More Folks Drive High When Pot Made Legal: Study

By Stephen Reinberg, HealthDay reporter>

Thursday, January 13, 2022 — Here’s more evidence that marijuana may make driving more dangerous: As pot is legalized in more countries and states, more people are driving drunk due to drugs and crashes, reports Researchers reported.

THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, has been detected in twice as many infected Canadian drivers since 2018, when cannabis was first legalized. The same effect is seen in the United States, said lead researcher Dr. Jeffrey Brubacher, assistant professor in the department of emergency medicine at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

One prominent American addiction expert agreed.

“This is an emerging and very important area of ​​research,” Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse, said in a statement. “A recent study found increased rates of car accidents in the six months after medical cannabis was licensed in Canada, and another study found a 15% relative increase in the risk of fatal car crashes and a 16% relative increase in associated deaths in US jurisdictions. Where cannabis is legal “.

“As more and more states seek to legalize marijuana, it is critical to understand the impact of legalization on addiction and a range of other health outcomes, including driving accidents, to identify strategies to implement legalization while minimizing potential harms,” ​​Volkow added.

Brubacher said how much is being consumed before getting behind the wheel also matters.

“The increase in the number of drivers using cannabis, especially drivers with high levels of THC (5 ng/ml or more), is worrisome,” he said. “But we cannot conclude that all of these collisions are caused by cannabis.”

Brubacher said previous research has found no evidence that low levels of THC (less than 5 ng/ml) are associated with an increased risk of causing a breakdown.

“However, acute cannabis use causes cognitive deficits and psychological impairment, and there is evidence that drivers with THC levels of 5 ng/ml or more are at a greater risk of a breakdown,” he said.

slow reaction times

This deficit leads to a slow reaction, a lack of focus, and weaving down the road, Brubacher said.

“We know that the crash risk is higher for drivers who drink alcohol than for drivers who use cannabis,” he said. “Some previous researchers have suggested that legalizing cannabis may improve traffic safety if drivers use cannabis instead of alcohol. Unfortunately, we found no evidence for a decrease in the percentage of infected drivers who tested positive for alcohol.”

Volkow notes that the effects of marijuana on the ability to drive are significant.

“Several studies have shown that marijuana significantly impairs many of the skills needed for safe driving, including judgment, motor coordination and reaction time. Studies conducted in a laboratory setting have also found a direct relationship between blood THC concentration and impaired driving ability,” She said.

“However, this research should be interpreted with caution, as it can be very difficult to establish causation for any particular car accident. This is because – unlike alcohol – there is no roadside test to measure drug levels in the body,” Volkow explained. “This means that the tests used to detect levels of THC in drivers are often done hours after the accident. Moreover, marijuana can be detected in body fluids for days or weeks after the last use, and drivers often combine it with alcohol, making it difficult to know. How important is the role that cannabis alone might play in an accident.”

For the study, Brubacher and colleagues analyzed THC levels in blood samples from more than 4,300 injured drivers treated at trauma centers in British Columbia between 2013 and 2020.

Prior to pot legalization, about 4% of drivers had blood levels of THC above the Canadian legal driving limit of 2 ng/ml. The researchers found that this percentage rose to nearly 9% after legalization.

The proportion of actuators with higher THC concentrations also increased, from 1% prior to certification to 4% thereafter.

The largest increase was observed among drivers over 50 years of age. The researchers noted no significant changes in drivers testing positive for alcohol, either alone or in combination with THC.

Late driving is recommended

The study authors found that the proportion of those who drove drunk and high was about 2% before the rationing and 3% afterwards.

Blood levels of THC usually peak at around 100 ng/ml within 15 minutes of smoking pot. The levels then drop rapidly, to less than 2 ng/ml within four hours of smoking. After ingesting edible THC, levels drop to a similarly low concentration eight hours later, Brubacher said.

Based on this data, people are advised not to drive for four hours after smoking a bowl and eight hours after eating it. Brubacher also warned that the combination of alcohol and pot can be especially deadly behind the wheel.

“Although these numbers are worrying, and I think there is cause for concern, it is not the sky that is falling,” he said. “It’s not as serious a problem as if we saw the number of drivers using alcohol double, because the risk with THC is less than with alcohol.”

The same increase in marijuana use while driving in the United States has been observed in states where it has been legalized.

According to Paul Arminano, deputy director of NORML, a group that advocates for reform of marijuana laws in the United States, “Similar increased prevalence data have also been reported in some US states, such as Washington, without a statistically significant increase in traffic deaths.”

While testing for THC can be difficult, Armignano cautioned that people should not drive while feeling “high.”

“NORML has a long history of advocating for targeted public education campaigns regarding the impact of acute cannabis consumption on driving performance, and we believe such campaigns should be an integral part of any legalization of adult use,” Arminano said. “We also have a long history of advocating for law enforcement to be provided with additional and more accurate tools and methods to identify and discourage a DUI. [driving under the influence] cannabis behaviour.

The report was published on January 13 in New England Journal of Medicine.

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