Those who push for the legalization of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes often promote the medicinal value found in its use. It has been shown to relieve pain for chronic pain sufferers without some of the unpleasant side effects found in certain other types of treatments.
The drug should be fully explored for potential harmful effects before it is legalized any further. Previous research has shown an association between marijuana use and psychosis, among other problems.
A new study from Columbia University indicates that there may be another good reason to keep marijuana from general use. Published in the online version of Epidemiologic Reviews, the findings show that there is a significant association between marijuana use and traffic accidents.
Using 2009 data, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that drug use while driving is not uncommon. In excess of 10 million individuals over the age of 12 are believed to have driven under the influence of an illegal drug in the past year. Many of those drivers are using marijuana, which is the most frequently detected drug among drivers besides alcohol.
There has been some question as to whether marijuana has a significant effect on drivers involved in traffic accidents. In order to examine the role of marijuana in driver safety, researchers conducted a meta-analysis involving nine studies. They found that drivers that test conclusive for marijuana or who admit to driving in three hours or under of using the drug are twice as likely as their non-drug using counterparts to be implicated in an accident.
In addition, the researchers detected evidence that the risk of a traffic accident increases depending on the amount of marijuana in urine and with frequency of marijuana use, based on self-report.
The researchers found that in eight of the nine examined studies, drivers who were operating under the influence of marijuana were more likely to be in a traffic accident than those drivers who did not test positive for marijuana. The one case that did not support this trend was conducted in Thailand, where marijuana use is lower than that reported elsewhere.
Using drugs while driving can have serious consequences. The meta-analysis showed that 28% of fatally injured drivers and over 11% of general drivers tested positive for drugs other than alcohol, with marijuana the most popular choice.
Senior author Guohua Li, MD, doctor of public health and professor of Epidemiology at Columbia University, points out the urgency of understanding the role of marijuana in causing traffic accidents. The need to understand its various effects is necessary, given the popular support for marijuana as a legal medical treatment.