Does pot smoking lead to vehicle deaths?
New research on the social effects of marijuana use has found that in 2012, 75 vehicle deaths in Canada were directly attributable to using cannabis, a number that is likely to increase once marijuana is legalized in Canada.
The wait is on, both for the federal government’s promised legislation to legalize marijuana and for a glimpse of how that legislation will affect Canadian society. While current marijuana use sits around twelve per cent of the population, the number of Canadians expected to try the drug once it’s available for legal purchase will jump, but by how much is still unclear.
A report released by the Parliamentary Budget Officer in November, 2016, said that along with adding an entirely new sector to the the nation’s formal economy, legalization will entice 600,000 more Canadians to become occasional marijuana users, another two per cent of the adult population.
And a poll conducted last fall by Forum Research pegs the numbers even higher, suggesting that among those who presently don’t consume marijuana, 13 per cent said they would likely do so and four per cent more said they would be “very likely” to consume.
However the scenario plays out, the increase in substance use is expected to push up the number of people who drive while high, say health experts, ultimately affecting the number of vehicle crashes and fatalities across the country.
Gauging the social impact of marijuana use, researchers from the Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and the Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse conclude that for the year 2012, 75 deaths in vehicle crashes were directly attributable to cannabis use, along with 4407 injuries involving 7,794 people and totalling over $1 billion in costs.
“Our results suggest that cannabis has a substantial impact on collision rates in Canada, and represents a substantial economic burden.” say the researchers, whose new study appears in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence. “Youth and young adults were over represented in all three levels of traffic collisions leading to higher cannabis-attributable harms and costs among this age group.”
Researchers used Transport Canada data on traffic collisions for the year 2012 correlated with estimations of risk associated with cannabis use while driving to arrive at their results, adding that social costs from deaths and injuries to younger road users are higher as they’re associated with more years of life lost or living with a disability.
“The harm and cost of cannabis-related collisions is an important factor to consider as Canada looks to legalize and regulate the sale of cannabis,” says the study’s authors, who urge that more research is needed to understand patterns of cannabis use as well as the impact of drug use on driving skills and collision risk.
Previous studies have shown that marijuana-related impairment is quite different from alcohol impairment. A large population-based study in the European Union found that traffic accident risk from pot impairment was one to three times that of sober drivers while the crash risk for alcohol-impaired drivers was between 20 to 200 times that of sober drivers. In terms of their effects on the act of driving, research has shown that cannabis has a greater impact on the automatic driving functions than the more complex, conscious driving tasks, while for alcohol the opposite is the case.