Stoned driving

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

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Stoned Driving on Marijuana.

You are more likely to be involved in a fatal car crash if you drive while under the influence of marijuana. Being stoned behind the wheel increases the risk of an accident even when there is no alcohol present in the driver’s system. We found this out not with one small study but with nine studies that together included over 50,000 people.

Driving under the influence of marijuana about doubled the risk that you will be involved in a motor vehicle crash. This analysis didn’t come from the DEA or a “law and order group” but is from a study recently published in the British Medical Journal.

This isn’t the first time studies have shown this result. In a 2009 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, they reported that almost ten percent of drivers were under the influence of marijuana. They also concluded that over sixteen percent of drivers had drugs of all kinds in their system. Till now it has been easy to doubt that it was the Marijuana that was causing the impairment because older studies did not separate out people who were impaired by other and by multiple drugs. The British study solved that problem by looking at the risks of people under the influence of marijuana only, as opposed to those who were not impaired by any drug at all.

Why did they find that marijuana impaired a person’s ability to drive? We know that alcohol impairment is a serious problem. Alcohol interferes with driver’s awareness of speed and it reduces their reaction time. I tell students that a simple way of understanding alcohol Impairment is that alcohol shuts down the part of the brain that tells us “Hey stupid don’t do that.” What does marijuana do?

Marijuana alters people’s perceptions of space and time. Marijuana affects “special location.”  Stoned drivers follow too close, misjudge how close they are to the car in the other lane, and tend to swerve in and out of traffic often cutting the distance too close. Additionally, drunk drivers tend to know they are impaired and they often slow down. Sometimes they slow down way too much. Stoned drivers don’t do that. They can’t tell how fast they are going or how far away they are and they don’t feel that impaired.

The problem of stoned drivers is not a small thing. We have begun to recognize just how often serious automobile accidents are the result of impaired drivers. Just because a drug is prescribed does not make it safe. People are getting arrested for driving under the influence even when they have prescriptions for the drug. The fact that some people have prescriptions for Medical Marijuana, has lulled many into a false sense that this drug has no downside and is safe.

I continue to have conflicts about the use of Medical Marijuana. There are those who swear by it and report great medicinal befits. I am all for reducing human suffering and increasing happiness. But the idea that your medicine might kill me or someone I love makes me skeptical. I think people on both sides of the Medical Marijuana debate have left out things that we should know. I plan to write more about this in the future. But for now, I would conclude that if you need to use Medical Marijuana please don’t drive.

Until Next time, hope your life is happy, David Joel Miller, LMFT, LPCC.

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1 thought on “Stoned driving

  1. Doubles your risk. Which is still considerably less then either talking on a cell phone or drinking and driving.

    And we also had the recent study showing: “A study released this week has found legalizing medical marijuana has resulted in a nearly 9% decline in traffic deaths and a 5% reduction in beer sales in states that allow it.”

    And actually from my research the studies have been far less conclusive- with studies from the US NTSB, the Israeli’s, the dutch, the germans, among others often having very different findings- as have the studies using simulators vs actual cars.

    Irregardless- no one should be driving impaired- whether cannabis, prescription drugs, alcohol, putting on makeup, or talking on the cell phone.

    I will be the first to say that all cannabis users need to be aware or potential effects on driving, or any numer of activities. But I would strongly disagree with these being used to further promote the drug war.


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