis and avoiding cannabis and alcohol combined. It is safest to wait longer.”

Experts warn that much more is needed to address the growing issue about driving under the influence of marijuana.

“Education, education, education,” they say. “The general public, particularly the younger strata of the population, should be educated on the risks associated with cannabis,” Solmi stated. “THC-containing products should also include explicit evidence-based warnings and visuals, just as tobacco cigarettes do.”


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Source: CNN

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