As states begin to legalize the medicinal and recreational use of marijuana, the risks of driving while stoned are increasingly being studied by the medical field and debated by lawmakers. A study in the British Medical Journal conducted by Researchers at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada found that marijuana use in subjects nearly doubles the risk of vehicle collisions. The study looked at almost 50,000 participants over nine studies on the subject. Except from alcohol, marijuana is the most common narcotic found in impaired drivers, fatally injured drivers, and motor vehicle crash victims. A survey found that 6.8 percent of drivers who were involved in accidents, mostly under the age of 35, tested positive for THC (the chemical found in marijuana).
Part of the problem is the perception that marijuana is safe to use while driving. There are cases where a designated driver smokes marijuana instead of drinking as a “safe” alternative. In general, there is a lot of misconception about the true effect of cannabis on one’s driving ability but it is important to note that cannabis affects everyone differently.
Facts about Driving Stoned
- Drivers who smoke marijuana within a few hours of driving are almost twice as likely to get into an accident as sober drivers.
- Marijuana affects reaction time, spatial sense, and perception.
- Drivers under the influence of marijuana may follow too closely, swerve in and out of lanes,
- make unsafe turns, or misjudge road hazards.
- Many people deny feeling impaired in any way when they are actually stoned, whereas most people recognize when they are intoxicated from alcohol.
- The effects of cannabis tend to wear off within three to four hours and there is nothing one can take to lessen its effects.
The reality is that there is not enough information known about the effects of specific doses of marijuana in relation to car crashes or what level of cannabis in a person’s system correlates most with crashes.
Notes about Current Marijuana Studies
Conclusions reached about marijuana use and car crashes are based on observational studies; there have been no controlled conditions imposed to look at the effects of marijuana and driving. Active metabolites of THC can be present in urine for weeks or even a month after being smoked or ingested. It is presumed that marijuana usage so long ago would not affect driving performance or collisions. The study only analyzed the nine studies where there was a recent measurement of marijuana. They also observed studies that looked at both drivers who used marijuana and those who did not to compare the collision rate.
Driving Laws for Driving While Stoned
Unlike testing for alcohol levels, researchers and law enforcement officials have not yet determined how to accurately test for levels of marijuana intoxication. Many states, however, have begun to put strict laws in place to address this public safety issue and police officers are now being trained to detect signs of marijuana use. Driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs, including legally-used marijuana, is illegal in all states.
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