Marijuana Use Increases Risk of Motor Vehicle Accidents
Marijuana use and safety is hotly debated as a focus of government and policy attention on medical marijuana and potential legalization. Researchers know that when people use mind-altering drugs and medications and then get behind the wheel, they have an increased likelihood of involvement in motor vehicle accidents, but few studies have analyzed the relationship between marijuana use and car crashes.
Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health analyzed nine studies that evaluated the link between marijuana use and the risk of involvement in a motor vehicle crash. They discovered that individuals who use marijuana and then drive within three hours of use experience motor vehicle accidents twice as often as drivers who do not use marijuana. Individuals who test positive for marijuana with higher concentrations of the drug in their systems are at an increased risk of becoming involved in automotive accidents than those who have lower levels of marijuana concentrations.
The researchers found that 28% of drivers killed in automobile accidents tested positive for drugs other than alcohol, and marijuana was the number one used substance by these drivers. Illicit drug use influences millions of drivers and 11% of drivers tested positive for non-alcohol drugs, again with marijuana ranking as the most commonly detected drug.
More than 10 million drivers report they have driven after using illegal drugs within the past 12 months. Programs to reduce the frequency of people driving under the influence often focus on alcohol use. Drivers who operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of non-alcohol mind-altering substances increase their risk of being involved in a serious car accident, which may result in their deaths or the deaths of innocent people.
Healthcare professionals, policy makers and advocates for patients who benefit from medical marijuana use need to implement strategies to reduce the likelihood that a patient will use marijuana and then operate a motor vehicle. While medical marijuana use may offer benefits to select patients who suffer from serious medical problems, marijuana use can negatively impact one’s ability to drive safely. Any prescription of medical marijuana use should include the potential risks of driving while under the influence.
Parents, community leaders and teachers should include information about the risks of driving while under the influence of marijuana when they discuss illicit drug use with adolescents and young adults. Many public health messages address the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol and the risks of so-called hard drugs use, focusing on heroin, methamphetamines and cocaine. Drivers need to hear that message the driving under the influence of marijuana is risky behavior which can cause bodily harm or death.
"Marijuana use may double the risk of accidents for drivers"
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