Study Reveals The Dangers Of Driving Under The Influence Of Marijuana

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), as of May 27, 2022, 19 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia allow non-medical adult use of regulated cannabis. In the meantime, Democrats continue to make efforts to decriminalize marijuana at the national level. A bill to federally decriminalize marijuana is expected to be introduced in the Senate soon, per Bloomberg News.

However, the results of a new study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs indicate that areas of the country where the use of recreational marijuana has been legalized have seen an increase in car crashes and deaths related to marijuana usage. Charles Farmer, the study's lead researcher and vice president for research and statistical services at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, told HealthDay that car crashes resulting in injury increased by 6%. Additionally, car crashes that led to fatalities increased by 4%. States that have not yet legalized marijuana saw no marijuana-related increases in car crashes. 

It's a reminder that, like alcohol, marijuana is a potent drug and can affect your ability to operate a vehicle. Farmer advised states that have legalized marijuana to consider providing more education and strengthening enforcement strategies. However, he also noted that marijuana legalization is not the only factor involved in the increase. He also pointed out that testing for impairment related to marijuana is not yet available, so it is not possible to link how much marijuana factors into car crashes, per HealthDay.

How marijuana can impair your brain while driving

While you may associate driving under the influence (DUI) with alcohol, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that driving under the influence also includes drugs, such as marijuana. This is because marijuana impacts your brain in ways that affect your body's movements, judgment, and other functions that can negatively impact your driving. For example, marijuana can affect your reaction time, impair your motor coordination, and distort your perception.

While researchers admit that data is limited and more studies are needed to confirm the link between car crashes and driving under the influence of marijuana, they still advise caution. Marlene Lira, a senior research manager at the Clinical Addiction Research and Education Unit at Boston Medical Center, told the New York Times that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can impair a number of driving behaviors. Lira noted that while there are no agreed-upon quantities for cannabis or threshold for driving under the influence, as there are for alcohol, marijuana can cause paranoia and panic attacks in some people. It can also distort your perception of what is and isn't safe. Thomas Marcotte, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, told the New York Times that even if you feel like the effects of marijuana are wearing off and it's safe to drive, you may not be the best judge. Therefore, you should probably stay off the road.