Driving while In-THC-icated

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Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 2.28.35 PMAs legalization and decriminalization of marijuana sweeps across the US, many of you will be surprised to learn that there have already been unintended (and deadly) consequences.

This is somewhat ironic, because marijuana s perceived reputation is that the drug is quite safe, especially when compared to other mind-altering drugs. But this common perception may not be correct.

For example, a recent study in The American Journal of Epidemiology reported that, despite popular belief, driving while stoned is more of a problem than most people would have expected. Authors Joanne E. Brady and Guohua Li of the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at Columbia University Medical Center, examined traffic deaths in 6 states that performed tests on drivers, seeking the presence of alcohol or marijuana.

The results are rather surprising: During the period 1999-2010 ... the prevalence of positive results for non alcohol drugs rose from 16.6% in 1999 to 28.3% in 2010 ..., whereas the prevalence of positive results for alcohol remained stable.

In fact, the percentage of impaired drivers who tested positive for marijuana tripled during that time period These results indicate that non alcohol drugs, particularly marijuana, are increasingly detected in fatally injured drivers.

This is a timely topic, says ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom. Since it is all but certain that marijuana use will increase in the US in coming years, the fallacy that driving stoned is safe must be corrected. There are all kinds of warnings not to drive on medications, both over-the-counter (Benadryl) and prescription (sleeping pills, narcotics, sedatives). This study certainly suggests that marijuana ought to be treated similarly. It may not be as bad as driving drunk, but these data show that the risk is greater than one might think.