Most everyone would agree that drinking and driving is a deadly combination. But even if the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol are well understood, the same cannot be said for the risk of driving under the influence of marijuana.
According to a major national survey, nearly half of the regular cannabis users in the United States believe that operating a motor vehicle while stoned is not dangerous. However, a recent study appears to contradict this belief.
This recent study, which was reported this Tuesday in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, recruited 28 heavy cannabis users and 17 non-users and placed them in a driving simulator. The cannabis users exhibited multiple dangerous driving behaviors – running red lights, hitting pedestrians, driving at high speeds, and getting into accidents. They were also much more likely to exhibit impulsive and rash behavior patterns than the group that did not use cannabis.
There was one particularly significant finding in this study. None of the heavy cannabis users in the driving simulation were under the influence at the time. Everyone had abstained from marijuana for twelve hours, and no person in the group tested positive for THC, the active ingredient in the cannabis sativa plant. Furthermore, the worst drivers in this group were those who had started using marijuana before the age of 16.
It is not yet clear if early cannabis use causes impulsive behavior in teenagers or if impulsive behavior can lead to early cannabis use. But these findings do back up what prior research appears to indicate – early substance use could have a negative effect on developing brains, leading to poorer long-term cognitive performance. Specifically, early cannabis usage appears to negatively affect the front of the brain, the region that regulates our impulses and helps us avoid poor behavioral choices.
It is well-known that alcohol impairs performance behind the wheel and that drunk driving can have deadly consequences. The role of marijuana in car accidents, however, is less understood. THC stays in the body for weeks after consuming a cannabis product, long after its influence has faded away. This means that a cannabis equivalent of a blood alcohol test will not tell police anything useful about whether the driver is impaired. However, studies like this do indicate a link between marijuana usage and the impulsive, rash behavior that can lead to car accidents.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the number of car crashes where drivers tested positive for cannabis usage has more than doubled from 2006 to 2016, rising from 8% to 18%. As more states push for medical marijuana legislature, and cannabis usage becomes more common, it will become even more important to understand the link between cannabis and car accidents. And as this study reveals, it is equally important to be mindful of how early lifetime usage of marijuana could potentially impair someone’s driving skills, long after the high is gone.
Research on the link between cannabis usage and automotive accidents is still ongoing. In the meantime, be aware that you can face a DUI arrest if the officer that stopped you believes the substances in your system made you unsafe to drive. If you have been charged with DUI with Drugs, contact the Don Turner Legal Team, and see how we can help you with your case.