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Study Sees Rise in Fatal Crashes Linked to Marijuana Use

Increase may cause some to rethink legalization efforts.

by on Jun.09, 2014

The number of vehicle accidents involving marijuana have increased three-fold in the last 10 years.

When police responded to a five-car crash near Monroe, Washington, last week they wound up arresting a local woman blamed with driving under the influence of marijuana.

A total of 12 people were injured in the accident, but they might consider themselves lucky considering the results of a new study published by Columbia University, which finds the number of fatal crashes involving the use of marijuana tripled from 2000 to 2010.

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That could raise new concerns about the growing push to legalize weed, a movement that has gained momentum since both Colorado and Washington approved the public use of the drug last year.

Researchers from Columbia conducted toxicological investigations of nearly 24,000 motor vehicle fatalities, concluding that marijuana played at least some role in 12% of those deaths.

The study coincides with other research that raises questions about the use of weed by young people. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found in a 2010 survey that one in eight high school seniors admitting driving after smoking marijuana. Federal data meanwhile shows that nearly a half of drivers fatally injured in a crash who tested positive for marijuana were under 25.

A separate study published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the drug can impair a teen’s driving while also lowering their IQ. The report by the National Institute on Drug Abuse could generate some controversy because it also claims a potential link to addiction, something legalization proponents have generally discounted.

After decades of ranking marijuana along with some of the hardest drugs available, the federal government has been rethinking its approach to enforcement. That shift coincides with the fact that Barrack Obama has become the first president to openly smoking marijuana as a teen.

Noting that, “I view it as a bad habit and a vice,” Obama told the New Yorker magazine “I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”

Of course, alcohol has general been considered one of the leading causes of crashes, fatal or not. And after a decades-long crackdown on drunk driving, it has remained a serious problem, according to a study released last month by NHTSA, adding up to around $250 billion in economic losses annually. The total loss from all crashes was estimated at $871 billion.

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Whether marijuana will come to have a similar cost is far from certain but new research is underway, NHTSA and the National Institute on Drug Abuse close to wrapping up a three-year study on the effects of inhaled marijuana on driving performance. The study has been looking at how both low and high doses affect performance, while comparing it against a placebo.

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The study is examining pot’s impact on performance, decision-making, motor control and the ability to focus on the task at hand – namely driving.

The researchers are using what has been described as “the world’s most advanced driving simulator,” which was previously used for alcohol research at the University of Iowa.

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Even with only a handful of states making marijuana widely available, NHTSA has already reported that 4% of all drivers had used the drug during the day, 6% at night. And the nighttime figure doubled over the weekend. The rise has coincided with the expansion in the number of legal medical marijuana dispensaries across the country, according to experts.

The new NHTSA study could prove critical in determining whether there is, in fact, a safe level of consumption for drivers using marijuana, much as there is with alcohol.

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6 Responses to “Study Sees Rise in Fatal Crashes Linked to Marijuana Use”

  1. Dave says:

    Surprise, surprise.

  2. Jorge M. says:

    What a revelation…

    IMO, states that legalize marijuana for tax revenue should be hit with class action lawsuits in the trillions of dollars as that is the cost to society for the unconscionable decision to legalize mind altering drugs for public consumption in an effort to fix financial mismanagement.

    The damage to society so outweighs the revenue that it’s beyond comprehension that any sane entity would legalize marijuana. The fact that Obama views this drug addiction as a “bad habit” is clear evidence of his cluelessness and a perfect example of why the U.S. is in the worst shape it has been in in 50 years.

    • Mike Patrick says:

      The author and Jorge M are exactly the type of people who cause major problems in this country! Do everyone a favor and please educate yourself!

      • Paul A. Eisenstein says:

        LOL…for what it’s worth, Mike and Jon, I happen to be pro-legalization, and actually participated in NORML in earlier decades. I have a favorite place in Amsterdam…but that’s besides the point.

        I would also have been anti-Prohibition. But you both confuse the point: the issue isn’t about whether people should be allowed to legally use marijuana — where I appear to split sharply from the views of reader Jorge — but when and how it is used. And if you’ve got a serious buzz on, or are truly stoned, I don’t want you — or me — driving. You will notice, if you read through the article, my conclusion emphasized the need to determine what a safe level is for driving, much as we have generally established .08% blood alcohol content as the limit for drinking and driving. To assume that we should simply turn a blind eye to the risks associated with ANY potential intoxicant by motorists is absurd.

        Jon, your point about the long-lasting nature of THC in the bloodstream is something I believe I mentioned, though it can and should be stressed here still more. The flip side to this is that police should not be given a blank check to crack down on anyone simply because they have measurable THC in their blood. The challenge will be to 1st, determine safe driving limits and 2nd, find a way to distinguish if/when a driver is truly under the influence to the point they are not able to safely operate the vehicle.

        Beyond that, I agree that marijuana’s foes could over-emphasize these studies. But that does not mean such issues should be ignored by those who favor legalization. Quite the contrary.

        Paul A. Eisenstein
        Publisher, TheDetroitBureau.com

  3. Jon says:

    another smoke screen article to keep the uneducated masses in fear like jorge m. there, a few exerts from that “study”

    Alcohol contributed to about the same percentage of traffic fatalities throughout the decade, about 40 percent, Li said.
    (weed equaled 12%)

    In an endnote to the study, the researchers pointed to several limitations with the research. One is that marijuana can be detected in the blood up to one week after use. And, therefore, the researchers said, “the prevalence of nonalcohol drugs reported in this study should be interpreted as an indicator of drug use, not necessarily a measurement of drug impairment.”

  4. Jorge M. says:

    Yeah right. Denial isn’t a river in Egypt Mike…